The History of St. Joseph Slovak Roman Catholic Church
The history of St. Joseph's Parish, celebrating one hundred twenty-five years "Alive in Faith" on September 30, 2007, is a story that truly lies in its people - a people of spiritual desire for God! They loved God, and they loved one another, and this parish community, alive today, is the tangible evidence of this love.
They came from Slovakia, bringing with them little in the way of material possessions or wealth. Their most precious possession they carried in their hearts - the seeds of faith and love. It is this faith and love that motivated our ancestors in the early days of our parish in Hazleton to keep our Catholic faith alive. And, it is our continuance of this love for God and neighbor that will allow the flame of our faith to continue to burn brightly as it is passed on to generations to come.
In front of St. Joseph's Church on North Laurel Street, Hazleton, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has erected a marker that reads:
Organized in 1882 by the Reverend Ignatius Jaskovic, pioneer Slovak Catholic Priest. St. Joseph's is the oldest Slovak Roman Catholic Parish in the Western Hemisphere.
Father Jaskovic was the first Slovak Catholic priest to come to America. In October of 1882, he arrived in New York City from the county of Saris in Slovakia and thereby initiated a program for the arrival of other priests of Slovak extraction that eventually spread over the entire continental United States.
Father Jaskovic came to Hazleton on November 17, 1882. The following day, he celebrated the first Mass for Slovak people in St. Gabriel's Church. Recognizing the needs of the community he was beginning to serve, he immediately began making plans for a church.
In 1884, the first rectory was built and on May 18, 1885, with Bishop William O'Hara of Scranton in attendance, the historic foundation for the first St. Joseph Church building was laid with great enthusiasm as the work began.
Further progress on the church construction was noted on June 29, 1885, when the laying of the cornerstone occurred. The first Mass was offered in the new church on December 6, 1885, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. The first collection, incidentally, amounted to $35.00, which in those days was considered to be a magnificent response from the people!
On April 9, l890, after serving St. Joseph's Parish for seven years and four months, Father Jaskovic left for Duquesne, Pennsylvania. He was to later return to Europe, and died in April 1909 in Jager, Hungary.
Father Joseph Kossalko served as the second pastor of St. Joseph's from April 8, 1890 until February 28, 1892, when he returned to Europe. The parish faced a crisis as it was left without a pastor for about a year and a half. But during this time, spiritual assistance was rendered by St. Gabriel's Parish until a new pastor could be found.
Father Francis Prybil served as the third pastor of St. Joseph's from August 25, 1893 to April 26, 1897. During his administration, the second rectory was constructed and a new brick church was built on the foundation of the old one.
The fourth pastor, Father Joseph Formanek, spent little over five years at St. Joseph's and was followed by the illustrious Father Matthew Jankola.
Father Jankola, the fifth pastor, served the parish from August 24, 1902 until November 12, 1907, a period of five and a half years filled with activity.
It was during Father Jankola's pastorate, on the night of March 10, 1905, that the church was destroyed by a disastrous fire. In spite of this disappointing setback, he immediately rallied the congregation at a parish meeting at St. Stanislaus Church on March 12 of that year. A Mass was said for Divine guidance and plans were formulated for the construction of a new church.
It was also in 1905 that the first school building was built. It temporarily served as a combination school and church as Mass was said in the school auditorium during the construction of the church. It was not long after that a magnificent edifice of fieldstone was erected to serve as the third church of St. Joseph.
Father Jankola also believed that parish organizations ensure the vitality of a parish. He therefore organized a Blessed Virgin Sodality, a temperance society, and also re-organized the Holy Rosary Society. And it was through his untiring efforts that land for St. Joseph Cemetery was purchased on North Church Street in Hazleton.
But perhaps Father Jankola's greatest accomplishment was the founding of the Order of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius. His first candidates came from this parish. The Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius continued to operate St. Joseph's School until 2005 and many other schools throughout the country as well as being involved in other Apostolates.
Upon leaving Hazleton, Father Jankola became the pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. On Easter Sunday, 1916, he collapsed in the Bridgeport church and later died on May 5 of that year. With special honors, his remains were removed from Bridgeport to Danville, Pennsylvania, where they now rest in the cemetery of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius. Here in Hazleton, the St. Joseph's gymnasium was dedicated in his memory and his name was inscribed over its entrance as a tribute to his many charitable endeavors for the people of God at St. Joseph's Parish.
In 1907, Holy Trinity Slovak Roman Catholic Parish with permission of Bishop Michael J. Hoban, Bishop of Scranton, was formed. The organizers were originally affiliated with St. Joseph's Parish, but left to begin this new parish.
Father John Gaspercik, a newly-ordained priest, followed Father Jankola as the sixth pastor. Three significant events occurred during the eleven years in which Father Gaspercik was pastor.
The first, the blessing of the church built by Father Jankola, took place on July 4, 1910. The second occurred on September 5, 1910, and marked the silver anniversary of the erection of the first church building. On this auspicious occasion, the parish was honored by the presence of Bishop J. M. Koudelka, Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin. The third event was the consecration of the altar of St. Joseph on May 13, 1911 by the Most Reverend Michael J. Hoban, Bishop of Scranton.
The seventh pastor, Father Leo J. Kroner, served the parish for fifteen and a half years, from October 16, 1918 to June 7, 1934. During his tenure, four rooms were added to the school and the third rectory was built, which is still in use today.
On June 7, 1934, the Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph J. Gavenda, S.T.D., J.C.D., V.F. was named the eighth pastor. His pastorate was to last forty-four years and was marked, as was Father Jankola's by both tragedy and progress. Monsignor Dennis Kane presided at Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph J. Gavenda's installation ceremony on June 17, 1934. At the time, Fathers Andrew Jurica and John Hlopko were the assistant pastors. Monsignor Gavenda's first task was to launch the much needed renovation of the rectory.
After purchasing the Hemmerly property, Monsignor Gavenda had a convent constructed on that site. One of his most important projects was the building of the new St. Joseph Memorial School. At that time it was considered one of the most modern Catholic schools in the greater Hazleton area. It had a reputation for excellence in both academics and athletics.
The school's cornerstone was laid on July 22, 1951 by Bishop William J. Hafey, and after its completion, dedication ceremonies took place on May 5, 1952. In the absence of the Most Reverend William J. Hafey, D.D., Bishop of Scranton, the Most Reverend Henry T. Klonowski, D.D. Auxiliary Bishop, blessed the school. A liturgy was celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph J. Gavenda, assisted by two Hazleton natives, Father Edward Bellas, pastor of Holy Ghost Church, Olyphant and Father Cassian Yuhaus, C.P. of Hartford, Connecticut, a son of the parish. Master of ceremonies was the assistant pastor of St. Joseph's, Father Leo Gardzalla. Bishop Klonowski presided at the liturgy.
After the liturgy, the Mother of Grace Band, under the direction of Professor John Stanziola, gave an open air concert. A banquet followed with Father Anthony Drogowski, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, Hazleton, giving the invocation. Father Andrew Franks, assistant pastor at the parish, introduced the toastmaster, Attorney Louis G. Feldman, Luzerne County District Attorney. The St. Joseph Junior Choir entertained with choral selections. Addresses were given by the following prominent church and civic leaders: Attorney Edward Bonin, Mayor of Hazleton; The Honorable John J. Mikula, representative of the First Legislative District; Right Reverend Monsignor John S. Sobota, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Wilkes-Barre; and the Most Reverend Henry T. Klonowski, D.D. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph J. Gavenda, J.C.D., made the closing remarks after which Father Stephen Yaneka, assistant pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Nanticoke, gave the benediction.
The public was then invited to tour the $600,000 brick building which housed nine classrooms, a kindergarten, library, cafeteria, storage closets, offices, a teen-age canteen, a spacious gymnasium, and eight bowling alleys. Ten sisters of the Order of SS. Cyril and Methodius, the community founded by Father Jankola, staffed the school. Because of its large seating capacity, the gymnasium is still used for athletic and social activities today.
In 1958, another significant project was undertaken - the renovation of the church interior. When this renovation was completed, the church attracted visitors from many states who were impressed by its elegance and splendor. Additional rectory offices were also finished at this time.
After having made such progress in several areas, the parish sustained another severe blow. On March 1, 1963, a general alarm fire completely destroyed the edifice, only one year after its renovation. Damage from the fire, which was discovered at approximately 5:30 a.m. by the janitor, Joseph Dzurishin, was estimated by Monsignor Gavenda to be one million dollars. Firemen from four Hazleton fire companies battled the conflagration in high winds and sub-freezing temperatures. They succeeded in containing the blaze in the church proper, although the adjoining rectory suffered smoke damage. By afternoon, the fire was under control, but continued to smolder in the basement where the fire had originated. The next morning found the firemen still wetting down the ruins of the church. Almost seven feet of water filled the basement, hampering officials' efforts to determine the fire's exact cause.
The remains of the church, the trees surrounding it, in fact the entire location, found itself encased in a heavy coating of ice. Monsignor Gavenda announced that the church would be rebuilt on its present site and immediately a public drive for funds was launched.
Two more property purchases were made during Monsignor Gavenda's term as pastor. The Yungkurth property adjacent to the school was purchased for a school storage room. The Hume property was also bought, and when the second convent was torn down a new convent was built at this location at a cost of $149,279.31.
Climaxing the extensive rebuilding campaign, ceremonies dedicating the new church, built at a cost of $785,598.21, were held on March 19 and 20, 1966. Delegated by the Most Reverend Henry J. Klonowski, Administrator of the Scranton Diocese, Monsignor Gavenda consecrated the altars of the new church on March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, the church's patron. Relics of St. Digna, St. Castus, and St. Maria Goretti were placed in the main altar.
Monsignor Gavenda was the main celebrant of the liturgy, assisted by two parish vocations, Father Cassian Yuhaus, C.P., Scranton and Father Andrew Chupela of Starford, Pennsylvania. Chanters were Father Joseph Super, Pittston, and Father Leo Gardzalla, Hazleton. Father Cyril Rable and Stephen Medwick were Masters of Ceremony. Thurifers were Father Leo Dusheck, S.V. D., Girard, Pennsylvania, and Father Thomas Dzurenda, S.P., Barre, Vermont, also parish vocations. Parishioner Gerald Brienza, a seminarian in Kitchner, Ontario, Canada, was cross bearer. The St. Joseph School Girls' Choir, under the direction of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius provided music for the liturgy.
The next day, Laetare Sunday, Monsignor Gavenda solemnly blessed and dedicated the church itself. Assisting him at the liturgy were two local pastors, Father Anthony Drogowski and Father Francis Mussari, S.T.L. A son of the parish, Father Andrew Rentka, S.V.D., a missionary in Mexico, gave the homily. A banquet followed the liturgy at which Father Joseph Tomicek, Throop, Pennsylvania, gave the invocation and Father John Marinko, S.T.L., assistant pastor of St. Joseph's and son of the parish, gave the welcome. Toastmaster was Father Stephen Yaneka, Larksville. The guests were addressed by John P. Senko on behalf of the parishioners, and by Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph A. Madden, Diocesan Chancellor, on behalf of the diocese. Congressman Daniel Flood, a surprise visitor, also addressed the banquet gathering. Mayor Joseph B. Conahan brought greetings from the city. Musical selections were presented by the St. Joseph Men's Choir. Phil Cusick, organist, provided dinner music. Monsignor Gavenda gave the closing remarks and benediction was given by Father Michael Holly of McAdoo, Pennsylvania.
In 1966 a Host Committee was formed under the direction of Theresa Steber. Thirty-seven women made the large and small hosts for Mass until the year 2002, when the Host Committee ceased to be active. The woman of Host Committee also coordinated the oplatky or Christmas wafer project annually.
In the spirit of Vatican II when Lay Ministry was introduced to the people of God, lectors were incorporated into the Liturgy. Lectors then became a part of full, active, conscious participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy. The first lectors were Gilbert Degenhart, Bart Fellin, Cyril Kowalchick, Joseph Peregrin and John Senko. Lectors continue to serve till this day and now number twenty.
After a fruitful forty-four year ministry at St. Joseph's Parish, Monsignor Gavenda became pastor emeritus and continued to reside in his own apartment at the rectory. He continued to minister to his people until his last illness forced him to take up residence at Maria Joseph Manor in Danville, Pennsylvania, where he died on September 18, 1980.
On September 6, 1977, Father John A. Balberchak became the ninth pastor of St. Joseph's, having been appointed by the Most Reverend J. Carroll McCormick, Bishop of Scranton. Concurrent with this appointment, Father Balberchak was named as a Consultor to the Bishop. On November 2, 1978, Bishop McCormick announced that His Holiness Pope John Paul II had elevated Father Balberchak to the rank of Prelate of Honor of His Holiness, bestowing on him the title of Monsignor. Assistants to Monsignor Balberchak at that time were Father John V. Polednak and Deacon Carl Tershak.
Under the direction of Monsignor Balberchak, St. Joseph's Parish hosted three consecutive pilgrimages in honor of SS. Cyril and Methodius in 1978, 1979 and 1980. A host of persons from the Northeast area of the Slovak Catholic Federation attended these events and complimented the wonderful hospitality of St. Joseph's Parish community.
In October of 1978, the Beckley Estate was purchased to help relieve the parking problem at St. Joseph's, as well as to allow better access to the school and to provide outdoor recreational areas for the school children.
A program of modernization of the parish buildings was undertaken, and included major projects in the church, school, rectory, and convent. Of greatest note and impact was the beautiful renovation of the church interior. The extension of the marble Sanctuary, the erecting of a new marble Altar of Sacrifice, painting of the entire interior of the church, new lighting fixtures, and extensive electrical work made St. Joseph's Church one of the most beautiful in the area!
Through the years the choir has been a great asset to the parish. With their hard work and dedication, they have enhanced our Masses and Special Services with their beautiful voices in song and instruments. The Choir was organized by Fr. Andrew F. Strish. Directors were Mildred Olexa, Joseph Gregor and presently Margaret Stahura.
In 1993 a new Allen Digital Computer Organ was purchased for the church. A blessing and dedication ceremony was held on June 4, 1993. An organ recital was also presented by John Binde who is affiliated with the Allen Organ Company in Macungie, Pennsylvania.
Monsignor's interest in Catholic education has led him, together with Sister Clotilda, SS.C.M.; Principal of St. Joseph's School, to open a kindergarten and then a pre-school program to enable even young children to benefit from a Catholic educational program.
In September of 1979, Father Theodore Marcinko, assistant to the principal of Bishop Hafey High School, was assigned residency at St. Joseph's. He served the High School and parish until his appointment as principal of Bishop O'Reilly High School, Kingston, Pennsylvania on July 24, 1983. In 1980, Father Carl Tershak, who served his deaconate at St. Joseph's, was named assistant pastor. He served St. Joseph's until his transfer to the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Plymouth, Pennsylvania, on January 26, 1984.
In the summer of 1981, Seminarian John Petrasko was assigned to St. Joseph's. He also returned to minister as a deacon. Following his ordination to the priesthood, he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Joseph's on May 29, 1983. Father Petrasko's ministry was short but most effective. He died as Chaplain of College Misericordia, Dallas, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 1990.
St. Joseph's celebrated its centenary on March 21, 1982. A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at 12 noon with the Most Reverend J. Carroll McCormick, D.D., Bishop of Scranton as principal celebrant. The concelebrants included all the priests' sons of the parish, Fathers: Andrew Chupela, Leo Dusheck, S.V.D., Thomas Dzurenda, James Fedor, John Marinko, Andrew Rentka, S.V.D., John Smar, Joseph Stahura, Gerald Washko, Cassian Yuhaus, C.P. along with Msgr. Balberchak and Fathers Tershak and Marcinko. In attendance were His Excellency, Archbishop Jozef Tomko, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, Italy, who served as homilist. His Excellency, Most Reverend Andrew G. Grutka, D.D. Bishop of Gary, Indiana, and the Right Reverend Abbot Jerome Koval, O.S.B., St. Andrew's Abbey, Cleveland, Ohio, a native of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. A gala banquet followed at Genetti's Hall of Presidents, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, with Bishop Grutka, as principal speaker.
In conjunction with the centennial celebration, a new altar of sacrifice was consecrated on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1982 by Bishop McCormick. This brought the extensive sanctuary renovations to completion.
An outdoor statue honoring the Holy Family was also blessed and dedicated on June 27, 1982, by Father Andrew Rentka, S.V.D., along with the parish clergy. Following the blessing ceremony, a banquet was held in the church cafeteria at which one hundred octogenarians were honored.
On November 14, 1982, the parish honored Msgr. Balberchak with a testimonial dinner at Genetti's, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, marking his 40th Anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. The main speaker was Reverend John V. Polednak, former assistant at St. Joseph's.
Msgr. Balberchak was instrumental in obtaining the Waldron property adjacent to the convent in January, 1983. This lot provides additional parking for St. Joseph's. That same month he and Father Carl Tershak established and dedicated the "Youth Room" in the school. The youth room provided a place for our active parish youth group to meet and recreate. Seminarian James Yencha, became the moderator of the youth group in June, 1983.
On August 29, 1983, Msgr. Balberchak was assigned to the Church of the Ascension, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania. He served there until his retirement in September, 1985. Although retired, Msgr. continued to remain active by substituting where needed. He had served in sixty-three parishes before his sudden death on June 5, 1995.
The Reverend Emil P. Haladay, pastor of the Church of St. John Nepomucene, Freeland, Pennsylvania, became the tenth pastor of St. Joseph's on September 6, 1983.
It was during his tenure that a grant was received in the amount of $15,400 for new windows and electrical work in the school. Father Haladay introduced the Miraculous Medal Novena on September 26, 1983. This devotion continues to the present day.
Father Thomas Shoback was appointed assistant pastor on January 26, 1984 succeeding Father Carl Tershak. He served St. Joseph's until his appointment as catechist at Bishop Hoban High School, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1984. He was succeeded by Father Joseph Manarchuck.
On July 21, 1985, Father Haladay suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in St. Joseph's Medical Center, Hazleton. He was named Pastor Emeritus of St. Joseph's on September 4, 1985. He subsequently succumbed to this illness on May 11, l988.
Monsignor Francis J. Beeda, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, was named the eleventh pastor of St. Joseph's on September 4, 1985.
Under Msgr. Beeda's direction, St. Joseph's experienced many changes. Virtually every parish building has undergone some form of renovation. The parking lots adjacent to the school and convent were paved; the convent, with volunteer help of the members of the Holy Name Society was completely refurbished and all windows repaired.
The school windows were refurbished by the CCW and Holy Name Society. Both organizations pledged $10,000 to this project.
The CCW and Holy Name Society are important organizations in the parish. Through their hard work and dedication, they raise funds through bake sales, pirohy sessions, haluski and food sales, monthly raffles, bingos and fish fries to help defray parish costs. They also work hard at Spiritual Development.
The front steps of the church and the front sidewalks from 6th to 5th Street were replaced, the rose window of the church received a protective covering. A new roof was installed on the church along with its exterior walls being repointed. A new Allen Organ, costing $48,000, was blessed and dedicated on June 4, 1993. The 6th Street church yard wall was repointed and re-surfaced. In May, 2000, the Holy Name Society installed handrails on the steps at the entrance of the church to assist the handicapped.
The rectory had a complete new kitchen installed, the assistants' living quarters remodeled, all the rooms and offices refurbished and the rectory windows were replaced, 80 in number, along with the exterior of the building being repointed. The classrooms of the school were refurbished, with new carpet being installed on the steps and in the corridors. A new faculty and library room were completed in 1993. The huge school window was replaced and the foyer of the school received a new "face lift".
A major project entitled "The Monsignor Gavenda Center Campaign" was announced on May 30, 1989. The campaign called for the total renovation of the school basement which formerly housed the bowling alleys, youth room and scout room. Completed in 1991, the Gavenda Center is comprised of the Kindergarten and Pre-School classrooms, a cafeteria/auditorium, with a fully equipped stage and a kitchen with state of the art equipment. The Center was blessed and dedicated by the Most Reverend James C. Timlin, D.D. Bishop of Scranton, on Thursday, November 21, 1991. An open house for parishioners and friends was held the following Sunday. The center cost upward of a quarter million dollars, furnishings included, and was debt free upon completion.
In 1995 a contract was signed for the installation of an elevator to make the school "Handicapped Accessible". The elevator project received a major gift from a friend of St. Joseph's. In his letter approving the project, Bishop Timlin wrote: "I am sure your parishioners are very grateful and pleased with this great act of generosity". The elevator was blessed and dedicated on the Feast of the Ascension, May 18, l999 by Msgr. Beeda. Sister M. Clotida, SS.C.M., former principal cut the ribbon to open the elevator to the public. First passengers were Sister Paracleta, SS.C.M., Sister Superior of the Religious Congregation of SS. Cyril and Methodius, the principal, Sister Susan Marie, Sister M. Clotida, Mother M. Raymund, Sister M. Clarissa and Sister M. Marcellina, all former teachers at St. Joseph's and Msgr. Beeda.
With the construction of the school elevator, the parish bingo, which was held on Monday and Saturday evenings, came to a close after 49 years of operation.
A granite altar was installed in the parish cemetery. The first Mass, at the new altar, was offered on May 25, 1987 by Msgr. Beeda. A new sign identifying the cemetery as one of the oldest in the Hazleton area, established in 1887, was erected by St. Joseph's Cemetery Association in July, 1992.
With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, St. Joseph's was privileged to have dignitaries from Slovakia as visitors. The first was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Slovakia, Archbishop John Sokol, who offered Mass at St. Joseph's on Memorial Day, May 27, 1991. Following the Mass, an informal reception was held for the Archbishop in the church hall. His Excellency Archbishop Sokol will long be remembered as the "Singing Archbishop". The Archbishop made two subsequent visits to St. Joseph's. On both occasions he offered Mass with the school children.
The first resident Cardinal of Slovakia, Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec celebrated Mass at St. Joseph's on Wednesday evening, February 26, 1992 at 5:30 PM. Present at the Mass were Bishop James C. Timlin, D.D. the Bishop of Scranton, along with the Honorable John H. Quigley, Mayor of Hazleton who presented the Cardinal with a key to the city. The Cardinal was also hosted at an informal reception that followed in the church hall. The Most Reverend Frantisek Tondra, Bishop of Spis visited here for the first time on September 20, 1995. He too made subsequent visits to St. Joseph's. In 2003, Bishop Thomas Galis, Auxiliary Bishop of Banska Bystrica made his first visit to St. Joseph's. He toured the area with Msgr. Beeda and visited Fr. Murgas' grave and his art work in Sacred Heart Church, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. His visit to Wilkes Barre was hosted by the Slovak Heritage Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Another visitor from Slovakia was Msgr. Frantisek Novajovsky, Rector of the Pontifical Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Rome, Italy. Msgr. was a concelebrant for our First Communion Class 2002 and participated in the Christian Women's May Crowning and Communion breakfast that followed. Needless to say, he was impressed with the both celebrations.
A surprise visit by the newly appointed Bishop of Scranton, Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, D.D. Hist E.D. was made on August 26, 2003. The Bishop stopped at St. Joseph's on his way to Scranton. He toured the church, school, convent and rectory. This was his first visit to a parish in the Diocese. He blessed the staff of the rectory and the Sisters and faculty of the school. It was an honor for St. Joseph's.
Other distinguished visitors to St. Joseph's include The Most Reverend Joseph V. Adamec, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, newly elected Episcopal Moderator of the Slovak Catholic Federation who celebrated liturgies at St. Joseph's on the weekend of September 5-6, 1987 and Mary Ellen Casey, wife of Pennsylvania Governor, Robert P. Casey. Mrs. Casey visited the school on May 14, 1990 and presented the parish with a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Flag. A U.S. Flag that was flown over Iraq on June 8, 2005 was presented by CW4 Jerry Steber, a parishioner of St. Joseph's, on behalf of "The Hooligans" Company A, 1st Battalion, 150th Aviation Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division, New Jersey Army National Guard while deployed to FOB Speicher, Iraq, supporting Operation Iraqui Freedom III.
The first Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) of St. Joseph Memorial School was formed on March 16, 1986. The first officers were:
- Msgr. Francis J. Beeda, Moderator
- Sister M. Clotilda, SS.C.M., Principal
- Mrs. Shirley Kutchi, President
- Mrs. Elizabeth Vitaliano, Vice President
- Mrs. Donna Carrell, Secretary
- Mrs. Mary Pacelli, Treasurer
- Mrs. Mary Susan Martonik, Publicity
The PTO was an active organized body of St. Joseph's School. It was responsible for refurbishing classrooms, establishing a computer center and updating the school's library. It also funded countless activities and recreational events for the student body. It ceased to exist when St. Joseph's became an inter parochial school.
Sister M. Clotida, SS.C.M., who served as principal of St. Joseph Memorial School for thirteen years was transferred to Stamford, Connecticut in September 1987. She was succeeded by Sister M. Georgene, SS.C.M., who served until June, 1992. Sister M. Georgeann, SS.C.M., was appointed principal in September, 1992. It was under her leadership that St. Joseph Memorial School underwent Middle States Evaluation in March, 1993, the year of our record snow fall. In November of that same year the Assistant Diocesan Superintendent of Schools for the Hazleton Area, Reverend David L. Tressler, announced that St. Joseph's School received Accreditation by the Commission on Elementary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools of which we were most proud. With the creation of the Hazleton Catholic Preparatory School in September, 1990 by Bishop Timlin, St. Joseph's housed grades one through six with a kindergarten and preschool program.
In 1996, Sister Susan Marie SS.C.M., succeeded Sister Georgeann as principal. She served until 2005, when St. Joseph's became an inter parochial school, named Holy Family Academy. St. Joseph's building housed Pre-K through sixth grade for the school year 2005-2006. The following school year, it was designated Holy Family Academy Intermediate School, having grades four through six. Miss Linda Pauline was principal for the school year 2005-2006 and vice principal for the year 2006-2007. Mrs. Alice Flynn was principal for both the Primary and Intermediate Schools of Holy Family Academy. Today, Holy Family Academy is housed in the former Bishop Hafey High School building. Bishop Hafey was closed at the end of the school year 2006-2007. St. Joseph's School celebrated is Centennial on May 28, 2005 with a Mass of Thanksgiving at 4:00 P.M. Following the Mass a gala celebration was held in the school.
With the merger of the parochial schools in Hazleton and the naming of a new principal for the school year 2005-2006, Sister Susan Marie and Sister Celeste Marie were transferred to South Carolina. This marked the end of the presence of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius in St. Joseph's. The Sisters had ministered in our parish since 1910, with the first Sisters of the order coming from St. Joseph's. The Sister's founder, Fr. Jankola was a former pastor of St. Joseph's. Because of the lack of vocations, the Order was unable to assign Sisters to minister in the parish.
With the departure of the Sisters, St. Joseph's Convent lay dormant for a short time. It was sold and is now an assisted living residence called "The Patrician". The parishioners were invited to the "Open House" on January 22, 2006. The stain glass windows from the convent chapel were framed and installed at the 6th Street and Lee Court entrances of the church.
On Thursday, February 20, 1992 over 3,000 fans squeezed into St. Joseph's gym, "The Zoo" as it was commonly called, to watch the Hazleton High School Mountaineers play their last game. St. Joseph's gym was home court for the Mountaineers since 1952. The new Hazleton Area High School gymnasium comprising Hazleton, West Hazleton and Freeland, became the home court for the newly named "Cougars".
Funfest '93 marked the first time St. Joseph Memorial School entered a float into the Funfest parade. St. Joseph's captured a Funfest Committee Trophy each year it participated in the Funfest parade.
Aside from changes to the physical structures of its buildings, St. Joseph's has also experienced many changes to foster the spiritual growth and development of its parishioners. On December 22, 1985, the first lay Eucharistic Ministers in St. Joseph's were installed to assist with the distribution of the Eucharist at liturgies and to bring the Eucharist to the shut-ins and home bound of the parish. They were Lucille Baranko, Joseph Belletiere, Peter Deeb, Emily Degenhart, Josephine Gabriel, Shirley Kutchi, Francis Reznick and Bernard Simkovich. Today there are thirty Eucharistic Ministers serving the parish.
A Cantor program, to enhance the Liturgies at St. Joseph's, went into effect the weekend of October 17-18, 1987 under the direction of Marge Stahura. This program continues to be an integral part of the Liturgy to this day.
In 1988, Bishop Timlin introduced the Diocese of Scranton to the RENEW Program that would begin in the Fall of '88 and conclude in Fall of '90. St. Joseph's adapted as its' RENEW motto "Make each person present to each other and grow in a family of unity and love". The "Kick-off" Liturgy was held on the Feast of SS. Anne and Joachim, July 26, 1988 celebrated by Msgr. Beeda, with Father John Haines, a missionary from Papau, New Guinea, as concelebrant. Cyril Kowalchick served as coordinator for the Parish RENEW Team. A Diocesan Mass, marking the beginning of RENEW was held on September 25, 1988 at the University of Scranton, John Long Center. The Parish RENEW Team, along with Msgr. Beeda and Fr. Manarchuck traveled to Scranton to celebrate the opening of RENEW with Bishop Timlin.
Bishop Timlin also introduced RENEW 2000 to the diocese that would extend from October 2001 to October 2003. The opening Mass for RENEW 2000 was held on September 23, 2000 in St. Peter's Cathedral with Bishop Timlin as celebrant. John Nonnemacher was named as parish Coordinator for RENEW 2000.
The parish also adopted the RCIA Program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) in 1988. Its first coordinator was Lucille Baranko. Upon the death of Lucille in 1995, Joanne Stahura became the new coordinator. Joanne continues to serve in this capacity to this day.
The Permanent Deaconate Program was introduced in the Diocese of Scranton in 1989. St. Joseph's was blessed with two candidates, Leonard Kassick and Cyril Kowalchick. The class of twenty-five candidates, were installed as Acolytes at a 10:30 AM Liturgy celebrated by Bishop Timlin, in St. Joseph's on September 28, 1991. Both Leonard and Cyril were ordained to the Deaconate on Saturday, November 27, 1993 in St. Peter's Cathedral, Scranton, Pennsylvania. They served as deacons for the first time at liturgies in their home parish of St. Joseph's on Sunday, November 28, 1993. The Reverend Mr. Leonard Kassick is currently assigned to St. Joseph's, while the Reverend Mr. Cyril Kowalchick is assigned to the Roman Catholic Community of Freeland, Pennsylvania. Both celebrated their 10th Anniversary in 2003.
Women always had an active role in all phases of parish life in St. Joseph's. To recognize their role, women had participated in the Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday for the first time on April 16, 1992. Women having their feet washed for the first time were: Joan Cibulish, representing the C.C.W., Maria Bonin, representing the P.T.O., Emily Degenhart, Pro Life Committee, Shirley Kutchi, Family Life Ministry, Courtney Kutchi, Youth Group and Sheila Corchado, representing St. Joseph's School. The first female Altar servers were installed on July 10, 1994. This was also the first class in the Diocese. They were: Christine Gasper, Gina Gasper, Amanda Marchetti, Megan Nonnemacher, Christina Polchin and Amanda Rondosh. Our Confraternity of Christian Women celebrated their 40th Anniversary on January 20, 1991, with a Mass celebrated by Father Berton Roll, OFM CAP., and Director General of the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers. An Anniversary dinner followed in the church hall.
St. Joseph's has celebrated many significant Anniversaries during the pastorate of Msgr. Beeda. The first being, his own 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood, celebrated with a Mass of Thanksgiving on December 28, 1986. A banquet followed at Gus Genetti's Hotel and Convention Center in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Father Joseph Manarchuck celebrated his 10th Anniversary of Priesthood with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Ascension Thursday, Mary 12, 1988. An Anniversary dinner followed in the church hall. Father Gerald Gurka also celebrated his 10th Anniversary of Priesthood with a Mass of Thanksgiving and an open house on Friday, August 31, l990.
On Sunday, June 6, 1999, Father Andrew Rentka, SVD, a native son celebrated his 50th Anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving at 11 AM. Following the Mass a reception and dinner were held in the church cafeteria. Father ministered in Mexico for 38 years. He founded 16 parishes and built 16 parish churches, - the last, the largest and only one built with rock named St. Joseph's, dedicated to Msgr. Joseph Gavenda and the people of St. Joseph's. Father also served as a doctor, helping people cure their pain physically and spiritually. He taught thousands of children to read and write, along with our Christian doctrine. He provided scholarships for hundreds of poor young men and women. He was responsible for bringing "running water" to the people of Canon de Lobos, who prior to this had to walk miles to get water. Because he spoke out against the Mexican political and economical injustices, he could never receive a permanent Visa. He was forced to leave Mexico every six months and re-enter after a few weeks' stay in the United States. Even in retirement and with his sight failing, Father continued to serve his people. He conducted eight prayer/scripture groups, offered daily Mass in two convents and two hotels every Sunday for English speaking tourists in Mexico. Father died on April 26, 2000 at the age of 80. His cremains are interred in the main altar of the church he served in Zapata Moreles, Mexico. A Memorial Mass was celebrated in St. Joseph's on Sunday, May 14, 2000.
Another native son, Father Cassian Yuhaus, C.P. celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood with a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Joseph's on Sunday, May 27, 2001 at 3:00 P.M. A banquet followed in Best Western Genetti Inn & Suites in Hazleton. Father Cassian has distinguished himself as an educator, lecturer, historian, author and religious consultant. He is known world-wide, especially in Rome where his acquaintances include Popes, Cardinals and Bishops. Although his "forza" might have diminished a bit, it is far from extinguished - Ad multos annos!Sister M. Cabrini, SS.CM celebrated her 50th Anniversary as a religious in the Congregation of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius on Sunday, August 16, 1998 at the 11:00 AM Mass. Following the Mass, a reception and dinner were held in the cafeteria.
Sister M. Goretti, SS.C.M.; returned to her home parish to celebrate 50 years of profession as a religious in the Congregation of Sisters of SS. Cyril & Methodius, on Saturday, July 20, 2002. Following the Mass of Thanksgiving a reception and dinner were held in the Gavenda Center in Sister's honor.
Sister M. Mercedes Voytko, SS.CM celebrated her 50th Anniversary of religious life with a candlelight Mass of Thanksgiving at 11:00 AM on Saturday, August 17, 2002. A reception and dinner for family and friends followed at Top of the Eighties. Sister served as President of the Conference of Slovak Religious, an affiliate of the Slovak Catholic Federation. She chaired its 25th Anniversary at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Danville on Sunday, October 13, 2002. Sister also served as the Director of the Jankola Library and Museum for 15 years retiring, September 1, 2007.
On Sunday, May 28, 2006, Father Cyril Rable, a former assistant, at St. Joseph's, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for his 50th Anniversary of Priesthood. A reception and dinner in his honor were held in the Gavenda Center of the school. Father served at St. Joseph's for 17 years. He currently serves as Chaplain in Maria Hall for the Sisters of SS. Cyril & Methodius in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Msgr. Beeda celebrated his 45th Anniversary of Priesthood with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday November 26, 2006 in St. Joseph's. A banquet followed the Mass in Genetti's Hotel & Convention Center in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
The Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union, which was founded in Hazleton, celebrated their 100th Anniversary on Sunday, September 27, 1998 with a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Joseph's. The celebrant of the Mass was Joseph Cardinal Tomko. Among the concelebrants were, Bishop James C. Timlin, Bishop of Scranton and Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown. This was the second visit of his Eminence to St. Joseph's, the first being the Centennial Celebration of St. Joseph's in 1982. Following the Mass a monument with the statue of St. Francis, commemorating the founders of the LPSCU, was unveiled and blessed by the Cardinal. A Centennial banquet followed in Gus Genetti's, in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Our parish mission, St. Ladislaus, celebrated its centenary on September 18, 1994 with a Mass of Thanksgiving at 4:00 P.M. Principal celebrant and homilist was Msgr. Balberchak, former pastor. Concelebrants included Msgr. Beeda and all former assistants. Father Andrew Hvozdovic served as Master of Ceremonies. At the Centennial banquet which followed in the Gavenda Center of St. Joseph's School, the faithful custodians of St. Ladislaus, Joseph and Alexander Kapes were honored. Alex died unexpectedly with a heart attack on New Years Day 1995. The care of St. Ladislaus was placed in the hands of his brother, Joseph. Joe served as custodian until his death on the 26th of November, 2004. The care of St. Ladislaus is now conducted by Joe's daughter, Mary Rose Minnick and Michael Giarrizzi. St. Ladislaus hosts a monthly Holy Hour for Priests which is conducted by Father Stephen, assistant pastor at St. Joseph's.
A most inspiring celebration was the First Mass of the Reverend Joseph J. Evanko, a native son. Father Evanko was ordained by Bishop Timlin in St. Peter's Cathedral on June 29, 1991. He celebrated his First Mass on Sunday, June 30, 1991 in St. Joseph's. A reception and dinner followed at Best Western Genetti's Inn & Suites in Hazleton. He celebrated his 10th Anniversary of Ordination with a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Joseph's, at 5:00 PM on June 29, 2001.
After serving St. Joseph's for five years, Father Joseph Manarchuck received his first pastorate, the Church of St. Luke's, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, on October 8. 1989. Father Manarchuck was succeeded by Father Gerald Gurka. He, too, received his first pastorate while at St. Joseph's. He was named pastor of St. Mary's, Wanamie/St. Joseph's, Hanover section of Nanticoke on July 8, 1991. Father Gurka was succeeded by Father Andrew Hvozdovic, a native of Sacred Heart Parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He also served as Catechist and Director of Music at Bishop Hafey High School. He was instrumental in organizing the parish "Viliga" and Mardi Gras. After ministering six years in St. Joseph's, he received his first pastorate to the Church of St. Luke, in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, in June, 1997.
Father Andrew was succeeded by Father Stephen A. Krawontka, who has the privilege of being ordained by Karol Cardinal Woytla in Krakow, Poland on May 22, 1977. The following year, Cardinal Woytla was elected Pope, Pope John Paul II. Father Stephen celebrated his 25th Anniversary of Priesthood with a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Joseph's on Sunday, May 26, 2002. A reception and dinner followed in the church cafeteria.
The first Parish Council and Finance Committee were installed on the first Sunday of Advent, 1986.
The first Council members were:
- George Gombeda, Chairmen
- Margaret Stahura, Secretary
Members Ex Officio:
- Msgr. Beeda, Pastor
- Sister M. Josita, SS.C.M., Superior of St. Joseph's Convent
- Sister M. Clotilda, SS.C.M., Principal of St. Joseph's School
Other members were:
- Michael Koval, President of the Holy Name Society
- Emily Degenhart, President of the Confraternity of Christian Women
- Shirley Kutchi, President of the P.T.O.
- Michael Pupach, President of the C.Y.O.
- Gil Degenhart, President of St. Joseph's Cemetery Association
- Sister Clotilda, SS.C.M., Catholic Education
- Ray Montoni, Religious Education
- Mr. & Mrs. Gil Degenhart, Pro Life
- Mr. & Mrs. Michael Kutchi, Family Life
- Josephine Gabriel, Social Justice
- Cyril Kowalchick, Liturgy
- Adam Surmick, Parish Buildings
- Father Manarchuck and Ray Montoni, Youth
- Hugh Shamany, Finance
The First Finance Committee was comprised of Msgr. Beeda, Thomas Kashi, Business Manager of St. Joseph's and Hugh Shamany. The parish council and finance committee are an integral part of the day to day operation of St. Joseph's. They have proven to be a great asset to the pastor.
May 21, 1994, will be remembered as a sad day in the history of St. Joseph's. Three chalices and a ciborium were stolen from the sacristy safe. The chalices belonged to Msgr. Beeda, Father Hvozdovic and the late Msgr. Gavenda. The ciborium was a gift of the Simkovich Family in memory of their parents. The whereabouts of the stolen articles remain unknown.
Each season of the year, St. Joseph's grounds have also been a source of inspiration to the people of the Greater Hazleton area. The parish has received numerous awards from various organizations. In 1988 Hazleton Lion's Club awarded the best decorated (outdoor) church in Hazleton for the Christmas season. The same award was also presented in 2004.
St. Joseph's is a vibrant parish numbering over 1100 families. It is active in community affairs; for example, it hosts two annual blood drives, one in the spring and the second in the fall of the year, supports the cancer society each year with its daffodil sales and promotes the United Way and its member agencies especially the Catholic Social Services of Hazleton. A giving tree at Christmas provides the parishioners with an opportunity to buy a gift for needy children of the parish and of the area, which is channeled through Catholic Social Services.
St. Joseph's Youth are involved in parish activities, visiting the sick and shut-ins, bringing them a poinsettia and lily plants at Christmas and Easter, caroling at nursing homes, conducting "Baby Showers" to obtain baby gifts for mothers of newborn children and assisting at parish functions, especially the annual festival and parish dinners where their help is always welcome.
The Youth Group along with the students of St. Joseph's School, participated in a project to help the families of the 9-11 tragedy. A commemorative pin, designed by Mrs. Karen Krzemien, the school librarian, was sold in the parish and community. Proceeds of project "9-11" were sent to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York City for distribution to the families.
A delegation from St. Joseph's consisting of Courtney Kutchi, Joseph Peregrin and Sean Shamany accompanied by Father Hvozdovic, journeyed to the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, which was celebrated with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II.
In 1998, a youth group member, Matthew Nonnemacher adopted a project entitled, "A million ways to care". Matthew set out to collect a million pennies to help feed, clothe and shelter the poor, so that they may have what we have. Matthew collected 1,800,000 pennies. As a result of his success, Matthew was the recipient of many invitations e.g. TV shows, Disney World, lunch with President Clinton and his wife to mention a few.
Our Youth Group participated in Youth 2000 which was held in the Catholic Youth Center in Scranton, October 8, 9, 10, 1999. On August 5, 2003, fourteen Youth Group members under the direction of Deacon Len participated in "Celebrate Youth Day" at the University of Scranton. Gina Gasper from St. Joseph's was coordinator for the day's activities. She and Matthew Nonnemacher served the Mass with Bishop Timlin. Youth Group members participated in "Light the Fire" an area youth gathering held at St. Jude's in Mountaintop Pennsylvania, June 13, 2007.
Currently the Youth Group is planning to send representatives to the National Youth Conference which will be held in Columbus, Ohio in November 2007.
Alicia Yanac, a senior at Bishop Hafey High School, Hazleton, joined with young people of the Diocese to work with the poor of Equador for two weeks in July, 2005. As a sophomore at the University of Scranton, she spent two weeks working with the indigent of San Salvador in August of 2007.
St. Joseph's concern for others goes beyond its parish boundaries, with the death of Father Rentka, the Mexican Mission collection took over a universal dimension. The collections now support Catholic agencies as Catholic Relief Services, Home Missions, Food for the Poor, Bread for the World to name a few. The collections support the poor in Haiti, the starving of the Sudan and other African nations. It has been effective in helping to rebuild the church in Slovakia, after suffering 40 years of Communism. It has been a leader in all appeals made for the church in Slovakia, and for education of priests in Slovakia.
It has responded to natural disasters, perhaps the biggest undertaking being the adoption of the Church of the Sacred Heart and its school, in Homestead, Florida, which were virtually devastated by Hurricane Andrew. Under the direction of Father Andrew Hvozdovic, thousands of dollars in gifts and supplies were sent to Sacred Heart Church and School. St. Joseph's has opened its heart to the people of New Orleans still suffering the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
The people of St. Joseph's under the direction of the Holy Name Society have provided food baskets for the poor and needy of the parish and the community throughout the year. They participated in clothing drives and have been a continuous support to the local charitable organizations.
St. Joseph's Pro Life Committee is one of the most active in the Hazleton area. It supports all Pro Life projects and endeavors, locally and nationally; it is a leader in promoting "carnations for life", it participates annually, in rallies for life in our area and in our nation's capital, and is supportive in prayer on a daily basis with the public recitation of the rosary. It conducts Holy Hours on the first Sunday of October, the "Respect Life" month and the Sunday prior to January 22nd, the Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in our country. A living rosary is formed by parish organizations.
St. Joseph's conducts a Pre Cana Conference each year for couples contemplating marriage. The program designed by the Scranton Diocese is obligatory for all couples planning marriage. Deacon Leonard Kassick is coordinator of the Conference.
To commemorate the great Jubilee year 2000, a monument to the Unborn, featuring a statue of Jesus with children was blessed and dedicated on the Feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2001, a Pro Life Feast, with all the school children in attendance. The monument was donated in memory of Gerald Stock Sr., by his wife, Gloria, her children and grandchildren.
Each October, the Holy Name Society conducts the "White Ribbon Campaign". White ribbons are distributed after each Mass with the intention that parishioners will display them on their autos as a symbol of respect for human life and opposition to pornography.
In 2003, a new ministry was formed in St. Joseph's entitled "Parish Nurse Ministry". This program promotes health and healing through education, counseling, and support of individuals and families of all ages with emphasis on disease prevention and promotion of wellness. Installation of members took place at the 4:00 P.M. Mass on September 4, 2004. Members installed were Mary Andrasi, R.N., Mary Susan Martonik, R.N., Ellen Garrity, R.N., Joan Humenick, R.N., Denise Dittman, R.N., Theresa Yuda, R.N. and volunteer, Shirley Kutchi.
St. Joseph's participated in a three year celebration for the Great Jubilee Year 2000 inaugurated by Pope John Paul II entitled "on the coming of the Third Millennium". Services were conducted on both a deanery and parish level beginning in October of 1997.
In 2003 the Hazleton Deanery adopted a Lenten Program called "Road to Resurrection". Services were held each week in a church of the Deanery. St. Joseph's along with Our Lady of Grace Parish hosted the week closest to the Feast of St. Joseph. This afforded the participants an opportunity to share in the "St. Joseph Table", an annual celebration of the parish.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II proclaimed a "Year of the Eucharist", from October 2004 to October 2005. The year opened with a deanery three day "Community Mission" at St. Joseph's, October 17, 18, 19, 2004 conducted by Rev. Paul Bernier, S.S.S.
As a parish, St. Joseph's has monthly adoration of the Eucharist each First Friday. It has novenas, triduums, retreats, Forty Hours devotions, and daily recitation of the rosary, to secure peace in our world and solidify family life in our country.
In 1999, a Jesus look-a-like, known as "Whats Your Name" found his way to Hazleton, teaching and preaching the message of Jesus. On Sunday, January 2, 2000, "Whats Your Name" spoke to a full house in St. Joseph's gym. After leaving the area, he has traveled through out the U.S. Currently he will be the subject of a documentary film.
With the passing of Pope John Paul II, there was a desire to memorialize him on the part of the parishioners. The desire was fulfilled with a stain glass window of Pope John Paul II being installed at the 6th Street entrance of the church. The window is a gift of Jean Shovlin and Family in memory of her brother and sister, Richard B. and Helen G. Gasper. The window, the first in the area, was blessed and dedicated by Msgr. Beeda on Sunday, January 15, 2006.
In 2005, the Slovak Catholic Federation selected Hazleton as the site of its 56th National Convention. The Convention opened with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Episcopal Moderator, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, D.D., Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, in St. Joseph's on Sunday, April 17, 2005. The Convention Banquet and sessions were held at Genetti's Best Western Inn and Suites, Hazleton. At the conclusion of the Convention, April 20th a hospitality night was held in the Gavenda Center featuring a "Slovak Buffet" and a sing-a-long of Slovak Folk songs under the direction of John Simkovich.
With the retirement of Father Garbacik, Msgr. Beeda was named pastor of St. Stansilaus Church in June 2006.
That same year, St. Joseph's former principal, Sister M Clotilda, SS.C.M. Celebrated her 80th year of Religious life.
St. Joseph's mourned the death of a native son and former assistant, Father John Marinko who died on June 7, 2006. His wake and funeral Mass were held in St. Joseph's. Father served as assistant pastor for more than 20 years. He is interred in St. Joseph's Cemetery at the foot of the cemetery cross. St. Joseph's also mourned the death of an additional two native sons: Father Thomas J. Dzurenda died on February 29, 2000 after serving the Diocese of Trenton and Metuchen, N.J. for 35 years and Msgr. Andrew A. Chupela who died on October 18, 2003. Msgr. served the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania for 48 years.
Under the direction of Bishop Martino, parish life in the Diocese of Scranton is being restructured. Part of the restructuring includes the forming of a new Parish Pastoral Council and Finance Committee. The new Parish Pastoral Council Members of St. Joseph's are:
- Msgr. Beeda
- Father Krawontka
- Deacon Len
- George Gombeda, Chairperson
- Dolores M. Evanko, Secretary
- Mary Andrasi
- Emily Degenhart
- Mary Susan Martonik
- Michael Koval
- Zelda Ondish
- Andrew Soltis
- Joanne Stahura
Parish Finance Committee Members are:
- Msgr. Beeda
- Father Krawontka
- Deacon Len
- Hugh Shamany, Chairperson
- Joseph Gasper
- Thomas Cipriano
- John Nonnemacher
In preparation for the 125th Anniversary celebration, the Parish Finance Committee approved a major renovation program submitted by Msgr. Beeda, which would cost approximately $300,000.
With the approval of the Bishop, the project began in May. It included: An air conditioning system; painting of the church with murals in the sanctuary and choir; a new sound system; the stripping and refurbishing of the pews, sanctuary marble and terrazzo floor. All was accomplished and paid for at the time of the 125th Anniversary Celebration which was held Sunday, September 30, 2007.
St. Joseph's opened its 125th Anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 11:15 AM. The Episcopal Vicar for the Eastern Region of the Diocese, Rev. Jeffrey Walsh was principal Celebrant and homilist. Msgr. Beeda and Fr. Stephen Krawontka concelebrated. Deacon Leonard Kassick and Deacon Cyril Kowalchick functioned as deacons of the Mass. St. Joseph's Choir rendered the liturgical music for the Mass.
Following the Mass, a "Slovak Buffet", prepared by the men and women of the parish, was served to a "full house" in the Gavenda Center of the School. Featured at the buffet celebration was famous St. Joseph Table. Hundreds of goodies were made by the women of the parish.
On August 16, a Pilgrimage of Thanksgiving for the 125th Anniversary celebration was held at the Basilica of St. Ann in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The day began with the outdoor Way of the Cross. Fr. Cassian Yuhaus, CP, a native son, celebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving in the Basilica with Msgr. Beeda concelebrating. Deacon Len Kassick was leader of song. Following the recitation of the Novena prayers to St. Ann, those in attendance were blessed with the relic of St. Ann. Time for private prayer was available, after a delicious luncheon prepared by the basilica staff.
A solemn Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving marking the 125th Anniversary was held on Sunday, September 30, 2007, at 3:00 PM with the Most Reverend Joseph J. Martino, D.D. Hist. E.D. as principal celebrant. Concelebrating with the Bishop were: Msgr. Francis J. Beeda, S.T.L., pastor, Rev. Stephen A. Krawontka, assistant pastor, parish sons: Rev. Joseph J. Evanko, who also served as homilist, Reverends Joseph Stahura, Cassian Yuhaus, C.P. and Leo Dusheck, S.V.D. The following also concelebrated: Msgr. Arthur Kaschenback, Msgr. Constatine Siconolfi and Reverends Cyril Rable and Andrew Hvozdovic, former assistant pastors; Mark Balczeniuk, Dean of Hazleton area; Richard Cirba, Louis Garbacik, Philip Altavilla and Leonard Butcavage. Fr. Thomas Cappeloni was in attendance.
Deacons Cyril Kowalchick and Robert Roman served as chaplains to the Bishop, while Leonard Kassick served as Deacon of the Mass. Deacon Louis Smolinsky was in attendance.
George Gombeda, Chairman of the 125th Anniversary was lector, with Joanne Stahura as cantor. Greeting the Bishop with the traditional symbols of welcome, bread, salt and flowers were Anne Chulock, Veronica Martonik and Joseph Repetz. Each was attired in Slovak dress. They also served as gift bearers at the Mass. Altar Servers were Gregory Breznak, Alyssa Cipriano, Laura Chulock, Sean Dittman, Hannah Ondish and Andrew Wilson.
Masters of Ceremonies were: Rev. Shane Kirby, Secretary to the Bishop and Seminarian Mark Phillips. The Liturgical music was rendered by St. Joseph's Anniversary Choir under the direction of Margaret Stahura. Dr. Joseph Jumpeter was organist with trumpets.
The 125th Anniversary Banquet was held in Best Western Genetti's Inn & Suites on Route 309, Hazleton beginning was a cocktail hour at 5:00 PM. "Le Grand Buffet" was served to a crowd of 300 parishioners and friends. Each person received a mini cookie tray, with a larger one, including altar wine, serving as a centerpiece for the table. Hundreds of cookies were made by the "cookie committee".
George Gombeda, Chairman of the 125th Anniversary welcomed all to the banquet and introduced the Anniversary Committee who served with him: Deacon Leonard Kassick, Dolores M. Evanko, Muffin Cipriano, Muriel Reznick, Rev. Stephen Krawontka and Msgr. Francis J. Beeda. He also introduced the Toastmaster for the evening, Dr. John Degenhart. Dr. John introduced John Simkovich, the accompanist for the National Anthems of the USA, Star Spangled Banner and the Slovak Republic "Nad Tatrou". Father Cassian Yuhaus, C.P., a native son, offered the Anniversary toast
After dinner Msgr. Beeda was called upon by Dr. John to introduce the guests present and offer remarks.
Priests present were: Rev. Jeffrey Walsh, Episcopal Vicar, Eastern Pastoral Region, Rev. Mark Balczeniuk, Dean of the Hazleton Area, Msgr. Constantine Siconolfi and the following Reverend Fathers: Philip Altavilla, Leonard Butcavage, Richard Cirba, Joseph Evanko, Louis Garbacik, Andrew Hvozdovic, Cyril Rable, John Ruth and Joseph Stahura. The following deacons were also introduced: Deacon Cyril Kowalchick, Deacon and Mrs. Robert Roman and Deacon and Mrs. Louis Smolinsky.
The following Fraternals present were acknowledged: Slovak Catholic Sokol, First Catholic Slovak Union, Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union, First Catholic Ladies Association, Slovak Catholic Federation and the Heritage Society of N.E. Pennsylvania.
Msgr. Beeda made a special presentation to Mamie Kobrick, retiree, who served for many years as sacristan in St. Joseph's. Dr. Degenhart acknowledged all the greeting received which are published in the 125th Anniversary book.
Deacon Leonard Kassick offered the benediction in word and song by singing "To God Be The Glory".
Following the banquet, music for dancing was provided by the Ray Suda Orchestra from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
St. Joseph's looks to the future with a vision focused on continued growth and development in spirituality and community awareness. It will strive to maintain the Slovak traditions handed down to us by the Cyril and Methodian legacy with its reputation of being the "Welcoming Church"!
October 1, 2007 to Present June 2013 is under Construction at this time.