Sacred Heart Parish was Founded in 1908 in Palmerton, Pennsylvania
The Early Days....
The early history of Catholicity in Palmerton and the vicinity is obscure, although there is evidence that Holy Mass may have been said here occasionally as early as 1740, when Father Graeton S.J. made his first missionary journey through Eastern PA. He visited Easton, Mauch Chunk, and Summit Hill. Palmerton at the time did not exist. But we could be sure that this missionary priest, as also many who followed him, must have traversed the forests and lowlands of what afterward became Palmerton. The old Fireline Church, which stood at the point where Dairy Road and Fireline Road are today (across from the former Smitty’s Fireline Hotel), served the people of this vicinity long before 1908. According to the Biographical History Directory of Palmerton 1944-1949 Volume 1 Edition 1, compiled by Archpriest Father V. Gindlin, the Fireline Church was built in 1856 by a German Catholic congregation. From humble beginnings, the Sacred Heart Parish has labored and built one of the largest congregations in Palmerton. Fire later destroyed the Fireline Church and a temporary place of worship was made on Third St.
Funds were raised among the Catholic people of Palmerton from all nationalities and four lots were purchased on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Third St., and additional grounds for a cemetery adjoining the Towmensing Cemetery on the south. The contract for the building of a church edifice was given out on April 27, 1908. On June 28, 1908 the Rev. John Clemens Vitt, pastor of Assumption B.V.M. Parish in Slatington, who, from the year 1906 cared for the souls of Palmerton Catholics, laid the cornerstone of the Sacred Heart Church, being delegated by the Most Reverend Patrick J. Ryan, then archbishop of the Diocese. The first children were baptized on June 24, 1906 by Fr. Vitt were twins, Francis & George Shinagel, born June 16, 1906, sons of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Shinagel. The first marriage performed by Fr. Vitt was that of a Palmerton couple, Julius Mossick and Anna Vargo, who were married on July 11, 1906. The first death occurring in the Palmerton congregation was Joseph Karell, 33 yrs old, who died May 9, 1906. The structure erected at that time was a small frame building, accommodating both church and school. During those early years a permanent pastor was an impossibility. Fr. Vitt continued serving the Sacred Heart congregation and the church was made a mission to the Slatington parish.
Fr. Vitt was instrumental in bringing to this country the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1908. They made their first mother house in the United States on Washington St. in Slatington. In 1909 the Missionary Sisters took charge of the parish school each Saturday to teach the rudiments of the faith to Palmerton Catholic boys & girls. To do this the Sisters had to travel on foot from Slatington. A short time later a home, located at 250-252 Lafayette Ave., directly across from the present church, was rented and made to serve as a permanent residence of the Sisters. Regular classes for the Parochial School of this parish were then begun with an enrollment of 140 students. Sacred Heart Parish continued as a mission to Slatington from 1908 to 1913, when the Archbishop was finally enabled to appoint Rev. Rakowski as the first resident pastor of this church. At this time the parish consisted of people of fourteen different nationalities. There was no rectory for the parish priest, so Fr. Kucharic, who succeeded Fr. Rakowski, lived in a rented Palmerton on home on Lehigh Ave. The Rev. John P. Vlossak was appointed pastor in March of 1917 and he immediately sought to enlarge the church property and acquired the home adjacent to the church, converting it into a rectory. Shortly afterward the double brick home opposite the church, which was being rented, was purchased and dedicated as a convent to house the Sisters in charge of the Parochial School. In 1922 there were approximately 1200 members of Sacred Heart Parish (including children).
The original frame structure of the church was remodeled in 1928. Upon its completion the realization came that the school rooms in the basement of the church were inadequate for the proper care of the Parochial School children. The Arch Bishop of Philadelphia proposed a new building, and Fr. Vlossak immediately made the plans for the new school. In 1929 the excavation for the school was begun and a new building was erected and dedicated by the Most Rev. Bishop O’Hara in 1930. At the time it had the largest auditorium in Palmerton.
Chronological History Sacred Heart Parish
1890 – First Roman Catholics worshipped in the Old Fireline Church
1900 – Roman Catholics organized a Mission of the Catholic Church in Slatington The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in a hall located on Third and Delaware Ave. in Palmerton.
1908 – The corner-stone of the first Sacred Heart Church was laid by Rev. John Vitt, Pastor of Assumption B.V.M., Slatington. In Addition, the plans for the building included two basement rooms for school.
1909 – The Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus began conduction religious instruction classes.
1913 – The first resident Pastor was appointed – Fr. Rakowski
1914 – Rev. Father E. Kucharic was appointed Pastor. Improvements were made on the church property.
1917 – Rev. John Vlossak appointed Pastor. He purchased the present Rectory and the Convent.
1928 – The Sacred Heart Church was remodeled.
1929 – The construction of the Parochial School was begun and was completed in 1930. His Excellency, Bishop O’Hara presided at the dedication of the new school.
1935 – Rev. LaBurda was appointed Pastor. He made improvements in the Church, Convent and Rectory. At this time a drive fro the Building Fund of the New Church was inaugurated.
1938 – Assistant Pastor Fr. Vleck published a short history of Sacred Heart Parish on the occasion of its Thirtieth Anniversary.
1947 – Rev. John Matlos was appointed Pastor.
1950 – Land was purchased for a new cemetery.
1953 – An addition was made to the Parochial School providing modern facilities, a kitchen, and heating facilities. Approx cost was $50,000. Enrollment in the school was 195 students.
1955 – Construction of the New Church began in June.
1956 – The Corner-stone of the New Church was laid.
1957 – The New Church was completed. The building and improvements cost approx $400,000.00. The architecture is modern Romanesque, and the interior decorated with Italian marble. The first Mass was celebrated at Christmas Midnight. The celebrant was Fr. Matlos. The first marriage in the new church, of Gerald Geiger and Margaret Doncsecz, was solemnized on December 28, 1957. The first baptisms, of James Kurtz, Christine Engle and Susan Kavusak, took place in the New Church on January 12, 1958.
July 20, 1958 – Fiftieth Anniversary of the Parish and Dedication of the New Church.
June 1, 2008 – 100th Anniversary Mass of Sacred Heart Parish