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St. Mary of the Assumption Church and Parish has a long and glorious history. A few of the more noteworthy elements follow:
In 1817, Father Edward D. Fenwick, O.P. offered the first Mass at
the home of Michael Garaghty in the original portion of the present
Mumaugh Memorial at the corner of Main and High Streets.
In 1820, Father Nicholas D. Young, O.P., a nephew of Fr. Fenwick,
founded and named the parish "St. Mary of the Assumption." A small
frame building erected at the southeast corner of Chestnut and what is
now Memorial Drive served as the first church. Dominican missionaries
served the parish until 1834 when a permanent pastor, Father Thomas
Martin, O.P. was appointed.
In 1839, Father Joshua Young became the first diocesan pastor.
Recognizing the need for a larger church building, he purchased the
property on the corner of Chestnut and High Streets. He arranged for
the erection of a brick building that served as the church. Later the
building was converted into the parish school and a residence for those
who would teach in the school. The building was demolished to provide
space for the current rectory.
In 1854, Father Henry lange determined that the second church
building was too small for the rapidly increasing congregation and made
plans for the present church building. That same year Guy Blair,
general contractor, supervised the beginning of the construction. The
stone and brick for the building came from Lancaster.
In 1859, Archbishop John Purcell laid the cornerstone. Shortly after
that, with the outbreak of the Civil War and severe winter weather,
diminished human and financial resources caused the work to come to a
standstill. With the help of J. S. Snyder, wealthy parishioners, and
with the perseverance of Fr. Lange, the construction was substantially
completed within five years. However, Fr. Lange died a few months
before the dedication of the building.
In 1864, Archbishop Purcell formally consecrated the church although
the brick walls had not yet been plastered and the maze of posts and
beams supporting the roof was still exposed. Part of the decorations of
the building included the statues of Saint Boniface and Saint Patrick,
the national patrons of the dominant ethnic groups that comprised the
In 1884, Father Nicholas Pilger was appointed pastor of St. Mary.
During his tenure, he completed the plastering and painting of the
interior of the church. In addition, he paid off the parish debt, and
installed three bells, named Joseph, John and George, in the tower. The
names reflect the donors: the St. Joseph Society, the Knights of St.
John, and the Knights of St. George. Fr. Pilger's courage, pastoral
style, and his temporal and spiritual leadership caused many from all
denominations to mourn his death in December 1905.
In 1906, Father Jerome B. Mattingly became the pastor of St. Mary.
Within a short time he undertook an ambitious and expensive building
and remodeling program. Included in the effort was the construction of
the parish school (now known as St. Mary West), the core of the
convent, the rectory, an annex to the school and a janitor's residence.
Fr. Mattingly engaged in much of the manual labor himself.
In 1909, Father Mattingly initiated several capital improvements
related to the church. He supervised the construction of the "Assembly
Room" beneath the church. With the help of Council 1016 of the Knights
of Columbus, a magnificent pipe organ was installed which served the
church until 1987. The present stained glass windows appeared in 1916
at the cost of approximately $450 each. Fr. Mattingly saw to the
painting and lighting of the church even though the outbreak of World
War I interfered with this project.
In 1923, Monsignor David Quiley was appointed pastor of St. Mary.
During his long tenure, he built the high school building (now known as
St. Mary East) which served high school and grade school students until
the creation of William V. Fisher Catholic High School. His pastoral
leadership guided the parish through the Great Depression and World War
II. He retired in 1948.
In 1948, Father Julian Schaefer assumed the responsibilities of the
pastor of St. Mary. He undertook a massive renovation and redecoration
of the church building. In addition to the painting of the interior of
the church, the principal features of the project included:
sandblasting of the exterior of the church removing the red paint which
had covered the bricks, and the construction of the porches on the side
of the main entrance and the side chapels in what is now the quieting
room and the vestry. Among the more controversial elements of the
project were the placement of the mural of the Assumption in a
gold-leaf reredos on the apse wall, the fabrication of a free standing
marble altar composed in part from the existing altar rail, and the
installation of new wood carved Stations of the Cross from Oberammergau.
In 1956, Bishop Ready assigned Monsignor Roland T. Winel as pastor
of St. Mary. He guided the parish through the implementation of the
initial reforms of the Vatican Council II. His efforts included the
first celebration of Mass facing the people on an altar constructed and
positioned more closely to the people. Msgr. Winel also raised over
$700,000 in funds to purchase land for the new Lancaster parishes and
to upgrade the school facilities at St. Mary.
In 1969, Father John Wolf became pastor of St. Mary. Within a short
period and with the help of many generous and dedicated parishioners,
he conducted a fund raising campaign for the construction of a new
diocesan high school, William V. Fisher Catholic. Fr. Wolf is
remembered by many parishioners for his dedication to Catholic
education, his keen sense of humor and fiscal responsibility.
In 1981, Father William Dunn succeeded Fr. Wolf as pastor. He
responded to the crisis of a broken and irreparable pipe organ by
raising money to install a new pipe organ manufactured by Austin Organ
Company, Hartford, Connecticut. He also installed the air-conditioning
system in the church. His efforts of financial stewardship included the
establishment of a bingo game to provide operating income for the
church and school.
In 1990, Father Martin Weithman was appointed pastor of St. Mary.
Upon the recommendation of the parish council, he initiated the RENEW
program for spiritual growth and the annual celebration of the Patronal
Feast of the Assumption. The parish council also convened a special
CREAD committee (Church Repair, Enhancement, and Decoration) to work
with Fr. Weithman in planning the restoration of St. Mary Church
building. After nearly four years of research, study, dialogue with
parishioners and planning, a special fund raising appeal, "Voices of
Faith" was conducted for the benefit of the church restoration, the
school endowment and the cemetery.
In 1994, the construction phase of the project began with the firm
of Miles-McClellan as the general contractor and the firm Renouveau
Design Inc. as architects. The objectives of the project were to
enhance the finest Gothic features of the building and provide the
proper spaces for the liturgical actions of the assembly. Special
elements of the restoration include: the placement of the historic
mural of the Assumption in an oak reredos similar to an earlier reredos
at the turn of the century, the fabrication of a new pulpit consisting
of the former bases of the side altars with an oak book stand, the
erection of the Blessed Sacrament tower to house the original
tabernacle of the church and, using pieces of existing altar rail, the
creation of a new baptismal font providing for immersion. Two new
reconciliation rooms were created and the lighting, electrical system
and sound system were improved.
It is hoped that the restored church, dedicated by Bishop Griffin to
inaugurate the 175th anniversary of the parish, will serve the
liturgical needs of the parish family well into twenty-first century.
Father Donald E. Franks was named the 20th pastor of Saint Mary in
July of 2000. In addition to the spiritual care of our parish, Fr.
Franks proactive approach in the planning process of maintenance and
parish finances has served the parish very well. In addition to the
regular maintenance of the buildings on our campus, the following
improvements/restorations have been made to the buildings and cemetery:
The Church building has been tuckpointed, all exterior brick has
been cleaned, and the standstone capstones atop the bell tower and all
finials have been replaced with exact replicas. The tower finals are 12
feet tall and weigh 1,800 pounds. The finals 4 finals at each corner of
the church are 14 feet tall and weign 2,400 pounds. A craine was used
to remove and install the finals, but one has to wonder how they were
laid in 1864!
The Parish Rectory bathrooms and kitchen were renovated, the
hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms were returned to their
natural beauty, minor tuckpointing was done to the exterior of the
building, exterior trim was painted, and conference rooms were
remodeled. In the Parish Convent, the chapel was painted and the
building's roof was replaced.
In the main school building, new tile floors were installed in the
hallways and carpeting was installed in the library and computer lab.
The building's roof was improved, all windows and doors were replaced,
and masonry work and tuckpointing was done to the entire building. A
loading area was also built unto the rear of the building.
In the west school building, the old boiler heating unit was removed
and replaced with gas furnaces. When the roof was repalced, soffit
enclosures and new gutters were added.
In other improvements, Saint Mary Spirit Center received a complete
renovation in the meeting area and kitchen. Various improvements were
also made to the church grounds: new planters at school, sidewalks
replaced, parking lots repaved, new landscaping in the courtyard and a
new retaining wall was built by Pearl Street.
Our Cemetery, which was dedicated in 1881, also received attention: a
marble entrance sign was installed, the gravel roads were paved, and
the crucifixion stature was restored.