ST. ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY PARISH
DECADES OF TRANSITION
The three original Catholic Churches in the western Northampton County area of
the Slate Belt had their origin almost a century ago in the second decade of the 20th
Century. As part of the Archdiocese of Philadephia until 1961, the churches came into
being because the immigrants residing in the various communities had a deep religious
faith and looked to their religious leaders to guide them through the difficulties
encountered in starting life in a new country.
During the second decade of the 20th century, Catholic services were made
available to the residents of the communities. Beginning with St. Roch's in 1913, the
priests of the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent DePaul, C.M. held services in
the home of the Dominic Abruzzese family. Then in 1915 St Joseph's Catholic Church
rented an abandoned schoolhouse owned by Edwin Werner for Sunday services
conducted by Rev. James Lavazzari, C.M. The next year in 1916, St Elizabeth's of
Hungary held its first service in the Palace Theater on Main Street in Pen Argyl with the
Rev. Joseph McKee, C.M. as celebrant.
In the time between the second decade and the following years, each congregation
built churches with land donated by members of the community for two of the churches
and St. Elizabeth's purchasing land for a church. Parishioners in all three churches had a
strong desire to have a church of their own and were willing to sacrifice to meet this goal.
In 1929 the Rev. Theodore Wagner was appointed as the first pastor of St. Elizabeth's
and the mission church of St. Joseph's. In the same year, 1929, St. Roch's became a
Mission Church of St. Elizabeth's. With the appointment of Rev. James P. Gallagher as
the first pastor of St. Roch's in 1937 by Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia,
St. Roch's became a parish.
In the decades that followed, the Catholic Churches in Pen Argyl, Wind Gap and
West Bangor became the lifeline of the community for Catholics in the area. With many
religious, social and ethnic activities, the priests and parishioners were an integral part in
making the church a viable avenue for sharing religious beliefs. Much of the success of
the parishes was due to the spiritual guidance and dedication of the priests who served the
parishes. There was interaction within the parishes in those early years, with members
attending functions of the various churches, particularly summer festivals, which
included civic and religious activities.
From these early beginnings, the three churches retained their own identity with
organizations within each church; such as, the Sodality, the Holy Name Society, the
Ministry, Vacation Bible School, youth groups, the choirs, catechism instruction, fund-
raising activities, and numerous other organizations and activities.
Pastors of both St. Roch's and St. Elizabeth's; namely, Father Gallagher and
Father Melley, pastor since 1942, felt the need for Sisters to assist with church activities,
primarily for the children of the parish. In June 1944, Fr. Gallagher was instrumental in
bringing the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity to St. Roch's. Then in
1954, through the efforts of Fr. Melley, St Elizabeth's received a gift from the
Archdiocese of Philadelphia to construct a new school for grades kindergarten through
grade 8, which were staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Upon the departure of the St.
Joseph Sisters in the 1980's, the Dominican Daughters of the Immaculate Mother came
from the Philippines in 1983 to staff the school and assist with religious instruction for
secular students and Vacation Bible School.
During most of this time, the churches were a part of the Philadelphia
Archdiocese. On January 28, 1961 Pope John XXIII established the Diocese of
Allentown to serve the needs of the faithful in the five Eastern Pennsylvania counties of
Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill. Bishop Joseph M. McShea was
named the first Bishop of Allentown, followed by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh and Bishop
Edward P. Cullen and presently Bishop John O. Barres, appointed in 2009.
At the end of the last decade of the 1900's, on May 25, 1999 the ground breaking
for a new church to serve St. Elizabeth's and the mission church of St. Joseph was held.
The first mass in the new church was celebrated on November 5, 2000, with the
dedication following on November 17, 2000, the Feast Day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Early in the 21st Century, the churches in the Allentown Diocese experienced
many changes with the merging of parishes due to the shortage of priests. In October
2006 Msgr. York was assigned as pastor of St. Elizabeth's and St. Roch's. Shortly
thereafter in July 2008 St. Roch's was merged with St. Elizabeth's. This merger created
the coming together of three churches to become St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish.
Looking back today on generations of families who worshipped at the three
churches, we are thankful for the deep religious faith of our immigrant ancestors and
the dedication of our religious leaders who admirably served the three churches over the years.
Special Thanks goes to Kathryn Schott for researching and writing of the History.