History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
by Henry C Bradsby

The following is from Henry C Bradsby's 1893 History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania , 1 [Note: there are many discrepancies between Bradsby and the more definitive early diocesan history written by Gallagher. Gallagher used actual church assignment records in his research and his work is well annotated with both his sources and reasoning, while Bradsby and other early historians tended to state items as fact with little or no explanation. Bradsby's section on Catholicism in the area is quoted here in its entirety so that people without other access to his work can weigh his words, without any assurance as to the accuracy of his conclusions.]


The following concerning the Catholic church was obligingly given mostly by Rev M J Hoban, 2 in charge of the Ashley church.


The first priest that officially visited the Wyoming valley, so far as is now known, was Rev James Pellentz, 3 who traveled up the river as far as Standing Stone, Bradford county, in 1787 or 1788. He incidentally visited the few Catholics that were here at that time and probably reported to his superiors the conditions and the wants of the people along the river up as far as Elmira, making his longest stop, it is supposed, at Standing Stone, where he purchased property for �35. Father Dilhet passed over much the same route in 1805, from Sunbury to the Catholics at Frenchtown and further up, and administering, it is supposed, the church rites to the Catholics here in private residences.

Individual Catholics were here from the very first. A paragraph in Miner's history mentions "Thomas Neill, an Irishman of middle age, the most learned man in the valley -- a Catholic, a high Mason [sic] , fond of dress, remarkable for his fine flow of spirits and pleasing manners, a bachelor and a schoolmaster, he was a favorite." With characteristic bravery his Irish spirit broke out as the danger became pressing. "'The Yankees are the weakest party -- the odds are against them; though I have no special interest in the fight, so help me heaven! I'll take a turn with them,' Marching out with Capt McKarrigan's company, July 3, 1778, he fell." This is Mr Miner's account of the chivalric Irishman. As to the facts of his death on the battle-field there is a mistake somewhere, as the inscription on the monument records Thomas Neill as one who survived the battle.

Abraham Pike is a part and parcel of the history of the bloody days here -- an Irishman. Then there is Michael Kelly, so familiar in the early history. He and daughter were taken prisoners in 1779, as related by Miner. In the earliest deeds are the names that are pure Irish -- Ryan, Murphy, McGuire, Mullen, McMullen, Carey, Kelly, Sullivan, McCarthy, Devine, Neill, McKarrigan and others. How many or whether all of these were Catholics is not positively known.

Stewart Pearce says that about 1828 Rev John Flynn came to Luzerne county and traveled and traveled among its scattered people of his faith and extended to them church privileges in their own houses and at temporary meetings. He remained here three years, and was succeeded by Rev William Clancy, who made his home in Carbondale, and built there a little church in 1832. After Clancy came Rev Henry FitzSimmons in 1836, who attended the surrounding towns until 1847.

In what is now Luzerne county, after striking off the counties that once were within its borders, the date for the establishment of the Catholic church here in the full sense, may be fixed as in 1848, as before that time the scattered congregation had been attended from Carbondale and other points. These pastoral visits were mostly by Revs FitzSimmons and Prendergast.

Father Ethoffer was the first stationed in Wilkes-Barre, and this was in 1848. He was followed by Father O'Shaughnessy for a short time, then came Rev Basil Shorb, succeeded by Rev Casper Borgess and then again Rev Henry FitzSimmons in 1856.

In 1842 the wooden church building on Canal street was built by Father FitzSimmons, and in 1845 a brick church was built on Canal street, where the school is now. The congregation was mostly Germans and Irish, and in 1856 the members had so increased that it was deemed advisable to divide the congregation. The Germans took the wooden building and the Irish congregation the brick church, where is now St Mary's parochial school. The rectors of the German church were Fathers Schneider and Summer. Father Nagel, the present rector of St Nicholas church, came here in 1858 and conducted the first service in the then new church, now St Conrad's hall, corner of South and Washington streets.

The corner-stone of the new St Nicholas church was laid in 1883; dedicated June 16, 1887. In an architectural point of view this ranks well with the finest buildings in the city -- Gothic; and the architect was Mr Shickle, of New York. Assistant pastors: Revs John Steinkirchner and Joseph Bilstein.

St Mary's Church, Washington street, is the outgrowth of the little wooden church of 1840, under the ministrations of Rev Henry FitzSimmons. The present large and handsome building was erected in 1872, valued at $250,000. The old building is now St Mary's parochial school. The pastors in the order of coming were Revs Henry FitzSimmons, 1840-7; Prendergast, 1847; Ethoffer, 1848; John Loughman (sic), Shorb, 1849; Casper Burgess, Henry FitzSimmons, 1856; Dennis O'Haran, 1869-89; Richard McAndrews, 1889, present in charge.

During the pastorate of Rev O'Haran the parochial residence and St Mary's academy on Washington street built and parishes organized at Plymouth, Nanticoke, Sugar Notch, Plainsville, Kingston, Parsons, and Ashley.

During the administration of Father McAndrew, a cyclone having wrecked the steeple and damaged the front of the church, repairs were made and decorations inside were made by Scataglia and the painting by Costagini. A marble altar was built costing about $5,000.

The church was consecrated Sunday, May 3, 1891. Cardinal Gibbons was present; evening services conducted by Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia. Present of this occasion: Bishops Phelan and McGovern, the latter saying mass. The consecration by Bishop O'Hara. Assistant pastors: Revs James Jordan, William Nealon and John Moylan.

St Mary's Catholic Church (Polish) is a temporary church on Park avenue, built in 1887. The first pastor was Adelbert Pelcgar. Present pastor is Francis Tomas Zewski; they have a brick parsonage. The plans and arrangements for the erection of a church building at a cost of $50,000 are now completed.

Upper Wilkes-Barre Greek Catholic Church was attended by Rev Alexander Dzuboy.

The above constitute the Catholic churches of Wilkes-Barre. From St Mary's is the Laurel Run church. In 1890 the old Mountain house was purchased and converted into a convent, and in 1891 a frame church adjoining was erected.

Pittston Catholic Churches

Among the early settlers in Pittston was John Daley and family. Then came Thomas Keatings in Cork Lane; James Moore, William Cuddy and Michael Sheridan; in North Pittston were Thomas McCue, John Gallagher and Patrick Gerrity. These families came, the first in 1841, and others soon thereafter. In 1841 Rev Henry FitzSimmons, of Carbondale, made regular visits to Pittston, stopping with the Daley family and Thomas McCue. In 1843 came Michael Reap, who became one of the prominent merchants and business men of the place. In 1847 Rev Prendergast visited the place until 1849; also Revs Basil Shorb and Etoffer. (sic) Through the aid of Michael Reap and Rev John Loughran a piece of ground for a building was secured on Church Hill, and St Mary's church erected -- a plain, modest, cheap building.

Rev O'Shaughnessy in October, 1853, succeeded Loughran. He secured a lot on William street, and in 1856 erected a new church building. He remained in charge until 1857. September 20, 1858, Very Rev John Finnen, present pastor of St John's church, was appointed to the place by Bishop Newman, as assistant to Father O'Shaughnessy. October 17, 1858, the new St John's Evangelist church was dedicated.

In 1882 the old St Mary's church was torn down, as it had not been used for some time, an the new was built on Church Hill. The corner-stone was laid that year, and the building blessed by Bishop O'Hara in 1883.

St John's Evangelist -- The old St John's was torn down, and in its place was erected the present magnificent stone building at a cost of over $100,000. It is expected that it will be consecrated during the present winter. Assistant pastors at this church, Revs Greve and Kelly.

St Mary's Church , Pittston (German), was built by Father Nagel, and attended from Wilkes-Barre until 1882, when it was cut off from Wilkes-Barre. First pastor, Rev Peter Christ; then Rev Nichols Forbe; present pastor, Rev William Brehe, who also has charge of the congregation at Duryea. The Poles are preparing to erect a church building at the later place.

St Casimir (Lithuanian) -- Pastor, Rev Joseph Zlotorzynski.

St Stanislaus Church , Nanticoke, was built by Rev Benvenuto ewicz, who also built the schoolhouse; he also built the Catholic church at Morgantown, whose present pastor is Andrew Zycovitz.

St Vincent's Church , Plymouth, was organized in 1872, from St Mary's, Wilkes-Barre, and a brick building erected that year. This has been replaced by their present elegant building, in the tower of which is the most musical bell in the county. The old church is used for a parochial school. A comfortable parsonage has been built. Pastors: Revs Richard Hennessy, 1872-6; Patrick Toner, 1877; T J Donahue, 1877-92. Assistant Pastor, Rev Peter Winters.

Nativity Blessed Virgin , of Plymouth -- The congregation divided, the Poles retaining their church and the Lithuanians built. Their pastor is Rev Baurba.

St Stephen's Church (Hungarian), Plymouth, was built by Rev Jaskovitz, their present pastor.

Holy Angels Church , Avondale, is attended from St Vincent's.

St Gabriel's Church , Hazleton -- A brick church was erected on property donated by Ario Pardee in 1868; also a parsonage; church property valued at $50,000. Pastors: Rev Maloney began the work as a mission. He was followed by Rev Michael L Scanlon, at whose death Rev Filan took charge; in 1863 Rev Thomas C O'Hara succeeded and remained until 1876; Rev R E Hennessy succeeded; in 1887, Rev J J Commisky; assistant, Rev Edwin Fitzmaurice.

St Joseph's Church , Hazleton (Hungarian), was organized by Rev Joseph Kasalko.

St Peter and Paul's Church , Hazleton (Polish), Rev Peter Ambromoytys, pastor.

Holy Trinity Church (German); under Father Nicholas Forbe, sent from Pittston.

Catholic Church (Italian), Hazleton, was organized by Rev Francis Chinso. He was succeeded by Rev Joseph Girimondi, and he in turn by the present pastor, Rev Rizario Naski.

St Raphael's Church , Black Creek, is attended from St Gabriel's.

St Mary's Church , Frenchtown, also attended from St Gabriel's.

St Mary's Church , Pleasant Valley; 5 organized 1875, by Father Finan, and church built; was formerly a part of Pittston parish, and was cut off, and Father Crane, present pastor, was sent. A parsonage was built and steeple put up, under Rev M F Crane.

St Patrick's Church , White Haven; organized and building erected in 1866-7; a parsonage built the next year, and in 1879 a commodious parochial school building, which was visited by Revs FitzSimmons, Sharp, O'Shaughnessy, Sullivan, Noonan, Mullen, Tracy, Fallihee, Bergan, Bergrath. The last named is the present pastor.

Sacred Heart Church , Plains -- Here is a very nice frame church, a female convent under the charge of the Sisters of Mercy, and a parsonage erected in 1884 under the auspices of Rev J W Dunn, DD. He administered the affairs of the parish for two years, when he died. He was succeeded in 1866 by Rev J C MacDermott, who died in June, 1888. The present pastor is Rev Mr Phillips, who succeeded Father MacDermott. The church property, school and parsonage have increased in value since 1884 from $15,000 to $50,000. In 1891 there was an extensive cave-in which damaged the church, school and parochial residence, these having been repaired and the building remodeled and improved. Father O'Harren had purchased the hotel and adjoining property, and Father Dunn made a school building of the hotel and built the parsonage just north of the church. In 1891 Father Philips purchased the brick house next to McKnight's store and changed it into a convent building. Assistant pastor, Rev Anthony Roderick.

St Leo's Church , Ashley, was organized November 13, 1887, being cut off from St Mary's of Wilkes-Barre. Rev M J Hoban is in charge. Their building, an elegant brick, was erected in 1890, at a cost of $25,000; not yet entirely completed. The total cost when finished will aggregate $40,000. A very nice parsonage on the hill was built in 1892. The first small church building is now St Leo's hall. The first mass in the new church was said January 1, 1891, in the basement.

St Catherine's Church , Fairview, is attended from Ashley. This church was built under the auspices of Father Rea of Sugar Notch, from which place it was formerly attended.

St Charles Boromeo Church , Sugar Notch, was organized 1875, by Rev Dennis O'Haran, and the church building erected that year, which has a seating capacity of 700. It was made a separate parish in 1879, with Rev Thomas Rea in charge. He has built a pastor's house and added many improvements to the church building.

St Dominic's Church , Parsons, was organized in 1883 and a church and parsonage built by Rev Patrick Roche. He was succeeded by Rev Thomas Keenan.

St Francis Church , Nanticoke, 6 was organized in 1876 by Rev Dennis O'Haran and their building erected in 1879, when Rev A C Mattingly was in charge. He was followed in 1882 by Rev John C McDermott. Present pastor is Rev Felix McGuckin. The latter built the new church at Morgantown in 1889. At the same time he built the Polish church at Morgantown.

St Ignatius Church , Kingston -- The building was erected in 1886, under charge of Rev John Bergan. The parsonage was built in 1891. Present pastor is Rev john O'Malley.

Greek Catholic Church , also at Kingston.

Polish Church , Mill Creek -- First pastor was Rev Valentine Swynorski; a fine church building and parsonage.

Immaculate Conception , Eckley -- Pastor, Rev Thomas Brehony. He attends from there several out missions.

Catholic Church , Parsons -- Church building and parsonage built by Rev Patrick Roche; the church in 1884, parsonage in 1886. Present pastor is Rev Thomas Keirnan.

St Ann's Church , Drifton -- Pastor, Rev Michael J Fallihee; assistant McNally.

St Casimir's Church , Freeland -- Their first stationed pastor was Rev Jodyzus; second, Rev Joseph Maszotos.

Greek Church , Freeland -- Pastor, Rev Cyril Gulovics.

St Francis' Church , Nanticoke, 6 was cut off from Wilkes-Barre. First pastor, Rev Charles Mattingly, who died in Philadelphia and was succeeded by Rev John McDermott, and he was succeeded by Rev Felix McGuckin. The brick church was built by Rev O'Haran; residence by Rev Mattingly, and the new convent by Rev McGuffin. (sic)

St Mary's Church , Avoca 5 -- Pastor, Rev Michael F Crane; assistant pastor, Joseph McCabe; church membership, 1,800; organist, Mary Whalen.



  1. Bradsby, H C, History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, with biographical selections , Chicago: S B Nelson, 1893, pp447-50. Extractions of the Biographical Selections can be found on the Luzerne genweb site, sites.rootsweb.com/~paluzern/bios
  2. Soon to become the coadjutor and then the second bishop of the diocese.
  3. Gallagher, Rev John P; A Century of History: The Diocese of Scranton 1868-1968 , Scranton: The Diocese of Scranton, 1968, pp30-31. Msgr Gallagher states that the Standing Stone in question was located in Huntingdon, not Bradford, county.
  4. Ibid , pp29-30. Neill's Catholicism is doubted by Msgr Gallagher, as during that time frame a practicing Catholic would not not have been a Mason, high or otherwise. Both italics and [sic] are Bradsby's.
  5. As a Luzerne historian Bradsby would have been aware that Pleasant Valley and Avoca were one and the same, so presumably the duplication was an oversight.
  6. Again, St Francis listed twice, most likely as an oversight.
Modified Sunday, 15-Aug-2004 22:03:11 MDT