From 1888 to 2013: Epiphany Parish celebrating 125 years
History of the Epiphany Parish
Published: November 17, 2013
On Sunday, May 12, 1888, Father John J. Costello, pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Athens, Pa., met with his growing congregation in Sayre at the school house, where it was decided to break ground for a church in Sayre. H.J. Baldwin of Waverly was hired as the contractor and work on the new church was begun. The construction seemed to move along rapidly. Three churches were being built in Sayre in 1888: Epiphany, Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal) and the Baptist Church.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid on Sunday, Aug. 19, 1888. The following is an account from the Athens Gazette that tells of the ceremony:
“The corner-stone of the new Catholic Church, on Elmer Avenue was laid with imposing ceremonies at 3:30 o’clock Sunday afternoon. The sermon was preached by Bishop O’Hara, of the Diocese of Scranton. He was assisted in the ceremony by Fathers Kelly, of Towanda, Walsh, of Scranton, and Costello of Athens.
“The bishop and accompanying clergy were met at the entrance to Sayre by the Waverly and Athens temperance societies headed by the R.A. Packer Band, and marched to the site of the new church. The new edifice will be very handsome and built of wood entirely, with a seating capacity of between five and six hundred. The day was perfect for the occasion and great crowds of people flocked to town to witness the ceremony.”
In January of 1889 it was announced in a local paper that the new Catholic Church was nearly completed and is one of the finest structures in this section.
The Church of the Epiphany was dedicated on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1889.
On Sunday morning, Oct. 24, 1889, Father Costello gave a statement of the financial condition of the new Catholic Church. He announced that the church cost $10,255 and that the amount collected was $8,755, leaving a debt of $1,500.
In 1890-91 the rectory was built next to the church.
According to the parish registry from the former St. Joseph’s Church in Athens (then Holy Ghost), Epiphany in Sayre and St. John’s in South Waverly were split from the parish on Jan. 19, 1891, (just eight days before Sayre became a borough). Father John Costello was named pastor of Epiphany Parish and the mission St. John’s in South Waverly.
Epiphany parish started with 65 families and growth for the new parish was slow until 1891 when the Lehigh Valley greatly expanded.
Father Costello remained Pastor of Epiphany Parish until March 16, 1899 when he was transferred to Annunciation Parish in Williamsport, Pa.
Around 1916-17, 28 years after the dedication of Epiphany Church on North Elmer Avenue, the parish had outgrown the building and Father James Shanley, second pastor of the parish, purchased two lots: the Kinney property, situated on the corner of South Elmer Avenue and Hayden Street, and the Carmen property adjoining it. The house standing on the corner was removed and became the site of the new church. In 1917 Architect John J. Howley’s plans for the new church were accepted and the contract for the work was let to John Shea of Sayre. The cornerstone was laid in 1917 but the worked progressed slowly and the dedication did not take place until Oct. 26, 1919. At the time the new structure was referred to as “a magnificent edifice that overlooks the town as an ideal structure of its kind.”
The windows of the church are from the Munich Studio company of Chicago and each is a work of rare art. The large front window, representing Saint Cecelia, was given by two ladies’ societies of the church, the LCBA and the Daughters of Isabella. The windows in the rear of the altar showing the Ascension were given by the local council of the Knights of Columbus. The cost of the new church was $75,000
Father James Houlihan, the third pastor of Epiphany parish, arrived in 1922. He built the present rectory in 1929, at which time he also converted the old church into a Parochial School and remodeled the old rectory into a convent for the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The sisters and staff have educated and trained the children in the elementary grade work for the past 84 years. Father Houlihan was also responsible for the decoration of the interior of the Epiphany Church.
During Father Houlihan’s pastorate the Great Depression hit and the parish struggled to survive. In an account from “A Century of History; The Diocese of Scranton 1868-1968,” Houlihan described the malaise well on Oct. 29 of the latter year. “It has been estimated that the average income of our people at Sayre is about $8 a week and as a result the Catholics here have not been able to give their usual subscriptions to the church.”
Ten weeks later, on Jan. 10, 1933, he explained further the financial dilemma confronting him in his attempt to keep the parish solvent: “There has been a sharp drop in our income and many people have left Sayre to seek work elsewhere. We have some 500 contributors and in most cases these people have cut their offerings in two.”
On Tuesday, May 28, 1935, the parish and town were host to the late Most Reverend Thomas C. O’Reilly, D.D., in addition to a score of Monsignors, 350 priests and approximately 20,000 people who journeyed to Sayre to honor and worship Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
On Oct. 28, 1938, the Church of the Epiphany celebrated its 50th anniversary with a mission. The parish had grown in the first 50 years from 65 families to 325. Most of the credit for the success of Epiphany in the first 50 years belongs to Father Houlihan.
An ever-growing infrastructure
The church and school continued to grow. In 1962 the Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction condemned the school building on North Elmer Avenue and stated that the church would have to find another building or close the school. Plans were drawn up and on April 22, 1963, ground was broken for the construction of the new building on Stevenson Street. The cost of the school was $412,000. It was officially dedicated on Aug. 31, 1964.
On February 25, 1965, construction of a new convent adjacent to the school was begun. The sisters occupied their new home April 14, 1966.
In 1971 Monsignor Bernard Grogan, sixth pastor of Epiphany parish, extensively renovated the church. It had no internal repair or renovation since its construction. New altars were installed. A new baptistery was installed and a new repository. New marble altars imported from Italy, new carpeting all over the church, new pews to replace the old uncomfortable seats, new paint, new Stations of the Cross, and new statues were all incorporated into the 1919 church. The church basement was remodeled into a church hall. On Aug. 19, 1971, the remodeled church was rededicated by Most Rev. J. Carroll McCormick, bishop of Scranton.
The ‘Cathedral of the North’
In 1988 Epiphany parish, under the leadership of the eighth pastor, Father Joseph Sammons, and assistant pastor Father Andrew Hvozdovic, reached its centennial. A fund drive was started in 1987 to raise the needed funds to prepare the property for the celebration of the 100th anniversary. An amount of $125,000 was asked and well over this amount was pledged.
The outside of the church was washed to remove grit and dirt and the window and door frames were repainted. A compete interior repainting was accomplished in gold leaf and using multiple trim colors on a rose background behind the main altar. New Stations of the Cross were added and a distinctive trim in bronze and gold leaf surrounds each. The church was refereed to at the time as the “Cathedral of the North.”
A new kitchen was added to the church hall on the lower level. Besides the repainting of the church, extensive renovations were made to the rectory, the convent and the school.
A special Mass was celebrated on Sept. 18, 1988, by the Most Reverend James C. Timlin, Bishop of Scranton, as principal celebrant. A centennial history book was prepared by parishioner John “Jack” Lenz.
Father William Karle, ninth pastor of the parish, had all of the stained glass windows refitted and preserved. Father Karle also was responsible for the silent adoration of Eucharistic Adoration, which started in a special chapel in Epiphany church in 1992 and continues to this day.
From 65 to nearly 800 families
In 2005 Father Andrew Hvozdovic returned to Sayre as Pastor of the Church of the Epiphany. On Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008, Father Andrew and the parishioners of Epiphany celebrated the 120th anniversary of the founding of the parish. A special mass and dinner were held to commemorate yet another historic event for the parish. The program given out at that Mass stated that the parish had nearly 800 families.
In July 2009, Epiphany became the only Roman Catholic parish in the Valley. The jointure of St. Joseph’s in Athens, Saint John’s in South Waverly and St. Ann’s in Bentley Creek was a major change for all of the Valley Catholics as the 1,000 families of the four parishes joined to become The Catholic Community of the Epiphany.
In 2012 an eight-month restoration project was completed at Epiphany Church to meet the long-term needs of The Catholic Community of the Epiphany. During this $2.3 million interior and exterior restoration, the church building was put in top-notch shape for the future.
On Nov. 23, 2013 The Catholic Community of the Epiphany will proudly celebrate the 125th anniversary of Epiphany parish with Mass at 4 p.m., celebrated by Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, followed with a banquet in the newly refurbished Parish Hall. An extensive history of the parish has been prepared by Henry G. Farley and is included in the commemorative booklet published for this occasion.
Pastors who served Epiphany parish include: Father John Costello, Father James Shanley, Father James Houlihan, Father James Gough, Father Francis Toolan, Monsignor Bernard Grogan, Monsignor Thomas Jordon, Father Joseph Sammons, Father William Karle and Father Andrew Hvozdovic. Father Phillip Barrett O.S.A. served the parish as administrator from 1977 to 1978 and Father Charles Mulrooney served as administrator in 1968.