St. John the Evangelist Parish was established in 1854. The first church was a wooden structure, erected in 1858 on the site of the present church, corner of William and Church Streets, Pittston, Pennsylvania.
Dedication: The granite cornerstone was placed on September 17, 1889. The church was dedicated on April 12, 1893 by Bishop William O'Hara, the first bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, who called the church the 'jewel of the diocese.'
Structural Statistics: Built with Trenton stone and trimmed with light Indiana limestone, the building measures 160 feet by 62 feet, completed with artistically superb stained glass windows throughout.
The base walls are made of concrete and measure approximately four feet in thickness while the main walls of the church are about 36 inches thick.
The towering twin spires are topped with gilded crosses and add to the overall beauty of the structure, attracting attention from throughout the Pittston community, both on the east and west sides of the Susquehanna River.
The entire structure is made of stone and wood with the exception of the metal posts holding up the balcony and the main floor. Otherwise there is no steelwork in the church.
The slate roof is supported by wooden trusses. The beams are installed in such a way to support the roof without pillars. An attic walkway was provided so workmen can walk around the entire ceiling area to handle necessary repairs. (This enhanced the installation of air conditioning, enabling the concealment of ductwork.)
Main Altar: Built of marble, originally costing $5,000. The two side altars are also constructed of marble, each costing $2,000. The Sanctuary is also constructed of marble, as is the altar rail.
Nave: The main seating section was designed to seat 1,500 people while the galleries hold 400.
Heating & Lighting: When the church was constructed, it contained 300 lights and was heated with a central coal fired system. Since then heating system has been changed, to oil and now to natural gas. The lights have also been replaced several times.
Renovations: The church has remained very much the same from construction until 1982 when major changes were made in the church proper. At that time a new Altar of Sacrifice was installed for Mass, the center section of the sanctuary was extended ten feet, and a new marble baptismal font and marble lectern were installed.
The church was rewired and electrical fixtures were updated.
Pipe Organ: The current pipe organ is a three-manual Kilgen. It was donated by Monsignor Peter C. Winters, who was pastor from 1921 until his death in 1930. It was restored in 1970 at a cost of $58,000.
Front Doors: The three original oak doors at the main entrance were re-hung with ball bearing hinges.
Cost of Construction: Records indicate original costs to have been either $140,000 or $150,000. Aided by preconstruction fund raising by the parishioners, most either Irish immigrants or their offspring, the parish was debt-free when the church was formally dedicated.
Church Basement: The basement of the church originally contained a full-size chapel which in recent years was divided into two sections. A chapel remains in one section (closest to the front doors of the church) while the other contains a meeting hall and kitchen.
Crypts: Two former pastors are entombed in the lower church. Father John Finnen, who was also the first chancellor of the Diocese of Scranton, served St. John the Evangelist parish from 1861 until 1899. Monsignor Peter C. Winters is also entombed there. He served as pastor from 1921 until 1930.
History records the names of Father Pellenz and Father Dilhouet as being the first Catholic priests in the area, but the commencement of the actual history of St. John the Evangelist Parish begins with Reverend Henry Fitzsimmons from Carbondale in 1841. Father Fitzsimmons celebrated Mass at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Daley in Pittston.
Reverend Henry Fitzsimmons, stationed in Carbondale, made regular visits to Pittston and the surrounding area. Setting out from Carbondale on horseback, he would visit Catholics in Scranton, called Slocum Hollow, then Pittston, and next Wilkes-Barre. He would stay overnight with some family, say Mass in the morning, administer the sacraments, and attend to the sick. His regular stopping place was with the Daley family, a little later the home of Thomas McCue was the resting place and Mass was celebrated there. It was also used by the successor of Father Fitzsimmons, Reverend Patrick Pendergast.
Reverend S.R. Ethoffer who was stationed in Wilkes-Barre made visits to the sick in Pittston. There is no record of him celebrating Mass in Pittston, but came to call on special occasions and then returned to Wilkes-Barre the same day.
The Reverend Basil Shorb began to minister to the Catholics in Pittston in 1849. Reverend Shorb is credited as the first missionary to see the necessity of erecting a church in the area. Accordingly, he, in conjunction with Michael Reap, at whose house he stayed during his visits, secured a piece of ground on the hill, afterwards known as Church Hill, for the erection of a place of worship for the Catholics of Pittston.
Father John Loughran succeeded Father Shorb in charge of the area. He resided in Scranton and paid regular visits to Pittston. The population began to grow rapidly and called for more frequent visits from Father Loughran. Therefore it was under his care that the first church was built and dedicated. It was named St. Mary's and Mass was celebrated in it, but it contained no pews.
Reverend John P. O'Shaughnessy, who was stationed in Wilkes-Barre for some months, succeeded Father Loughran in charge of St. Mary's beginning in 1853. He became the first resident Catholic Pastor in Pittston. He entered with zeal into the work of his ministry and a spirit permeated the scattered parish. Most area Catholics would attend St. Mary's on the hill but it was a frail edifice that was becoming too small for the numbers attending Mass.
Having secured a lot on William Street in October 1853, Father O'Shaughnessy set about erecting the first church of Saint John the Evangelist. It was noted in the newspaper a committee met on November 4, 1853 to consider moving the old church to the new site. After the resolution was voted on it was decided to build a new church and continue to worship in the old one until the new one was completed.
The parish was then organized and established on August 20, 1854.
The church that was built was a small from wooden rectangular building. The new church was blessed in the name of Saint John the Evangelist on October 17, 1858 by Father O'Shaughnessy with delegation from Bishop Newman (now Saint John Neumann). Records in St. John's office reflect several visits from Bishop Neumann to the parish, including his signature on baptismal documents.
In 1856 Reverend Michael Blacker was named the first assistant at St. John's to help Father O'Shaughnessy with the added duties of the growing population and onerous task of building the church. He was assigned here until 1857.
ON the 20th of September 1858, Reverend John Finnen was appointed by Bishop Neumann to assist. In the spring of the following year, 1859, Father O'Shaughnessy was transferred to Mauch Chunk (presently Jim Thorpe), Carbon County and the parish was left in the care of the assistant for a few weeks until the new rector was appointed.
It was recorded that Father O'Shaughnessy died on February 17, 1862.
In May 1859, Reverend Patrick A. Prendergast was transferred from Wilmington, Delaware, then part of the Philadelphia Diocese, to succeed Father O'Shaughnessy as pastor at the Pittston mission. This was the second time he was to minister to the people of this area. Twelve years earlier he would visit the home of Michael Reap and serve the spiritual needs of the people. Father Prendergast labored assiduously in the mission for two and one half years. With his health failing gradually, he died in the pastoral home on November 2, 1861. He is buried in the church yard.
Father Pendergast's assistant was Reverend John Finnen until 1860 when he was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Philadelphia. Upon Father Pendergast's death, Father Finnen was immediately placed in charge as the Rector. Father Finnen was born in Shurles, County Tipperary, Ireland, on June 24, 1828. He emigrated and entered St. Joseph's Jesuit College of Philadelphia where he finished in the classical course. Then he decided to become a secular priest and entered St. Charles Borromeo Diocesan College of Philadelphia. He finished his prescribed course in five years and was ordained September 10, 1858 by Bishop Newman of Philadelphia.
During the administration of Father Finnen, the Catholics of the Pittston made a number of far reaching improvements showing their eagerness to carry out the word of God. Father Finnen's pastorate was the longest of any pastor and embraced an extended period of rapid growth and development. In 1863, Father Finnen purchased a double brick dwelling next to the church from Wesley Hirons of Wilmington, Delaware, for a school and residence for the sisters who would have charge of the instruction. This was a select (private) school for girls and boys up to the age of 14 and it opened in September 1864. The sisters placed in charge were from the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Reading, Pennsylvania.
Father Finnen also served as chancellor of the Scranton Diocese.
In the old days, the rectory was on the same lot with the church, but in 1867 adjacent ground was purchased for a new rectory across the street. This was purchased from the School Directors of Pittston Borough on July 23, 1867. This was to give room for an addition to the church and to build a more suitable dwelling for the rectory.
The Diocese of Philadelphia of which Pittston was part, divided in 1868 and on March 3rd of that year the new Diocese of Scranton was established. On the 12th of July, Rt. Reverend William O'Hara was consecrated the first Bishop of Scranton.
In 1869 Reverend James Cody was made assistant to Father Finnen. He died in August the following year and is interred along side the former pastor, Reverend Pendergast in the church yard.
It became the desire of the church and the feelings of the parishioners and the Rector to extend the beneficial effects of the Sisters' school which had been in effect for a number of years to a greater number of children in the parish. Due to the unflagging zeal by clergy and people, and as a result of united efforts, a substantial parochial school was opened on Monday, September 6, 1880. When the school opened there was not a cent of debt and the Sisters devoted themselves to the instruction of the children with no tuition charged.
In the winter of 1887, it was decided the first church was too small and a new one should be built. The old church was demolished and services were held in the school building.
During the Christmas holidays of 1887 and 1888 a great fair ('The Christmas Argosy') was held in Keystone Hall, at the corner of South Main and Pine Streets. The object of the fair was to begin a fund for the erection of a new church building. The present church had served the congregation for over 30 years but now the plan was to raise up 'a most laudable one, more worthy of the noble use to which it will be devoted, more in harmony with the numbers and advancements, and that will be witness to their faith and love for God and his church.'
The architect was Edwin F. Durang of Philadelphia and the contractor was Edward Delaney of the same city.
Edwin Forrest Durang was born into a distinguished theatrical family on April 17, 1829. Durang began work with the ecclesiastical architect John E. Carver in Philadelphia and succeeded him in the firm and specialized in churches and institutions associated with the Catholic Church. In listing of 228 projects done during his term, most were in Philadelphia and the surrounding area with the listings for St. John Convent and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Pittston.
The cornerstone of the new St. John the Evangelist Church was laid September 22, 1889. This cornerstone contained the date of 1854 on the Church Street side for the beginning of the parish and the date 1889 for the formation of the church on the William Street side. This church was listed from $140,000 to $150,000. The laying of the stone marked the beginning of a four year project which results in the beautiful Gothic/Romanesque edifice considered a landmark in Luzerne County. An imposing ceremony of the dedication was held on April 16, 1893.
At the conclusion of the Mass Rt. Reverend Bishop O'Hara spoke briefly to the congregation. He congratulated the people on laboring faithfully and unitedly for the accomplishment of this grand, this beautiful work. "We have many beautiful churches in the Diocese but I must say that this grand church is a jewel. It is the Jewel of the Diocese…" It has been referred to with this title ever since.
Father Finnen died at the residence on February 14, 1899 at the age of 71. He served the longest tenure of any pastor, having served from 1861 to 1899.
The next pastor assigned was Reverend Eugene A. Garvey. Father Garvey was born October 5, 1845 in Carbondale but his parents came from County Mayo, Ireland. He was educated at St. Charles College, Ellicott City and then entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He was ordained to the priesthood in St. Peter's Cathedral by Bishop O'Hara on September 22, 1869. In January 1900, he was invested with the insignia of Monsignor. In March 1900 he was one fo the incorporators of Saint John High School along with Bishop Michael Hoban, Paul Bohan, Sister M. Conception, and M.W. Morris. Monsignor Garvey was the person who introduced monthly collections for the schools. In August 1901 he was selected as the first bishop of the Altoona Diocese. He served in this capacity until his death on October 22, 1920 at the age of 75.
Replacing Bishop Garvey was Reverend John P. O'Malley. He was born Jun 20, 1832 in the family home on the border of County Galway, Ireland. in 1850 Father O'Malley immigrated to New York where he entered the Jesuit college of St. Francis Xavier and then later St. Mary's Seminary for three years before he was adopted by Archbishop James Wood for the Philadelphia Diocese. Two years later he was ordained to the priesthood.
In November 1902 when he came to St. John's he labored with great zeal and earnestness. Later he became a monsignor and during his tenure the parish celebrated the 50th anniversary. A booklet was published "Summary of Construction of the Church." Father O'Malley died October 24, 1912 and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover.
Reverend Joseph Coroner succeeded Monsignor O'Malley in 1912. He had also served as an assistant in the parish in 1880. He built the present rectory. He also bought the Fitzpatrick home on William Street for use as a club house for the Holy Name Society. This building was later razed to provide for the expansion of the high school. Father Coroner's crowning achievement was to expand and build the new St. John's High School. He died before the completion of this project.
At the time of his death, St. John's parish was the largest in the diocese with over $1,000,000 in property value.
Father Coroner was from Towanda and was buried in St. Ann's Chapel, Tobyhanna.
Very Reverend Monsignor Peter C. Winters came from St. Paul's Church, Green Ridge, to succeed Father Coroner in 1921 and he was invested with the title Monsignor in 1929.
He had the church freshly redecorated and updated the completion of the furnishings in the sanctuary but died at Mass on the first day it was used for services after the restoration on October 5, 1930. He has just expressed his pleasure over the renovation which had just been completed in the interior of the church. He donated the 3-manual Kilgen pipe organ which still provides accompaniment for the liturgies today. He also saw to the completion of the high school.
On October 19, 1927, the church withstood a powerful explosion when a time bomb was placed at the Church Street side of the church. The lower portion of one of the massive double doors was blown out nad the stops leading to the first floor and chapel in the basement area were damaged. The pastor, Monsignor Winters, was not home at the time of but about six other priests were in the rectory and were actually shaken and thrown by the explosion. There was no clue to the reason or person who did it.
Monsignor Winters is buried in the church Chapel next to Father Finnen. He was extremely well liked and very close to his parishioners.
Rt. Reverend Monsignor Patrick J. Boland succeeded to the pastorate in December 1930. He was a missionary in the Pocono Mountains who was known far and wide for his spiritual guidance. Among his outstanding achievements at St. John's was beautifying the cemetery. He also had a great interest in the welfare of the youth. A case in point was sending many St. John's boys to the summer camp of Camp St. Andrew.
During his tenure a centennial celebration was held in 1941 marking the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first Mass ever said in the area in 1841 and one of the most impressive religious spectacles ever held in Northeastern Pennsylvania was also held during his tenure.
in 1936, the churches of Greater Pittston under the direction of the Pastor of St. John's were hosts to the Eighth annual Eucharistic conference of the Diocese of Scranton. Twenty thousand sons and daughters representing 23 Catholic congregations marched in public procession, while 20,000 spectators of all faiths looked on and later joined together for Solemn Benediction given by His Excellency, Most Reverend Thomas O'Reilly.
In November 1943 the unveiling of a statue of Christ the King on parish property took place fittingly on Christ the King Sunday. Bishop Hafey officiated at the dedication and blessed the service flag. It was raised in honor of 800 men and women of the parish who were in service to their country.
After nearly two decades of service at St. John's, Monsignor was appointed pastor of the Church of the Nativity Parish in Scranton. He died February 15, 1957.
Reverend Dr. Edmund J. Langan took over the duties in 1946. He was ordained in Scranton, at St. Peter's and then taught Latin at the St. Thomas School for three years. Later he attended Fordham Graduate School and received a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1929. Reverend Langan was given the keys to the church and to the tabernacle by Bishop William Hafey in the presence of a large congregation. The ceremony was unique in the experience of present day parishes. Bishop Hafey explained his reason for doing this because he said there are mixed feelings as one pastor leaves and another takes his place. Monsignor Boland after 17 years asked to be relieved of his duties, and having reached the age of 75, the Bishop regarded the request as reasonable. Doctor Langan in his opening remarks said "I cannot promise you a thing, but by the grace of God to carry on the good work of my predecessors."
Among his achievements was the beautifications of the church and chapel, and improvements to the convent and school. The side altars were simplified considerably and the paintings refurbished. The lighting fixtures were replaced with modern ones, new pews were installed and the entire interior was repainted. In 1954 Pittston City had a centennial celebration and the centennial of the parish was also celebrated on October 17, 1954 with Bishop Hannon, presider. This was done in conjunction with the Marian Year proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on December 8, 1953.
In 1960 the school was extensively damaged by fire. Dr. Langan oversaw the rebuilding of the school and the construction of the adjacent youth center. Father Langan died on August 23, 1966 in a Philadelphia hospital.
Monsignor Knight became the next pastor upon the death of Father Langan in 1966. Monsignor was born in Scranton on May 3, 1904. He was educated at St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure and ordained in June 1930. He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor in 1968. He served on the Scranton Diocesan Board of Education for several years.
During his service as pastor, projects including the painting of the church exterior, including the steeples, and the re-gilding of the crosses.
in 1970, after many, many years of disuse, the magnificent 3-manual Kilgen pipe organ sounded again. Many pastors were told it was beyond repair and so an electric organ was bought and the Kilgen organ was left unused. But because of the interest of several people and the efforts of Raymond Paradis, organist at St. John's, a search was done of ways to repair the organ and a familiar brilliance of this grand instrument would fill St. John's again and inspire the people to worship and sing His praise.
Monsignor Knight remained at St. John's until his retirement as pastor emeritus on September 4, 1979.
Reverend William P. Ward assumed the position of rector of St. John's after Monsignor Knight retired. He was educated at St. Gabriel's, Hazleton then to Mt. St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He was ordained in 1957 in Scranton. He was spiritual director and librarian at St. Pius Seminary before becoming librarian and counselor at North American College, Rome. He previously served as pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary Church, Jermyn.
He was appointed pastor of St. John's on September 4, 1979. He stressed active participation from the congregation and increased the number of lectors and ushers.
During his tenure, Monsignor Ward made major renovations with the installing of a new Altar of Sacrifice following new church directives which included the priest celebrating Mass facing the congregation, the communion rail reworked, and the sanctuary extended. A new marble baptismal font and marble lectern were placed in the sanctuary. The church was rededicated on December 12, 1982.
In April 1980 the 125th anniversary of the parish was celebrated with Mayor Bob Loftus proclaiming April 27th as Saint John's Day. On that day a Pontifical Mass and dinner at Genetti's, Wilkes-Barre was held.
Monsignor Ward left St. John the Evangelist in June 1984 to be the pastor at St. Jude's Parish in Mountain Top.
Monsignor Gerald Burns, after Monsignor Ward was transferred, became the 12th pastor of St. John the Evangelist.
In 1989 at the 100th anniversary of the church, Monsignor Gerald Burns placed a time capsule in the wall of the church just above the date 1889 on the William Street side. The centennial was marked with a concert, a concelebrated Mass, and a reception at Convention Hall, Pittston Twp.
During Monsignor Burns' tenure another refurbishing of the organ was completed. Also during that time a number of other parish improvements were made. It included the three modern bronze metal doors at the three side entrances and stained glass pictures of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist were imposed above the entrances. The three oak doors at the main front entrances were re-hung with new ball bearing hinges. Under Monsignor Burns' direction, a beautiful church hall with a fully equipped kitchen was established in the basement and new lavatories were also installed. In addition, a chapel remained in one half of the lower church.
It was also during Monsignor Burns' time that the parish of St. John's was yoked with two other parishes: St. Casimir's on Church Street and St. Joseph's on Main Street, Port Griffith.
Upon retirement in 1994, Monsignor went to live at the Villa St. Joseph, Dunmore. He died February 1999 with a liturgy and burial from St. John the Evangelist Church and interment in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover.
In July 1994, Monsignor Kevin O'Neil came from St. Theresa's Shavertown to become the next pastor of St. John's. He earned a degree in theology from the Gregorian University, Rome and was ordained a priest in 1977. During 1979 to 1986 he pursued a doctorate in church law and served as a Judicial Vicar. During his tenure as pastor, he increased participation in all the ministries. He attempted to create one community out of the three churches and hoped to overcome the division of ethnic communities and to bring people together.
He started the Summer Vacation Bible School for the children of the three churches and included the Methodist church children too.
In 1996 he became pastor of St. John's in Bushkill and served as Dean of the Monroe Deanery.
In June 2003, he retired and took up residence at St. Joseph's Villa, Scranton, due to poor health.
Monsignor John J. Bendik was appointed the 14th pastor of St. John the Evangelist. He was born on October 15, 1941, in Wilkes-Barre, the son of John and Helen Bendik. He was educated in Kingston and attended St. Meinrad College and School of Theology and earned a B.A. in Philosophy. He was ordained in May 1967 by Bishop McCormick in the Church of the Nativity of the Lord, Scranton.
In his assignments in the diocese, Monsignor was an assistant at St. Matthew's Stroudsburg, in residence at St. Luke's Stroudsburg. He also served as pastor at Our Lady of the Snows, Clarks Summit and administrator at St. Mary's in the Greenwood section of Scranton. While at Our Lady of the Snows, Monsignor built the Church of St. Benedict in Newton-Ransom.
Monsignor also served as a chaplain of campus ministry at East Stroudsburg University and later at College Misericordia.
In his history of service to diocesan committees, he has served on many boards. Monsignor became a full-time pastor to St. John the Evangelist, St. Casimir, and St. Joseph Churches on July 8, 1996.
During his term he undertook countless improvements and major projects that improved the church for the comfort of the elderly, disabled, and those who had a difficult time entering the church. An elevator was installed on the Church Street sided that provided access to the main church and the lower church for the hall and chapel attendance. The elevator was installed in such a manner that it did not change the architectural structure of the building. Another renovation project was the installation of central air-conditioning throughout the entire building, including the upper and lower church levels. Again, the system was installed without any structural change and is blended in the design of the ceiling artwork and vents.
The four crosses on the spires and peaks of the church were recoated with 23 karat gold leaf in September 1999. The church was also power cleaned, repaired masonry defects caused by the elements, replaced deteriorating copper flashing, and painted all wood trim.
Reverend Mr. James Cortegerone was appointed the first full-time permanent deacon during this time.
Monsignor placed a great emphasis on building the ministries of the parish and gave all parishioners an opportunity to use their time and talent in four major areas of service: Worship & Spiritual Life Service, Religious Education & Lifelong Learning, Community Building Service, and the Ministry Outreach.
Edwin Forrest Durang
Born into a distinguished theatrical family, Edwin Forrest Durang was the grandson of John Durang (1768-1822), credited with being the first native-born American actor. His parents, Charles Durang and Mary White Durang, we also remarkable for their contributions to the stage. His father and uncle, Richard Ferdinand Durang, we the first to perform "The Star Spangled Banner," and Charles Durang (1791-1870) also worked as the director and prompter at both the Chestnut Street Theatre and the American Theatre in Philadelphia. After his retirement in 1853, Charles Durang taught dancing and wrote several books regarding dance as well as the history of the Philadelphia stage. In addition to her stage work, E.F. Durang's mother wrote six children's books.
Although nothing is known of E.F. Durang's early years beyond his birth in New York City, by 1855 he appears in Philadelphia city directories as an architect at 304 Vine Street. By 1857 he has moved to 417 Market Street and has begun working with John E. Carver, veteran residential and ecclesiastical architect. Upon Carver's death in 1859, Durang succeeded him, retaining the office at 21 N. 6th Street until 1880.
Following Carver's example, Durang also specialized in ecclesiastical design, most notably those churches and institutions associated with the Catholic Church. In November, 1909 Durang was joined by his son F. Ferdinand Durang, who, in turn, succeeded him after his sudden death in 1911. According to the obituary published 7 June 1911 in Catholic Standard and Times, Durang "died suddenly Monday morning near the rectory of St. Monica's Church, Seventeenth and Ritner Streets, while making measurements for the new convent."
The Durang dynasty represents one of the most successful architectural enterprises specializing in Catholic church projects in Philadelphia, only rivaled in the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century by Henry D. Dagit and his sons. Furthermore, the Durang firm provided a training ground for young architects hoping to excel in ecclesiastical design: Rowland Boyle, father to an architectural dynasty himself; Emile G. Perrot; and Frank R. Watson, all worked with the Durang firm.
Written by Sandra L TatmanPhiladelphia Architects and Buildingswww.philadelphiabuildings.orghttp://www.philadelphiabuildings.org