History of Our Church


It appears from the following petition that a number of Catholics resided at Allentown in 1767; these, desirous of erecting a church, petitioned the governor for license to collect the necessary funds. There is, however, no account that the project was carried out. The petition of the congregation of Roman Catholics of the town of Northampton, Sept. 25, 1767, (Penna.Arch., Vol IV., p. 279) humbly sheweth: That your petitioners are about to build a church for the worship of God in the town of Northampton, and have already provided materials for putting their design into execution. But they fear the inability of your petitioners is likely to render their good intentions fruitless, unless they are at liberty to ask assistance from charitable and piously disposed people. They, therefore, humbly entreat your honor to grant them a license for the said purpose, whereby they may have the peaceable and quiet enjoyment of their religion according to the laws of the province, and reap the benefit of those privileges granted them by your honor's benevolent ancestors, etc. JOHN RITTER J.G. ENAX, and others.

Catholic inhabitants of Allentown were among the first settlers in 1763 and 1764. There were only sixty-eight men and sixty-two women of German, and seventeen men and twelve women, Irish Catholics in the whole county of Northampton in 1757. This was so reported by the priest, Theodore Schneider, in consequence of a requisition made in order to ascertain their numbers in Berks and Northampton counties. This was rendered necessary in order to ascertain the correctness of very serious charges bought against them by many misrepresentations from the inhabitants of Reading, who stated the danger they were in from their machinations in their vicinity, charging them of meeting with French officers and a large number of Indians, in order to concoct measures to murder all the white people and that they had three hundred stand of arms concealed at their church in one of the lower townships of Berks county. The defeat of General Braddock left the country open to the depredations of the Indians in 1754, and the Indian murders in 1755-56-57 by the French Indians, the French being Catholics, those Catholics in these counties became suspected, and were persecuted by all other people.

Immaculate Conception Church

The Catholics of Allentown and vicinity were limited prior to the nineteenth century. However, in 1837 and the succeeding years, the German Catholics in this region were administered to by the Jesuit Fathers, who came from the church of the Blessed Sacrament, Churchville (now Bally), Berks county. Their visits continued until 1852, when Father Gustensuake came from Easton to say mass in the First Ward, every four weeks. His successor was Rev. Tanzer, also from Easton, who came mostly once a month to say mass in the home of Mr. John Koehler, situated on Ridge avenue and Liberty street, the ground now occupied by the sisters' residence and parish school. In 1856, the history of the church of the Immaculate Conception begins, for in that year ground was bought on Ridge Avenue and Allen Street for which $300 was paid. It was 80 feet wide and had a depth of the present Irish churchyard. The first resident pastor, Father Tuboly, came here June 22, 1857, and on August 8, of the same year, the first shovel of clay was removed in the excavation for the building of the little brick church. The contract was awarded to a builder, whose name was Quier, at the price of $1,800. The cornerstone was laid September 1857, and it was dedicated October 25th of that year by Bishop Neumann, of Philadelphia.

The records of Father Tuboly show that the collection at mass on the morning of the dedication was $11.20, and at the afternoon service, $6.09.

There were 36 families belonging to the congregation, all of whom were Germans and very few now among us. Some of the names given in a small manual are: John Bohrer, Theodore Bruckman, Xavier Deutsch, John Koehler, Peter Koehler, John Gehringer, John Kerner, John Kaier, Andrew Latzer, Herman Laube, John Martin, John Medernach, Jacob Miller, Henry Miller, Christian Schmidt, Peter Quast, Nicholas Scharle, Anton Vogel, Louis Wehr, Theodore Wieamar, Melchisedech Yeager, John Wolf, Charles Wickel. Immediately after the dedication a mission was given by the Redemptorist Fathers, Jacob and Klaholz, the former for the English speaking and the latter for those of German birth. Father Tuboly was removed March 27, 1858, and was succeeded by Father Schrader. From 1859 both German and Irish Catholics attended the services. In 1859, Father Schrader was transferred to Reading, and Rev. Rudolph Kuenzer succeeded him, who remained until 1862. Rev. Michael McEnroe assumed charge of the congregation May, 1862, and remained to 1866, and had as curate, Rev, Father Kaier, from April 9, 1862 to March 1863, and from April 1863, to April 8, 1866, the Rev. Joseph Kaelin. Father McEnroe remained here until the Bethlehem parish to which he was assigned, was established. The pastorate was then given in charge of Father Kaelin, and it was during his time that the additional property, which includes the land east of Ridge Avenue and between Liberty and Allen Streets, was purchased.

A disagreement occurred on St. Patrick's Day, 1866, between the Irish and German members. The parish offered to take Father Kaelin as pastor for the Germans, but he declined to accept, afterwards locating in Harrisburg as rector of a church in that diocese, where he passed to his final reward about eight years ago. While here his residence was 613 Front street. From this period, April 8, 1866, the two congregations began their separate functions. Rev. Fr. Hugh Garvey as pastor of the Immaculate Conception, and Rev. Father Hilterman, of the new congregation of the Sacred Heart on North Fourth Street. It was during Father Garvey's administration of the parish that the church property passed through a sheriff's sale, from the German to the Irish members. The sale was conducted at the Keystone Hotel and the property was purchased by John Devenney in the name of the pastor. Father Garvey at once proceeded to erect a temporary frame structure which served the congregation until the erection of the present church. Father Garvey remained with the congregation from May, 1869, to November, 1869, and was succeeded by Rev. John Gallagher, who remained until July 19, 1870. Rev. Edward F. Prendergast took charge on or about July 31, 1870 and was pastor of the church until Feb. 8, 1874. During the pastorate of Father Prendergast plans and specifications were completed for the erection of the present splendid edifice. The foundations were completed when the panic of that time compelled a cessation of all work, and so remained for several years. Father Prendergast was removed to St Malachi's in Philadelphia and while there was made auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Ryan and was raised to the archbishopric upon the death of that great prelate. After the removal of our present archbishop to Philadelphia, Rev. James J. Fitzmaurice was made rector about the middle of February, 1874, and served in that capacity until 1876, when he was succeeded by Rev. James P. Byrne, who continued as rector until April 22, 1877.

Rev. P.F. Donegan assumed the rectorship after that date and remained with this congregation until Feb. 15, 1905. During his pastorate the magnificent church was erected and completed, the contractor, Hon. P.F. Boyle, a member of the parish, doing the work. The parochial residence was also erected while Father Donegan was in charge. On Feb. 15, 1905, the present beloved rector, Rev. John J. Walsh, was placed in charge of the congregation, and with characteristic energy began at once to make great improvements in the church property. Seeing the necessity for a parish school and a home for the sisters, Rev. Father Walsh bought the property on the west side of Ridge Avenue. Splendid buildings were thereon erected and given in charge of the Sisters of St Joseph, and are monuments of his zealous efforts toward the propagation of this holy religion. The church property in general was placed in a substantial and improved condition under his wise directions. Major renovations were made to the church in the 1920's. Marble altars and flooring were installed, the stations of the cross, were placed on the walls around the interior of the church, and stained glass windows, depicting the life of our Blessed Lady, were imported from Munich, Germany and hung. These unique windows are very valuable and have been insured as fine art. Paintings of the Annunciation, the Assumption and the Coronation of our Blessed Lady were created on canvas and then affixed to the ceiling of the church. These paintings are surrounded on either side of the church by the twelve apostles and paintings of what is believed to be St. Patrick and perhaps a Redemptorist priest (the artist's name is not known).

Monsignor David B. Thompson (retired Bishop of South Carolina and now deceased), was pastor of Immaculate Conception from 1968 until 1974. Monsignor Thompson made extensive changes to the interior of the church as a result of Vatican II (see picture of the interior of the church at the wedding of John and Mary McGonigle in October 1953). You will note that the two side altars were not removed. The interior of the church was also painted at the time and the paintings of the Annunciation, The Assumption and Coronation of our Blessed Lady taken down and cleaned. After the painting was completed, the canvases were put back on the ceiling. The construction of a social hall in the basement of the church was also undertaken at that time.

Sometime prior to 1974, the Bishops of the United States made known their desire to establish a National Shrine for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Along with many other parishes, Monsignor Thompson submitted a required resume to the committee which basically outlined why he believed Immaculate Conception would be the proper choice for this honor. The committee agreed and Immaculate Conception Church was selected as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December 1974. The parish celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the shrine on December 12, 1999. Father John P. Murphy was the pastor of Immaculate from 1975 to 1980. During his tenure, the interior of the church was again painted. At this time the ceramic statuary gracing the sanctuary today was installed and a replica of the original painting of our Lady of Guadalupe (which resides in the Basilica in Mexico City) was hung above our Lady's altar. The statuary depicts the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven. The ceramic was created in Spain by an artist whose last name was Raventos.

Father Harold F. Dagle became the pastor of Immaculate Conception in 1980. Under his leadership, a brick addition was added to the church in 1998. This addition comprises a chapel, an elevator, a very attractive lobby, and other anterooms. A marble sculpture of the Last Supper --- originally part of the main altar and placed in an outside wall of the church during the renovations made in 1968 --- was removed from the outside wall, repaired, cleaned and placed in the Blessed Sacrament altar in the new chapel. The altars of the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Family and the crucifix on the wall behind the altar were created by an artist in Bethlehem by the name of Mark Yundt. The stained glass window depicting Jesus and the children was moved from the former baptismal room in the vestibule of the church to the chapel. The social hall, stage and kitchen were also completely refurbished at this time.

Sacred Heart Of Jesus

This congregation has a very interesting history. Few Catholics were settled in Lehigh county as early as 1769. It was probably not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that these people were attended by priests regularly, and we have no positive information of such visitations prior to 1837. In that and the succeeding years, the German Catholics in this region were administered to by the Jesuit Fathers, who came from the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Churchville, now Bally, Berks county. Their visits continued until 1852. Then came Rev. Father Gustensuake from Easton, who said Mass in the First Ward every four weeks. Until the year 1856, Allentown was attended by Rev. Father Tanzer, from Easton, who came from time to time, mostly once a month, to say mass in a little frame house belonging to Mr. John Koehler, situated on Ridge Avenue and Liberty Street, His successor was Rev. Geiger.

In the same year ground was bought on Ridge Avenue and Allen Streets, for which $300 was paid. It was 80 feet wide and had a depth of the present Irish churchyard. In 1857, a small brick church was built there, for which $1,800 was paid. The congregation consisted then of about 36 German families. The first resident pastor was Rev. J. Tuboly, who came Aug 1, 1857. The church was dedicated under the title of the Immaculate Conception by Ven. Bishop Neumann, of Philadelphia, Oct 25, 1857.

Resident Rectors Immaculate Conception B.V.M. Church

Rev. Joseph Tuboly Aug. 15, 1857 to May 1858

Rev. Charles J. Schrader Mar. 1858 to Apr. 1860

Rev. Rudolph Kuenzer May 1860 to May 1862

Rev. Michael C. McEnroe May 1862 to Aug 1863

Rev. Xavier Kaier, Curate May 1862 to Mar 1863

Rev. Joseph Kaelin Aug 1863 to May 1869

Rev. Hugh Garvey May 1868 to July 1870

Rev. John Gallagher May 1869 to July 1870

Rev. Edmond F. Prendergast July 1870 to Feb 1874

Rev. James F. Fitzmaurice Feb. 1874 to May 1876

Rev James P. Byrne Nov. 1876 to May 1877

Rev. Patrick F. Donegan May 1877 to May 1905

Rev. John J. Walsh May 1905 to Aug. 1917

Rev. Edward J. Murphy Aug. 1917 to Aug. 1930

Rev. Edwin V. Montague Sept. 1930 to Dec. 1939

Rev. Joseph A. McGonigle Dec. 1939 to Aug. 1954

Rev. John G. Fitzgerald Sep. 1954 to Nov. 1954

Rev. James A. Magee Nov. 1954 to Dec. 1966

Rt. Rev. Msgr. David B. Thompson, V.G., J.C.L., M.A. Chancellor of Allentown Diocese, appointed Rector on February 1st 1967 by His Excellency Most Reverend Joseph McShea, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown. From 1968 to 1974 was pastor of Immaculate Conception. Rev. Thompson was the pastor from 1968 to 1974

Fr. John Murphy (Monsignor) 1975 to 1980

Fr. Harold F. Dagle 1980 to 2008

Msgr. Albert Byrne 2008 to 2014

Rev. John M. Gibbons 2014 - Present