History of Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena Parish

Allentown, in the early 20th century, was a growing community of tree-lined streets. The automobile had become a familiar sight, bringing visitors from Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Many industries had moved into the area, giving promise of future prosperity and growth.

World War I had taken its toll of Allentown's sons, but the war ended and the men who returned home brought with them plans to build a community for future generations to call home.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also had plans for Allentown; plans to bring the Catholic community together with the addition of a new church in the West End of the city. Prior to this, Catholic families travelled to either Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Sacred Heart of Jesus parishes, both a considerable distance from this section of town.

The culmination of these plans came in October 1919 when Cardinal Dennis Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, appointed Rev. John C. Phelan as founder and first rector of a new parish to be named in honor of St. Catharine of Siena.

Fr. Phelan quickly met with those families that would become members of the new parish and formed a committee to locate property for our church. One month later, they purchased land from Mrs. Leonard Sefring. The Sefring home was converted to a rectory and served as a home for the pastor and a temporary place of worship. All this took only six weeks from Fr. Phelan's appointment as pastor. On November 16, 1919, Fr. Phelan celebrated two Masses at the rectory. Two weeks later, the first marriage was performed, uniting C. J. Kurtz and Mary Erdman in Holy Matrimony.

With the coming of the 1920s the area, as well as the country, was concerned with the growing success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. President Wilson suffered a physical breakdown and the nickelodeon was becoming a part of the American scene. This was a time of exciting social changes and profound cultural conflict.

The carriage house that would become a Cathedral
The carriage house that would become a Cathedral
By the spring of 1920, parishioners began converting a stable and carriage house into a chapel. Little did they know they were building a cathedral.

The chapel was completed by September 1920, and Cardinal Dougherty arrived that month for his first canonical visit to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to 45 parishioners. The chapel served the parishioners of St. Catharine of Siena until 1927. Our Lord showered His love on the pioneers who were preparing a stable for His son as He had done centuries ago in Bethlehem.

The parish continued to grow quickly. In 1926, Fr. Phelan advised his flock that "The little Chapel has served its purpose wonderfully well up until now . . . It must give way to a more modern building." Funds were raised for construction of a combination church and school in June 1926. They were completed in time for the celebration of Mass on December 25, 1927.

The high standards set by the parish were evidenced from the beginning in its school program. From the opening day of school, September 4, 1928 (with an enrollment of 65) until the present, every effort has been made toward the spiritual and temporal training of its students to instill a knowledge, a wisdom, a living witness of our faith, that they will carry with them all their lives.

After the church and school were completed, St. Catharine's withstood its first challenges, died demonstrating a spirit of togetherness that would be tested time and again in the coming years. The economic depression that engulfed the nation in 1929 did not exclude St. Catharine's. Jobs were scarce, as were the simple necessities of life. Banks closed in Allentown and elsewhere, wiping out the savings of many parish families.

Father John Phelan, first Pastor of St. Catharine of Siena Parish
Father John Phelan
Having served as pastor for 14 years, Fr. Phelan resigned in 1933 because of ill health. Two very brief pastorates followed in succession. His immediate successor, Rev. John J. Goodfellow, was appointed in 1933, and resigned because of his health in January, 1934.

The Right Reverend Msgr. Cornelius P. Brennan came to serve the parish in its distress and filled the pastoral role until May, 1934.

The Rev. Hugh F. McMullan arrived May 23, 1934. He found the parish hard-hit by the depression. Buildings needed immediate repair, and the parish carried the burden of numerous debts. Realizing the need for greater cooperation and understanding between priest and parishioner, Fr. McMullen, together with his assistant Fr. William Haley, spent the summer of 1934 visiting his parish families. Their personal encounters helped establish a rapport and by October, 1934 the Church Debt Fund Society was established and their work helped to reduce the church's financial burden.

As the country emerged from the depression, initials such as NRA, WPA, CCC, became familiar to all. Cities and towns slowly recovered their economic stability and turned once more to the task of building a nation.

Parishioners worked on renovating the parochial buildings. Through their efforts, the floating debts of the parish were liquidated, and in 1937 the parish, for the first time in 18 years, began payment on the debt of the parish.

Attention then turned to the needs of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who had been living on the third floor of the school-church building. In the summer of 1937, the Sisters moved to a convent of their own at 219 N. Eighteenth St., permitting the school to expand to the third floor. The parish experienced rapid growth between 1937 and 1954, coupled with all-around improvements of the parish complex.

In 1938, the altar boys of the parish formed the Altar Boys Society, an organization that would prove in later years to nurture priestly vocations. That same year saw the formation of Boy Scout Troop 74, sponsored by the Holy Name Society of St. Catharine's.

The coming of war in 1941 affected St. Catharine's Parish as had noother event in its history. Prosperity came to Allentown in the form of wartime industry, but Allentown and the parish would lose sons to war.

Old Church
St. Catharine of Siena, circa 1944
The parish gathered its resources and its societies, particularly the Women's Alliance (formed in 1942), in an all-out effort to do more than its share by purchasing war bonds, making surgical dressings, rolling bandages and working with the Red Cross.

At the same time, the parish purchased its own school bus, enabling the children of St. Joseph's Chapel in Fogelsville to attend the parish school.

In 1944, extensive repairs were made to the combination building, and the individual classrooms were repainted and redecorated. A cafeteria was also organized to serve soup and milk to children who found it difficult to travel to their homes at noontime.

By its works, charities and its Christian example, the parish was moving toward its ultimate destination, that of a Cathedral Parish.

In 1945, the war ended. This was a time of rebuilding, picking up where we left off before the war. The 1950s saw the era of the suburbs. The country was building again. New superhighways were laid, and new homes were being constructed beyond city limits. Allentown would see an increase in the post-war boom. School enrollment increased as the parish grew.

With the liquidation of all parish indebtedness in November, 1949, St. Catharine of Siena parishioners looked forward to the erection of a new and larger church. On June 9, 1952, Msgr. Leo Fink turned over the first spade of earth at the blessing and groundbreaking for the new church at Eighteenth and Turner Streets. The cornerstone was laid by the Most Reverend Joseph M. McShea, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, on April 26, 1953.

On April 25, 1954 a Solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated at the dedication of the new and completed church. The church building design is in a colonial style, similar to the restoration of the early colonial buildings in Williamsburg, Virginia. The exterior is faced with variegated salmon brick trimmed with buff Indiana limestone; at the crossing formed by the transept, a tall spire is surmounted by a stainless steel cross. The windows, of colonial glazed antique cathedral glass, are eloquent reminders of the life of the Christian family, from the Nativity to Eternity.

The members of our parish united in prayer and re-dedicated their hearts and minds to the everlasting praise and glory of God here on earth. For this was their church, their parish and spiritual home and haven.

The parish once again turned to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who served our parish and school. The Sisters had been faced with problems of moving, expansion and changes in classroom needs. In May, 1957, the parish purchased property to be used for convent purposes. In October of that year, parishioners and neighbors were welcomed at an Open House held in the enlarged and renovated convent structure.

The next year, 1958, preliminary drawings for the new school annex were prepared and approved by Archbishop O'Hara's building committee. The school was built at the corner of 18th and Emmet Sts. It housed six classrooms for the seventh and eighth grades, and the upper floor served as a gymnasium.

In 1958, the first Catholic Charities Appeal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was greeted with an overwhelming response from the families of St. Catharine's, thus establishing a tradition that has repeated itself yearly since.

On November 5, 1958, St. Catharine's parishioners said goodbye to pastor Fr. McMullen, who was transferred to St. Athanasius Church in Philadelphia. Fr. McMullen led this parish for 24 years.

The parish warmly greeted its new pastor, Rev. Edward O'Loughlin. Fr. O'Loughlin brought kindness and dedication with a liberal sprinkling of Irish wit. In his characteristic manner, he served this parish well until his transfer in February, 1960.

The diocese selected the right shepherd to lead the people of God. Rev. Francis J. Donnelly came to St. Catharine's from St. Martin of Tours in Philadelphia. Fr. Donnelly immediately picked up the reins of leadership for his parish; when the Diocese of Allentown was created by order of Pope John XXIII, January 28, 1961, St. Catharine's was ready.

The new Diocese was carved from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, consisting Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties. St.Catharine of Siena Parish was greatly honored when it was named the Cathedral Church of the new Diocese.

The Most Rev. Joseph McShea, D.D., was installed as the first Bishop of Allentown on April 11, 1961 by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States. The choice of Bishop McShea was a decision of great significance to the Church and its people. He brought a pleasant personality graced with a sense of humor. In May, 1961, the Bishop presided over the first ordination rites to be held in the Allentown Cathedral.

By September, 1961, the Cathedral Choir had been established under the direction of Fr. Angelo Della Picca, thus giving the cathedral a group of voices destined to become renowned throughout the diocese. The choir sang for the first time at Christmas Mass, December 25, 1961.

When St. Catharine of Siena was designated as the Cathedral Church, a small problem existed. Although the church had a seating capacity of 830 persons, the sanctuary was not adequate for the various pontifical ceremonies which must be celebrated in the Cathedral Church. The difficulties became even more pronounced following the promulgation of the various liturgica directives of the Second Vatican Council (1962) and the First Synod of Allentown (1968). In order to solve the problem, a major program of renovation was undertaken in 1972.

On April 14, 1963, Pope John XXIII singled out the pastor of St. Catharine's and named Rev. Francis Donnelly, as a Monsignor. The church publicly recognized his leadership qualities and his years spent at the cathedral parish. F. Reed Willis was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in recognition of his service.

The parish was now moving into the years of Vatican II, not yet fully cognizant of the changes yet to come.

The Catholic Church suffered a loss when Pope John XXIII died June 3, 1963. Although he avoided the limelight as much as possible, he was a popular pope. Some regarded him, because of his age as a transitional pope but he inaugurated a new era in the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change, shown especially in convoking the Second Vatican Council. He was canonized St. Pope John XXIII April 27, 2014.

His successor, Pope Paul VI, became the head of the Catholic Church, June 23, 1963. He continued the Second Vatican Council which he closed in 1965, implementing its numerous reforms. Pope Paul VI held a tender devotion to Mary, Mother of Our Lord. Interestingly, it had been Pope Paul VI who wrote the landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae that defended all human life and condemned all forms of artificial birth control. St. Pope Paul VI was known as the "pope of firsts" because he was the first pope to ever fly on a plane, the first pope to visit Fatima, and the first pope to visit the Holy Land since St. Peter. Pope Paul VI died August 6, 1978. He was canonized on October 14, 2018. His feast day is celebrated on September 26.

On January 28, 1964, Bishop McShea established a Diocesan Liturgical Commission to implement the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. On March 3, 1965 Bishop McShea asked the Holy See to designate "Mary, Mother of the Church" as the Patroness of the Diocese of Allentown. Pope Paul VI officially granted the request on April 21, 1965.

On May 31, 1964 Msgr. Donnelly celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

On February 7, 1965, St. Catharine's announced the installation of closed circuit educational TV — the first in any grammar school in Allentown, and in any Catholic school in Pennsylvania.

On March 7, 1965, the Ecumenical Council's impact on the Church and our parish became evident with the celebration of "Mass in English." The forerunner of more changes to come, the Mass was accepted with enthusiasm. Responding to their role as a cathedral parish, the people welcomed the greater opportunity for lay participation in the Holy Mass. On May 13, 1968, a Folk Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral in conjunction with the closing of the high school CCD classes. One of the statutes enacted at the First Synod of Allentown permitted the use of instruments other than the organ for the purpose of liturgical worship.

Other events of the period would be memorable. President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The Vietnam War raged on. Young men and women from our parish reported for duty in service of our country. There were cases of draft card burnings and riots. By the mid-1960s, Allentown's economy had been booming for decades, seeing growth that provided steady employment for parishioners. Leading companies of the time included Mack Trucks, Western Electric, Pennsylvania Power and Light, Phoenix Manufacturing, Hess Brothers, and Air Products, just to name a few. Our parishioners remained faithful and the Cathedral continued to grow.

The restoration of the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the church is one of the greatest legacies of Vatican II. On July 2, 1967 Pope Paul VI instituted the First Class of Permanent Deacons. Different dioceses implemented the program at different times. The first class of permanent deacons in the Diocese of Allentown was ordained in 1982. To date, 166 men have been ordained as permanent deacons.

The Cathedral was the location of the general sessions of the First Synod of Allentown, which were held on May 1, 1968 by Bishop McShea. The publication and distribution of the "First Synod of Allentown" official document took place January 1, 1969. The Catholic Social Agency, the Catholic Social Bureau and the Catholic Youth Organization were established as a result of this synod. The First Synod also set up a diocesan liturgical commission and a commission for women with religious vocations, and created the positions of vicar and director of vocations.

Another step in the journey of our parish in applying the guidelines of Vatican II was the establishment of the Parish Advisory Council. This organization enabled the average layman to have a voice in the activities of the parish and an opportunity to participate in its apostolic life. On June 8, 1969 an election was held and individuals moved ahead with plans for our church. The Parish Council was established as an integral part of our lives.

A Concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, October 5, 1969, marked the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena. Bishop McShea was the principal celebrant and praised the church for having an active working parish. Msgr. McMullan, Rev. O'Loughlin, and Msgr. Donnelly, former and current pastors, concelebrated with Bishop McShea. The 50-voice men and boy's Cathedral Choir under the direction of Donald Winzer sang at the Mass composed by the Rev. William Mooney, former choir director at the Cathedral. Following the Mass, an informal social hour was held in the parish auditorium.

On April 19, 1970 Catholics of the Allentown Diocese were introduced to the Catholic Mass in English. Saturday evening Mass was first celebrated throughout the diocese on June 27, 1970.

In 1972, Bishop McShea began the renovation of the Cathedral. Renovation of the sanctuary was modeled after Santa Maria in Piazza Campitelli in Rome. Changes were also needed in the interior of the church in order for it to look more like a cathedral. Under Bishop McShea's guidance, four large candlesticks containing a carving of the bishop's shield were placed around the altar. Five medallions were placed on the sidewalls near the top. The medallions on the left side contain images of the historic events in the diocese's brief history; those on the right contain images of the oldest church in each county in the diocese. The baptismal font was moved from the back of the church (which became the back sacristy) to the front left side of the nave. The sanctuary was considerably enlarged without any appreciable loss of seats. Further, the church has been greatly enriched by the addition of the new sanctuary furnishings of high artistic quality.

Also, the celebration of the Mass changed as Vatican II Council dictated. The Mass would be celebrated in English, rather than Latin, the priest would face the congregation and the communion rail was removed. The Cathedral Parish would continue to grow.

Rev. Msgr. David B. Thompson was named pastor of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, the largest of the diocese's 152 parishes, on February 20, 1975. He served in this capacity and saw continued parish growth under his leadership until May 24, 1989. The Annual Little Lot was established in 1975, in an effort to provide income for unexpected expenses of the parish. Msgr. Thompson commented, "It was good to be here at the beginning (1961) of the diocese, to be involved with the promotion of the first synod and to help raise $11 million in the first educational campaign for Allentown College." As the founding principal of Notre Dame High School, he started a school event that copied the format of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand." He earned the nickname Father Bandstand. Msgr. Thompson was proud of the cathedral choir and used to practice with the choir every Thursday night.

In August, 1978 following the death of Pope Paul VI, a papal conclave elected Pope John Paul I. Only 33 days after his ascension to the papacy, he died, necessitating another papal conclave.

On October 16, 1978 Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla was elected pope by the second papal conclave, and selected the name John Paul II. He was to have one of the longest pontificates in the history of the Church, lasting nearly 27 years. He retained his Episcopal motto, drawn from the profound insight of St. Louis de Montfort, "Totus Tuus - I am completely yours." It would become increasingly clear to the world that this papacy was an incarnation of that motto and a direct response to Divine Love, which was profoundly expressed in his love for man. Pope John Paul II would survive an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. Suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease; the after-effects of the wounds from the attempted assassination; multiple surgeries, and the loss of his voice, Pope John Paul II expressed in his last days the mystery of the Crucified Lord. The whole country stopped to watch and sent prayers for his recovery.

In other news, during the 1980s, Communism in Europe crumbled with the destruction of the Berlin Wall. New technology skyrocketed, as computers became more capable and pop culture exploded into our homes thanks to the prominence of television.

The need continued for renovations to be made to the Cathedral Church. In 1980, Bishop McShea commissioned Dana Van Horn to paint murals for the north and south sanctuary walls, depicting events in the life of St. Catharine of Siena. On April 29, 1981, Bishop McShea celebrated a Pontifical Mass of Dedication in the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena. During the solemn liturgy the Cathedral was consecrated by Bishop McShea in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Allentown. He also signed a Decree of Dedication at that time.

The mural paintings were installed and dedicated on November 14, 1982. The north wall depicts St. Catharine leading Pope Gregory XI from Avignon to Rome and Blessed Raymond of Capua, St. Catharine's spiritual director, riding an ox. The south wall painting shows St. Catharine addressing Pope Urban VI with Blessed Raymond behind the Pope, serving as advisor and translator.

In September 1979, Bishop McShea had welcomed 35 men into the first Permanent Deacon Program in the diocese and all 35 were ordained in the spring of 1982. On October 16, 1982, Bishop McShea presided at the installation of the first group of permanent deacons for the Diocese of Allentown. Since then, the diocese has ordained permanent deacons in 1990, 1995, 2000, 2006 and 2015.

St. Catharine of Siena welcomed Ralph Jaccodine and Joseph Salvo as our first permanent deacons. Bill Hassler would be accepted as a candidate for the 1996 class of permanent deacons, and would be assigned to serve the Cathedral. Deacon William Hassler, Deacons Robert Snyder and Ricardo Ceballos currently serve in the ministry of the Cathedral parish family.

Another highlight during 1982 was the installation of a beautiful Madonna with the Child Jesus centerpiece in the sanctuary. The Christ Child she holds in her arms represents the Church. The diocese and our parish were dedicated into the care of Our Lady, "Mary, Mother of the Church" designated Patroness of the Diocese. She leads all to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church.

In early 1983, Most Reverend Thomas J. Welsh was installed as the second Bishop of Allentown, following the retirement of Bishop Joseph McShea. Bishop Welsh was known nationally for his strict pro-life stance, and established the "Stand Up for Life" campaign to encourage awareness on pro-life efforts. His tenure included the formation of the first Youth Ministry Office in the Diocese and raised $13 million for an education endowment campaign and "Forward with Christ." Bishop Welsh also established the AD Times, a newspaper for the Diocese of Allentown. He would serve the Diocese of Allentown from 1983-1998, administering to the needs of the parishes and Catholics in the diocese.

Through the remainder of the 1980s, renovations of the church continued. Through the generosity of benefactor Anne Jaindl, a church elevator was installed. Msgr. Thompson once referred to this elevator as, "Anne's Chapel of Charity." The elevator, which can accommodate two wheelchairs and 6 persons, is on the north side of the Cathedral. In 1986-1987, the Thompson Scholarship Fund was established to assist families with tuition costs; it became the Bishop Thompson Scholarship Fund in 1988.

On May 3, 1987 the Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Donald Winzer, received an invitation to sing a Vatican Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter. Fifty choir members, led by Msgr. Thompson, travelled to Rome to participate for this celebration of the Pontifical Liturgy.

On April 29, 1989 Pope John Paul II appointed Msgr. Thompson as Coadjustor Bishop of Charleston with right of succession. This appointment was received with great joy by the people of our parish and the diocese. He was the first priest from our diocese to be appointed a Bishop. Msgr. Thompson was also the first Chancellor of the Diocese of Allentown, and was Vicar General of the Diocese and the rector of the Cathedral when he was appointed Bishop of Charleston. His ordination took place May 24, 1989 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston with Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States, as the ordaining prelate. Bishop Thompson became the 11th bishop of Charleston. He served the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena faithfully for 14 years. He resigned from his post of Bishop of Charleston on July 12, 1999, after nine years of service and surpassing the mandatory retirement age of 75. He died November 24, 2013, at the age of 90. With Msgr. Thompson's new appointment, the Cathedral again needed another pastor. Rev. Alfred R. Ott was assigned to care for this parish in 1989. Pope John Paul II appointed him as a Monsignor on May 20, 1990. Msgr. Ott led the parish for the next 14 years, until his retirement in 2003.

Bishop Joseph McShea, the 1st Bishop of Allentown, died in Allentown at the age of 84 on November 28, 1991. A two-hour funeral Mass for Bishop McShea was held at the Cathedral on December 4, 1991. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua performed the burial on the grounds of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral parish accepted and encouraged the decision for girls as altar servers at the celebration of the Mass, with as many as four girls in the 1994 first class of altar servers.

On June 27, 1996, almost 80 years since our parish was established, the Cathedral had one convent and one nun in residence, Sister Elizabeth Agnes, SSJ. A decrease in religious vocations, an aging population of nuns, and an increase in lay school faculty, were among the factors necessitating the closing of our convent. The grotto representing Our Lady of Fatima with the children was moved from the convent grounds to the north side of the church grounds.

In 1995, the Angel Choir, featuring children from the parish, was begun under the direction of Lisa Koons. The choir, sponsored by the Women's Alliance, enhanced many of the celebrations of the Mass and other spiritual devotions. The choir continued under the direction of Cindy Kelly and, currently, Beverly McDevitt.

In an effort to extend the spiritual education of the children of the parish, our first parish Vacation Bible School was conducted in June 1997, under the guidance of Mary Egan, Religious Education Director, and a team of parent volunteers. The children of the parish continue to attend this journey in faith today.

Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas Welsh, after he reached the mandatory age of 75, on December 15, 1997. During his retirement, Bishop Welsh continued to administer the Sacrament ot Confirmation at parishes around the diocese. He served the Diocese from 1983 - 1998. He died February 28, 2009 at the age of 87. A Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Cathedral on February 28, 2009 and was followed by his burial in St. Nicholas Cemetery in Weatherly.

Pope John Paul II named Bishop Edward P. Cullen as the third Bishop of Allentown on December 16, 1997. He was formally installed by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia at the Cathedral on February 9, 1998.

In 1999, the Cathedral parish sponsored a family from Bosnia. We were pleased to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Marijan Martinovic and their children as members of our family in Christ.

Our parish community celebrated, along with other parishes in the diocese, the appointment of a diocesan priest, Rev. Msgr. Joseph E. Kurtz, as the second Bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee by Pope John Paul II, on October 26, 1999. He served from 1999-2007. He was later named Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky on June 12, 2007. On November 11, 2013, Bishop Kurtz was elected President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a position he held until 2016. He continues to serve as the Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky.

Amid the hoopla and novelty of the Year 2000 Millennium, we began the building project for the gym and theater complex (John and Margaret Walson Center) renovations of the auditorium, and the construction of two parking lots.

Under the leadership of Msgr. Ott and Bishop Cullen, a Five-Point Parish Revitalization Project, a spiritual journey, was initiated to meet the growing needs of the parish and school community. Members of the Honorary Campaign Cabinet were Bishops Welsh, Cullen, Thompson, Kurtz, and the Very Rev. Daniel Gambet.

With properties secured for the planned expansion, in June 2000 Bishop Cullen together with Msgr. Alfred Ott; Msgr. Alfred Schlert, Vicar General of the Diocese; and Parochial Vicars Rev. David James and Rev. Robert George celebrated Mass and the groundbreaking for the multi-purpose gymnasium. The groundbreaking was attended by the John Walson family, parishioners, school students and faculty, along with invited city officials. Also attending the groundbreaking were Joe and Peggy Billera, longtime parishioners and benefactors to this project and Trustees of the Harry C. Trexler Trust.

Eventually, the John and Margaret Walson Center was built next to the Main School Building. On October 25, 2001, a mass was celebrated in observance of the completion of phase two of the revitalization project. The convent and tribunal office were torn down and new parking lots were constructed next to the annex school building located across from the Cathedral Church. The parish hall, below the church, was also renovated and is now the Parish Activity Center (PAC).

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, there was an increase in Catholics attending daily and Sunday Mass. But after less than a year, most studies showed that attendance was again at pre-9/11 levels.

After 14 years of faithful service to the Cathedral Parish, Rev. Msgr. Alfred Ott retired in 2003 and was named Pastor Emeritus.

Rev. Albert Byrne became our next pastor, undertaking the completion of the Parish Revitalization Project begun a few years prior to his arrival. He would be named Msgr. on June 26, 2005.

Msgr. Byrne, together with Bishop Cullen, continued with more renovations to the interior of the Cathedral in 2005. A "cathedra," the seat of the diocesan bishop, was positioned on the left-hand side of the sanctuary. The bishop's shield, "coat of arms," is placed above the cathedra. A huge white marble cross replaced the statue of the Virgin Mother holding the infant child. Surrounding the crucifix, a large golden mosaic was installed. Statues of Mary with the Child Jesus and St. Catharine of Siena were placed on the left and right front walls, respectively. A new Crawford ceiling with medallions of the image of Bishop Cullen's shield replaced the old ceiling. The original tabernacle — dating from the founding of St. Catharine's — was located and returned to the parish. It was placed in the center of the sanctuary. All these changes would address the physical and spiritual growth needs of our parish.

Donald Winzer, Cathedral Choir Master for 33 years, retired, in December 2002. It was also in 2002 that the Allentown Diocesan Choir sang a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. To continue the legacy of fine worship with songs of praise, Beverly McDevitt was hired as the choir director. Eventually, the Angelorum Choir, Living Word, Mens' Choir, Diocesan Choir, and the Angel Choir (now the Vianney Voices) were formed. The choirs add prayerful reverence in the celebration of the mass.

Pope John Paul II died during the first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005, at 9:37 p.m., soon after he had uttered his final audible words, "Let me go to my Father's house." Pope John Paul II served as leader of the church for 27 years. Bishop Cullen and Msgr. Byrne called on all to pray for Pope John Paul II, and support Pope Benedict XVI, his successor. On April 28, 2005, just weeks into his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the cause of beatification and canonization would be waived for John Paul II. On May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II, and on April 27, 2014 he was canonized a Saint.

The Cathedral parish family participated in Bishop Cullen's spiritual program, RENEW 2000, to replenish and strengthen evangelization by forming closer ties within the parish community through small prayer groups. Some of the prayer groups continue to meet to this day. During his tenure, Bishop Cullen convened the Second Synod of the Diocese of Allentown to chart its course for decades to come; The process began with hundreds of people attending listening sessions in each of the six deaneries of the diocese to offer input on the Synod topics. The Solemn Synod Closing Mass was held on December 10, 2006 at the Cathedral where Bishop Cullen signed the Statutes of the Synod.

In 2002, Rev. Msgr. Ronald Gainer was appointed Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky. Bishop Gainer became the third priest from the Diocese of Allentown to be named a bishop. In 2014, Bishop Gainer would be called upon to serve as Bishop of Harrisburg Diocese.

At a time when many Catholics were questioning their faith and filled with doubt, internationally acclaimed speaker Matthew Kelly, author of Rediscovering Catholicism, shared three days with us in September 2005. His message was how to live life with a purpose and passion of our faith, and love in Christ. Bishop Cullen led the Cause of Canonization of Shenandoah native, Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. Under his direction, required documentation was completed and forwarded to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, an essential step required in pursuing Fr. Ciszek's canonization. Reverend Alfred J. Byrne remained at the Cathedral parish as our pastor for three years, until he was reassigned in May 2006.

On July 15, 2008 a restructuring and consolidation of parishes, in keeping with the statutes of the Second Synod of the Diocese of Allentown went into effect, due to declining Mass attendance, shifts in population and decrease in priestly vocations. Churches were closed after special closing Masses the previous Sunday. Many generations of Catholics, who by their fidelity, sacrifice and worship of their faith, joined with others to attend Mass at parishes as recommended by the Second Synod. Much of the Northeastern United States experienced thes me demographic transformation.

Bishop Edward Cullen submitted his resignation at the age of 75 to the Holy See, as required under church law, in March 2008. Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation one year later.

The appointment of Msgr. John Oliver Barres, Chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington, as the fourth Bishop of Allentown, was announced on May 27, 2009. Bishop-Elect Barres was installed July 30, 2009 at a special Mass at the Cathedral. The ceremony was historic because it marked the first time that a priest was ordained a bishop for the Diocese of Allentown since its founding in 1961.

In June 2009, Msgr. Andrew R. Baker arrived as the new Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena. Shortly after his arrival, the Cathedral celebrated the installation of Bishop Barres. In Msgr. Baker's attempt to bring the Gospel to those unable to attend, he established "Doors of Faith," in 2013. "It is my hope and prayer that this new blog will be a portal for others to receive the Catholic faith into their lives and homes so as to carry out the new evangelization," said Msgr. Baker.

During 2010, the Cathedral of St. Cathedral of Siena School merged with the schools of St. Francis of Assisi School and St. Paul's Catholic School to become one school for all three parishes. St. John Vianney Regional School opened for the 2010-2011 school year housed on St. Catharine's campus.

In 2011, Bishop John Barres and Msgr. Andrew Baker led the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Allentown. The Diocese prepared a book entitled, The Diocese of Allentown, A History, and produced a 30-minute DVD history of the Diocese for the faithful. A pilgrimage to the oldest churches in each county, as well as a pilgrimage to the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. was held. Bishop Barres and Msgr. Baker led the faithful on a pilgrimage to Italy celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Diocese and the 50th anniversary of our parish being named the Cathedral.

The five counties of the Allentown Diocese sustained damage during "Superstorm Hurricane Sandy" from October 29 - 30, 2012. Power outages and downed trees abounded in Sandy's wake. The Cathedral received damages to the church and rectory, notably the cross that fell from the top . of the 80-foot-high spire. "The cross was one of the highest points in west Allentown and was a proud symbol of the Cathedral and the presence of Christ in the midst of our lives and world," said Msgr. Andrew Baker, pastor. The raising of the second Cathedral Cross upon the church building occurred in 2013. Msgr. Baker had the cross brought into the Cathedral sanctuary and blessed the cross before it was placed atop the spire. The cross once again stands as a symbol of our faith, welcoming all to worship.

Bishop Barres initiated a diocesan-wide St. Thomas More Society for lawyers, focused on local efforts to educate the faithful on the importance of protection of religious liberty. He also established an aspiracy program for young men considering a call to the priesthood. Under his leadership the diocese also expanded Hispanic ministry and evangelization. Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of Rockville Centre, NY on December 9, 2016.

In August 2013, parishioner Jennifer McLarin entered the Abbey of Regina Laudis, an enclosed Benedictine monastery in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She is now Benedictine Sister Christopher, Order of St. Benedict.

On February 11, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his resignation citing "a lack of strength of mind and body" due to his advanced age. Pope Benedict was a great teacher and writer of dogmatic and fundamental theology. He chose to be known by the title of "Pope Emeritus" upon his resignation. Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, on February 28, 2013, a papal conclave was held and elected Pope Francis on March 13, 2013.

In September 2013, Msgr. Baker expressed his gratitude to God and to all parishioners who have given service and been served at the Cathedral. He successfully carried out a Campaign for Debt Reduction which actually yielded a healthy surplus.

He also led a 13-day pilgrimage to Italy, Lourdes and Fatima that year. Parishioners who were not able to physically travel were able to write prayer intentions in a Book of Intentions. Msgr. Baker remembered in prayer all those names included within the book.

In April, 2014, Msgr. Baker travelled to attend a conference in Rome and visit the Holy Land. He represented the Diocese of Allentown at the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014.

In 2014, parishioner Lauren Wagner entered the Sisters of Christian Charity community. Lauren began thinking about becoming a sister in the seventh grade while at Cathedral School. During her high school years, Rev. Alan Hoffa, Chaplain, Allentown Central Catholic High School, brought a group of girls and teachers to visit Mallinckrodt Convent's Motherhouse. Lauren was drawn to the sisters and felt so welcomed and at home. Lauren entered the community upon her 2014 high school graduation, and is now Sister Josephine, SCC.

During the Lenten season of 2015, the youth of the parish presented the Living Stations. This brought a new spiritual aspect of the suffering and death of Christ. This also renewed participation among the youth to participate more fully in their expression of their faith lives.

Other items of note, a Catholic Resource Center was established and located in the vestibule of the Church containing materials for parishioners use in catechesis and evangelization.

In April 2015, a new reliquary was placed in our church. It houses relics of several Saints and a relic of the true cross. These relics were collected by Msgr. Ott, Pastor Emeritus, and donated in his memory to the Cathedral after his death. Doris and Cindy Jones arranged the display.

Reverend Msgr. Andrew Baker was named Rector of the historic Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 2015. He would leave us to oversee the education and training of seminarians preparing to be ordained to the priesthood.

In 2015, Reverend Francis Schoenauer was named the next pastor of the Cathedral. Pope Francis named him Monsignor in 2016.

Fr. Bernard Ezaki, Parochial Vicar of the Cathedral, was reassigned in October, 2016, after serving three years. The carillon bell system in the church choir loft was repaired due in large part, to Fr. Ezaki's generosity and to donations by parishioners in his honor.

Following the appointment of Bishop Barres in 2016 as Bishop of Rockville Centre, the diocese remained in "sede vacante" until the appointment of a new shepherd to lead the faithful of our parish and diocese. A native son of the diocese, Msgr. Alfred A. Schlert, was appointed the Fifth Bishop of Allentown by Pope Francis June 27, 2017. He was ordained as Bishop and installed on August 31, 2017. He became the first priest of the diocese that was appointed to serve as its own bishop. He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral on September 19, 1987 by Bishop Thomas J Welsh. He held various positions as a priest, teacher and professor serving the faithful in the diocese. He was named Vice Chancellor and Secretary to Bishop Welsh in 1997, and named Diocesan Vicar General by Bishop Cullen in 1998. From 1998 to 2008 he was in residence at the Cathedral. He continued to aid in the governance of the diocese with Bishop Cullen and later Bishop Barres.

One of the lovely events of 2018 was a beautiful Marian concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.

During 2018, the Grand Jury Report on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania six dioceses was released. In response to the report, the Diocese of Allentown sponsored, "Healing Our Church" program to be shared during Lent, 2019. The purpose of the program was to encourage prayerful reflection on the cns1s, on Scripture and our path forward as a family of faith.

As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary, we celebrate the ordination to the priesthood of one of our parishioners, Guiseppi Esposito. Also ordained this year were Rev. John Maria and Rev. Zachary Wehr. MayGod grant them manyyears ofpriestly ministry.

The Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, continues to move forward as a parish of faith, serving all.

This narrative is from the Commemorative 100th Anniversay Celebration Program

Resources:

  • Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ecclesiastical Color Publishers, 1970. Hanley, John.
  • The Diocese of Allentown, A History.Editions Du Signe, 2010. AD Times.
  • Allentown Catholic Communications, Inc. 1989-2019 Catholic Standard and Times, Inc. Philadelphia



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