St. Paul of the Cross Parish came into being on October 4, 2009, the fruit of Called to Holiness and Mission: Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of Scranton, the project designed to foster the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Diocese, starting with the Diocese’s most basic unit, the parish. The intention was to respond to demographic changes, diminishing financial resources, and the need to assign priests in a more effective way to serve the faithful. This current parish, therefore, combines three former parishes of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Francis of Assisi.
The History of These Three Churches:
→Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
One year before the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York harbor, a group of 110 Polish immigrants from Scranton and nearby towns petitioned Bishop O’Hara, then Bishop of Scranton to establish a Polish-speaking parish. One November 15, 1885, they laid the cornerstone for their church on a lot in the middle of the 1200 Block of Prospect Avenue, signifying the beginning of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish.
Coal miners from the western Silesian section of Poland, partitioned in 1795, came to this Anthracite rich corner of Pennsylvania, desiring to escape the Germanization program of the Prussian Kaiser. They were joined by farmers from eastern Poland fleeing Russian Czarist oppression and other southeastern Poles looking to feed their families with freedom’s bread which was in short supply in their section of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. The motto, “Polonia Semper Fidelis” – Poland is Always Faithful – marked their common heritage of loyalty to a then 900-year plus Roman Catholic Tradition and united them in their effort to preserve their roots of faith and to have a place to give thanks to God for delivering them to this American “Promised Land.”
The founding priests and parishioners of this parish reflected the very same pioneer spirit of “can and will do” that translated into the founding and developing of the United States of America, the greatest democracy on earth.
These were builders and pioneers of Polish heritage, who banded together under the leadership of dedicated priests to build a parish that not only ministered to the spiritual needs of its people but a parish that preserved Polish culture, language, and historical observances. It is a Polish Roman Catholic Parish that enriched the quality of life for so many years.
Life in this land of freedom and deliverance was not easy. Brutal working conditions and repression by a non-Catholic culture, along with a lack of knowledge of the English language, though harrowing, did not discourage them. They placed their trust in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother. They saw in these hearts the source of hope that they would one day earn their own place in this country. Faith in God gave these simple, hardworking people a sense of community, a wealth of hope and a vision of the future for their children and grandchildren.
The first church was a humble wooden structure which soon became inadequate for the increasing numbers of fellow countrymen that continually kept coming to share in the promise of a better life. The financial sacrifice of $1.00 per month made by parishioners at that time represented one day’s wages for a 10-hour workday. Yet, in seven years they were able to buy a property, build a church, buy a house for a rectory, and purchase a property for a school and convent, as well as acquire land for a cemetery. The new rectory was built in 1897 and was used as a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth from 1954 onwards. In 1898, under the leadership of Pastor Andrew Zychowicz, the parish purchased the corner property on Prospect Avenue and Brook Streets for $5000 for the site of a new church building to accommodate the steady stream of new arrivals from Poland. Parishioners living in the Greenwood section of South Scranton established a Mission Church in 1904 to better serve the spiritual needs of the people there. 1904 was also the year in which the House of God in which we worship today was built.
→St. John the Evangelist
The origin of St. John the Evangelist Parish can be found in a very brief news item: The Scranton Republican of August 2, 1886 reported: “Work has been commenced on the new Catholic Church on Fig Street, in the Twentieth Ward. A portion of the lumber was placed on the grounds Saturday. Father McAndrews of the Cathedral is to be the pastor.” The building was 45 feet by 140 feet long.
The Scranton Republican also printed an account regarding ceremonies for the laying of the cornerstone for St. John the Evangelist Church on September 18, 1886. The account listed the route for a procession to the designated area for the church grounds.
It is noted that St. John’s was from its beginning a territorial, as opposed to a national, parish, therefore, it attracted many parishioners from many heritages. Yet, the majority of communicants, for at least its first fifty years, were Irish immigrants and those of Irish extraction. From its formation, St. John the Evangelist Parish had enrolled coal miners, factory workers including silk, iron and steel, doctors, laborers, lawyers, business people, teachers, nurses, and most importantly St. John’s was always a place of family life. It existed side by side, as a good neighbor with other Roman Catholic parishes, most significantly, however, with neighbors who professed diverse religious beliefs and whose ethnic backgrounds represented the many tongues of the Bible.
As the early parish history is read one learns that all the major events brought forth marchers and observers from neighboring parishes: St. Mary of the Assumption – German heritage; Nativity of Our Lord – Irish heritage; St. Francis of Assisi – Italian heritage; St. Joseph’s of Minooka – Irish heritage; and Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – Polish heritage and closest neighbor, the parish with whom St. John’s would eventually merge.
St. John’s was created for those parishioners of the Twentieth Ward who, until then, worshipped at the Cathedral downtown. At that time, it was not known as St. Peter’s but rather St. Vincent DePaul. Therefore, Father McAndrew, as a priest from the Cathedral, was known to his flock. To be sure, his parishioners had been strong in their faith. After all, they had no problem with traveling to and from Central City in order to worship at the downtown parish. Their church would now be near their homes on Meadow Brook lands as it was then referred to. One needs to keep in mind that these were surrounded by dirt streets and open fields and no automobiles.
To get a real building started for a church, school and parish hall, 49 families contributed about $20.00 each. Then an additional 450 families registered as members. These lists were placed in the cornerstone of the new church, school and hall building. They have been preserved. In the first year as a parish (1886-1887) they completed a formal church, school rooms and a useful meeting hall, all under one roof and three stories high. Now its site is a parking lot. By 1888 there were 500 students; 15 sisters assigned by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order. Social and religious organizations were on the move. The new parish appeared to be moving quickly towards a consolidation of effort in religious practice, educational training and socially.
What makes up a church is not so much the walls of a building, but the people who built that church, rebuilt it when destroyed, defended it from extinction and made it a living and vibrant place of worship through the generations.
To celebrate 100 years of a church means that the members of a community rediscover that they are spiritually united with the people that built it and kept it alive through the years until the present day. It means that those living in 1986, who celebrated the centennial felt as one family of believers with those who went before us.
To celebrate 100 years of St. John’s Church was to celebrate our family history. Though many families are scattered far and wide, we form one family of believers with intimate and sacred ties to the Church of St. John, where our ancestors were welcomed into the faith through baptism, had their marriages blessed and from where they were buried. And today, although we have merged with two other parishes, we are the same family, where our children are baptized, have the weddings of our sons and daughters, and we give our last farewell in the Lord to our departed. It is the church where we still gather in special moments to honor and celebrate our patron saints, to express our common faith.
→St. Francis of Assisi
The rich history of St. Francis of Assisi Church was researched and published in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Parish celebrated on October 1, 1995. It strengthened the Italian immigrants the late 19th and early 20thcenturies who left family, friends and possessions behind as they ventured to America. With them they brought their heritage, tradition, talents and very importantly, their Catholic Faith.
Before there was a church building to worship, the spiritual needs of our ancestors were served in the basement of St. Peter’s Cathedral on Wyoming Avenue, at the territorial church of St. John the Evangelist on Fig Street and St. Lucy’s Church in West Scranton.
Under the direction of Reverend Victor Gurisetti, a mission chapel was erected on Genet Street in time for Easter Sunday, 1914. The original Church was then a small wooden structure located in the present day parking lot and the congregation was served by Father Guiseppe Nardone of St. Lucy’s under the mission status.
St. Francis of Assisi Church records began on March 1, 1920. In April 1922 in accordance with the congregations wishes for pastor, Reverend Gaetoneo Cassiba was appointed as the first resident pastor.
Reverend Damien Leone succeeded Father Cassiba in September 1928. During his tenure, St. Francis experienced an increase in parish membership and many improvements to its church property.
Rev. William Giroux was appointed to succeed Fr. Leone in December, 1935. With Fr. Giroux as pastor, the Altar and Rosary Society was organized by women of the parish, the Holy Name Society was organized for parish men, and soon thereafter, the Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality was formed for young women of the parish. The annual summer Block Party, the major parish social and fund-raising event for many years, was planned by the Holy Name Society, with the full support of the Altar and Rosary Society and Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality, until in later years, the Fall Pasta Dinner replaced it.
Father Giroux was succeeded as pastor by Rev. Dr. John F. O’Malley, who, in 1947, began construction of the present church. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on Easter Sunday, 1950. During Fr. O’Malley’s pastorate, plans for a grammar school resulted in land donations and pledges, but a school never materialized.
Msgr. Donald A. Deuel was appointed to succeed Fr. O’Malley in September, 1967. Under his direction plans for our hall kitchen to be renovated were formulated. Msgr. Anthony C. Marra succeeded Msgr. Deuel in January, 1970. Msgr. Marra oversaw the completion of the kitchen renovation in the auditorium (resulting in the growth of the popularity of our “Pasta Pranzo” throughout the diocese) and then began a twenty-year effort together with the selfless sacrifice of our parishioners to bring St. Francis into compliance with the Second Vatican Council’s vision for celebration of the Mass with priest and the increased participation of lay liturgical ministers. Msgr. Marra was a champion of continuing faith formation and religious education instruction, and was the first pastor to employ a number of dedicated religious sisters to coordinate the parish’s religious education efforts. The parish’s first Pastoral Council, structured in compliance with diocesan guidelines, was also formed during Msgr. Marra’s tenure.
In November, 1994, Msgr. Marra was transferred to St. Anthony of Padua Church, Dunmore, and Msgr. John J. O’Brien was assigned as interim pastor until Msgr. Philip A. Gray was named pastor in February, 1995. Msgr. Gray began his tenure with preparations for the beautiful liturgy and celebration for our 75th Anniversary. In 1998, with his characteristic attention to detail, he oversaw the publication of our pictorial directory where, under his direction, the parishioners of St. Francis could be viewed living their motto, “Open Arms to All,” in the various liturgical, musical, educational, Christian service and administrative ministries and committees he built up among us. Conscious of the growing number of elderly volunteers in our parish, Msgr. Gray scaled back our Spring Festival and Fall Harvest to a more manageable size, while increasing the effectiveness of our Youth Group and pastoral outreach efforts. Msgr. Gray was a sensitive and effective leader in our Diocese of Scranton’s Called to Holiness and Mission planning and process. He became Pastor Emeritus of St. Francis of Assisi Parish on July 15, 2009 when Rev.
James J. Walsh began his role as administrator to direct the parish through consolidation with Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and St. John the Evangelist parishes.
Today, although we have merged with two other parishes, and although our spiritual lives have grown in three distinct parishes we are the same family as we move into the future, where our children are baptized, have the weddings of our sons and daughters, and we give our last farewell in the Lord to our departed. It is the church where we still gather in special moments to honor and celebrate our patron saints, and to express our common faith.