This is an overview of the history of the Catholic church in Hawley, Pennsylvania, which marks its 160th anniversary in 2012. Much of this information is contained in a history published by B.V.M. Queen of Peace Church at their Sesquicentennial ten years ago.
Their roots are firmly established in the wave of Irish immigrants who came to Hawley in the mid-19th Century, seeking work on the Delaware Hudson Canal or the Pennsylvania Coal Company Gravity Railroad. Both enterprises caused Hawley to flourish in that time period and gave basis for a growing and successful town.
A large number of them settled what was first known as Shanty Hill, later Marble Hill; others resided in East Hawley. At first at least those who were physically able, made the arduous journey to Honesdale- by foot or possibly by carriage- to attend Mass.
Wooden church built
In April 1852, Rev. William O’Hara, who later became the first Bishop of the Scranton Diocese, founded St. Philomena’s Parish at Hawley and became their first pastor. At that time there was no Scranton Diocese; Wayne County was within the Diocese of Philadelphia. Father O’Hara left the City of Brotherly Love and first became part of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Honesdale.
The church in Hawley was built of wood, at the same corner where the church has remained- what would become Church Street and Chestnut Avenue. It could seat as many as 500 people. The church was dedicated by Most Reverend John H. Neumann, who was then Bishop of Philadelphia.
Bishop Neumann confirmed the first class, numbering 210 children, on April 16, 1856. On June 16 of that year he visited the main altar and placed the altar stone within it.
On June 19, 1977, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Bishop Neumann as St. John Neumann.
Until 1855 the pastor of St. Philomena’s Parish took up residence at Honesdale. Upon their coming to Hawley, the priests stayed diagonally across the street at the Stone House, a stage coach stop owned and operated by one of the parishioners of St. Philomena’s, Mrs. Connell.
Rev. Moses Whitty served the church in 1853-1854. He was followed by Rev. Daniel Kelly. Rev. Michael Filan arrived in 1855 and became the first resident pastor at Hawley. The rectory was at 313 Chestnut Avenue.
Father Filan extended missionary work to Masthope, Meadow Stretch, Lords Valley and Pond Eddy, NY, in addition to missions at Shohola, Lackawaxen and Ledgedale. In 1861, Father Filan installed a church bell.
When Hawley branch of the Erie Railroad opened in 1863, Father Filan erected a wood church at Lackawaxen, where the trains would stop. He was obliged to travel to Lackawaxen on an old hand car, to say Mass.
Rev. Bernard McCollum succeeded him in 1868, the year the Scranton Diocese was formed.
Next came Rev. John Buthe in 1868, and Rev. Jon O’Malley in 1870. The latter extended missions of Hawley to Matamoras, Milford, Dingmans, Promised Land, Middans and Parker’s Glen. In 1877 he erected churches at Milford and Ledgedale. In 1878, he built St. Joseph’s Church at White Mills.
Father John Judge stared in 1891; he pursued mission work at Milanville and Glen Spey, NY.
New brick church
the arrival of Rev. Peter Winters in January 1899 marked a new era for St. Philomena’s in Hawley. He concluded that the parishioners would be better served by a more modern place of worship. After thorough debate, fund raising started in November 1899. In May 1900, workmen began to raze the old church.
Work on the foundation for the new brick facility started on July 22, 1900, with a cornerstone dedication, blessed by Bishop Hoban. Rev. J.J Loughran was Master of Ceremonies. A procession of priests and attendants blessed the basement. Father Garvey, a former assistant pastor at St. Philomena’s, gave the sermon.
Local newspapers, a church history and U.S. coins minted in 1900, were placed in the cornerstone.
A parade was held that day in town, consisting of various Catholic societies.
While the new church was being built, Mass was observed at the Standard Opera House on Church street, which sat next to the Methodist Church.
The new brick church is of Romanesque architecture, 50 by 100 feet. The original belfry tower was 85 feet high. The house of worship was fitted with stained glass windows and oak furnishings. Walls were of white finish; statuary was of stone and altars imitated white marble. The new sanctuary could seat about 600 souls.
On Sunday, June 20, 1901, the church was dedicated by Most Rev. Michael Hoban, native of Hawley.
In 1910, Rev. Winters was succeeded by Rev. Henry Burke, who was acting pastor in Hawley when Father Winters journeyed in Europe. Under Father Burke’s pastorate, the new rectory was built, completed in February 1911.
Rev. Matthew Boland was the next pastor, in 1922. He started a drive for a new organ. In 1924, work started on the Good Shepherd Church at Blooming Grove.
In 1931, Rev. Joseph Gagion began his ministry at Hawley. The bell was replaced in 1938. father Gagion next undertook beatifying of the cemetery, on the hill. A grotto of “Our Lady of Sorrows” was erected there. More than 400 people attended the blessing of the new grotto on Memorial Day 1939.
St. Philomena’s was released of the care of St. Mary’s Ledgedale in June 1941, and gained St. Bernard’s in Beach Lake.
Father Gagion oversaw complete renovation of St. Philomena’s in 1943.
He was succeeded in 1944 by Rev. James Holleran. On Jan. 21, 1945, a fire practically destroyed the Beach Lake church. Father Quinn, assistant pastor at St. Philomena’s, rushed in the burning building and carried out the Blessed Sacrament and sacred vessels. The church was rebuilt.
Next came a youth recreation center, which Father Gagion established in the basement of St. Philomena’s.
Started a convent
With a great desire to give the children a religious education, Father Gagion established a convent at Hawley. In May 1947 he purchased the Murray property at 319 Chestnut Avenue- directly opposite the church. An addition was added, allowing a kindergarten room and community room. A playground was placed in back, where the Standard Opera House had stood.
The convent was opened on December 1, 1947. Sister Mary Richard was the first Superior of the convent and school. Sister Mary Magdalena, the former Rosalie Parker of Hawley and Honesdale, had charge of the kindergarten. Sister Mary Clarissa had charge of music. Sister Mary Lilian was the Catachetical teacher. Each was a member of the Sisters of Mercy.
Bishop William Hafey of Scranton officiated at the centennial Mass of St. Philomena’s, on August 24, 1952.
In May 1960 land was accepted to build St. Veronica’s Chapel at Lake Wallenpaupack, just off Route 507. The land was donated by the Gumble family.
Tragedy struck St. Joseph’s at White Mills when the church burned to the ground on Dec. 21, 1960. A new church was erected.
Queen of Peace
At 12:01 a.m. on May 31, 1962, St. Philomena’s became Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace as designated by Most Rev. Jerome D. Hannon, Bishop of Scranton. The change in name was found necessity because the Patroness, St. Philomena, was determined to be falsely accepted as a saint.
The 14 year old girl had been declared a saint after her remains in a Christian catacomb in Rome was found in 1802. With her bones was a small vial containing what was thought to be her martyred blood. In 1961, the Vatican concluded after consulting with archaeologists that the vial most likely contained funeral perfumes.
Queen of Peace was damaged by fire in August 1963. The blaze was contained to the loft and steeple. Firemen quickly removed the statues and other contents of the church without damaging any.
Rev. Monsignor Michael J. Kennedy became pastor in 1965. Rev. William Burke followed him in 1967.
In 1968, the churches at White Mills and Beach lake were separated from Queen of Peace Parish.
Rev. William B. Healey was appointed pastor at Queen of Peace in 1972. During his pastorate, lay ministries of Eucharistic Minister and Lectors were introduced to enhance the spiritual life of the parish.
In 1976 Good Shepherd Church at Blooming Grove and Hemlock farms were separated from the Hawley church and a new parish called St. John Neumann was formed. Queen of Peace now had only one mission, St. Veronica’s on Lake Wallenpaupack.
In 1980, the church cemetery was greatly expanded. Church renovations were done in 1982. Religious education needed more classroom space. In 1986, with the convent no longer housing nuns, the building was renovated for the growing education program.
During 1997, a capital campaign was held to fund the building of a Parish Center on the church property off Wangum Avenue. The Ericsson property was also purchased, allowing for the house to be razed and parking expanded in back. The new Parish Center was dedicated on May 3, 1998.
Rev. Beck now serving
Father Richard W. Beck, the current pastor, was appointed on June 29, 2005, following Rev. Healey’s retirement. Rev. Beck, a native of Honesdale, was ordained in 1974 at the age of 25. He served in religious education for many years and previously was pastor at Pleasant Mount.
He said they have a very active parish, with as many as 3,500 to 4,000 members. Two years ago, the role of Assistant Pastor was created, now served by Rev. Bobby Pudhota, a native of India. They also ordained Matthew Lorent as Deacon, last November.
Numerous ministries are actively supported, including Eucharistic ministries to the homebound, Bereavement, a Charismatic prayer group, St. Francis prayer meeting, the Ugly Quilters, Altar Rosary Society, Knights of Columbus and a Religious Education program numbering 22 teachers serving three days a week. They have an active Parish Council and Finance Committee, serving in an advisory capacity to the pastor.
B.V.M. Queen of Peace Parish may be contacted at (570)226-3183. They have a web site at www.queenofpeacehawley.com.
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