History of St. Vincent dePaul Parish Girardville, PA
Istorija Švento Vincento dePaul Parapijos Girardville, PA


Lithuanians began to immigrate to the United States in the latter half of the 19th century. They came to the United States seeking a better life and religious freedom. During the 19th century in Lithuania, the country was under control of Russia and the Czar. The Czars of Russia imposed the policy known as “Russification” on the Lithuanian people. They were forced to learn the Russian language and join the Russian Orthodox Church. They were prohibited to read, write, or speak Lithuanian. No one could practice the Catholic faith in Lithuania. So, many left their homeland for “Amerikoje” or “America”.
Many Lithuanian immigrants in our area began working in the coal-mining industry, so some began to settle in the coal-mining town of Girardville. The Lithuanian population of the Girardville area grew at a faster pace in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. At first the Lithuanian people of Girardville had to attend St. Joseph Church, in Girardville, the nearest territorial Catholic church. Or travel to St. George Church in Shenandoah to attend Mass with other Lithuanian Catholics. In 1904, the first Lithuanian Catholic Masses in Girardville were held at the Girard Opera House (27 E. Main St.). This site was later used as the Girard Movie Theater, then roller skating rink. The building was then empty for many years. It was demolished in 2010. Rev. Antanas (Anthony) M. Milukas, from St. George Parish in Shenandoah, celebrated Mass there from 1904-1907. In the fall of 1906 Father Milukas started to organize a parish. This parish would be named St. Vincent dePaul. Some of the founding parishioners were: Sylvester Bielauskas, John Greblick, Walter Marcincavage, Frank Shimulaitis and Mr. Chapley, an uncle of Father Milukas. The first person baptized in the parish was George Želvio on January 27, 1907. The first marriage in the parish was between John Bendokas and Elizabeth Litwinavage on February 12, 1907.

Note: There is an error in the parish’s 50th, 75th and 100th anniversary books. The error is that Joseph Jurgaicio and Josephine Sanavaitytes are listed as the first couple married in the new parish. Actually, Joseph and Josephine were the witnesses for the marriage of John and Elizabeth. (I give Ian Getzey credit for discovering this error and I thank him for bringing it to my attention.)
Some of the first altar servers were: Joseph Ackronias, Anthony Bann, and John Bernotas. In October 1907, Father Milukas purchased the former National Guard Armory and surrounding grounds at 2nd and C Streets from the owner, the Girard Estate, for $8,000.The Girard House Hotel was originally located on this site facing Mahanoy Avenue. A house was purchased on 2nd Street to be used as the parish rectory, previously the home of the Cepukaitis family. The Armory was converted into a church. It was blessed by the Most Reverend Patrick J. Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, on November 1, 1907. Enthusiasm was tremendous among the local Lithuanian Catholics, since they now had their own church. Donations amounted to $7,245.64 during the first year of the parish’s existence. However, these were still difficult financial times for the newly formed parish.

                                                                                                                                      
                                                    Old St. Vincent dePaul Church (armory building).                                                  St. Vincent dePaul Church and Old Rectory.
                                                    Taken between 1907-1923. Actual date unknown.                                                  Taken between 1925-1937

On May 23, 1908, Rev. Simnas (Simon) Pautienius succeeded Father Milukas. He was pastor for about two years when, on May 10, 1910, Rev. Jonas (John) Dumcius was appointed pastor. He was pastor for about one year. From March 22, 1911 to October 1911the following priest served the parish until a new pastor was appointed: Rev. V. C. Taškunas, Rev. V. Dvaranauckas, Rev. Kaminskas, Rev. M. Durickas and Rev. Jonas (John) Mickun. Rev. F. Augustaitis became the fourth pastor in October 1911. During Father Augustaitis’s time a new rectory was built beside the church for $3,000. It was a three-story wooden structure. In 1916, Rev. Jeronimas (Jerome) Valaitis was appointed as the fifth pastor of our parish. He was determined to reduce the debt of the parish and make repairs to the church, which was starting to deteriorate. However his efforts were vain, due to the hard times of World War I. Father Valaitis became sickly and downhearted, so he returned to his native country of Lithuania in 1920. Rev. Ignacas (Ignatius) F. Valanciunas was assigned as pastor on June 15, 1920. Father Valanciunas found the church in poor condition and in desperate need of repairs. Discussion began as to whether to build a new church or not. Some parishioners wanted a new church now, when others did not want to put another financial burden on the parish. Finally in 1923, it was decided to build a new church. Parishioners and townspeople began to help demolish the church. During the building of the new church, Mass was celebrated in the basement of St. Joseph Church. The cornerstone of the new church was blessed and laid by Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, in November 1925. Cardinal Dougherty himself was a former parishioner of St. Joseph Parish, Girardville. The church is constructed of brick and is of English Gothic style. It is 150 feet long by 50 feet wide. Freeman of Reading was the Architect. There are four bells in the steeple. They have diameters, in inches, of 44, 34, 29, and 22. One was purchased by Father Valanciunas; another was donated by parishioner Mr. Offshany, and the remaining two purchased by the parishioners. Rev. Kaulakis of St. Casimir Parish in Philadelphia blessed the bells. The overall expenses were about $996,000. Many individuals and societies donated money for the stained glass windows, Stations of the Cross, altar rails, statues, and many other items, in addition to their parish pledges. Many of these names can still be seen today on the stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross. Attached to the back of the church is a three story school, with two classrooms on each floor. The school is 40 feet long by 50 feet wide. Directly under the church is the parish hall. Due to the lack of funds, the school was not opened when it was completed. Instead, the school was rented to the Girardville Public School System for a few years. Construction was completed by May 30, 1926, when the church was blessed by Cardinal Dougherty.

 

                                                   
          
Interior of church, 1937                                                                                                                                Engraved printing press plate of exterior 
  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    of church. Probably made sometime in the 1930’s.  

               
In November 1928, the Holy Name Society was organized and continues to serve the parish today. On August 28, 1933, Rev. Michael F. Daumantas was appointed as the ninth pastor of our parish. Father Valanciunas was transferred to St. Casimir Parish in Philadelphia. In Father Daumantas’s time, a new marble altar was imported from Italy and was erected in 1935. This is the same altar that is in the church today. In 1937, the parish celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. A dinner was held in the parish hall and a thirtieth anniversary souvenir book was published. It was written entirely in Lithuanian, which was common in the earlier years of the parish’s existence. The interior of the church was repainted for the first time in 1939. In September of 1939, St. Vincent dePaul School was established. The Sisters of Jesus Crucified were invited to teach at the school. They resided on the third floor of the school. The first Superior was Sister M. Gabriel. The opening enrollment of the school was 108. By 1957 there were 187 children attending our parish school. In May 1940, Rev. Albin J. Neverauskas (Nevers) was appointed as the first assistant pastor of our parish.

In 1945, through the efforts of the pastor and parishioners, a convent was established for the sisters who resided on the third floor of the parish school. Conditions at the school were tight, with only one small bathroom and a classroom used as a bedroom for the sisters. The Girard Mansion, across the street at 104 E. Mahanoy Avenue, was given to the parish by the Girard Estate. However, it cost more than $13,000 to renovate and furnish. A chapel with a beautiful pink marble altar was constructed inside the convent. Cardinal Dougherty blessed the convent on October 13, 1945.

                                                                                           
                                                                                            
St. Vincent dePaul Convent (Girard Mansion).
                                                                                            Taken prior to 1957. Actual date unknown.

During the late 1940’s the pastor, Father Daumantas, served as treasurer of the Lithuanian Priest League in America, and president of the local chapter. The parish had over 500 families in the late 1940’s. This is about as many families as are enrolled today at St. Vincent dePaul Parish and St. Joseph Parish combined. In 1947, Rev. Jerome J. Bagdonas succeeded Father Albin Nevers as assistant pastor. Father Bagdonas was also a writer for the local Lithuanian newspaper, Saules, Mahanoy City. In 1949 Rev. Jonas (John) Buikus, a refugee from Lithuania (then part of the USSR), which had been ravished during the Second World War, was given a home at St. Vincent dePaul Parish to assist our parish. In 1949 a celebration was held to honor Father Daumantas’s twenty-five years as a priest.

The church was repainted for the second time around 1950. In 1951 Father Bagdonas was replaced by Rev. Joseph A. Neverauskas (Nevers). In 1952, the home at 100 East Mahanoy Avenue was purchased by the parish to be used as a new rectory. Built in 1832, the home is the first building ever built in Girardville. The rectory that was built next to the church during Father Augustaitis’s time was deteriorating due to the lack of care. In 1953, a banquet was held for Father Daumantas to celebrate his twenty years as pastor. Shortly after, he returned to his original home diocese in upstate New York. The assistant pastor, Father Joseph Nevers, was promoted to pastor of our parish in 1953. On 11 May 1955, Rev. Andrew J. Degutis was assigned as pastor. Father Joseph Nevers was transferred to the now closed St. Louis (Our Lady of Siluva) Parish, Maizeville. In 1957, the parish celebrated its golden jubilee. Mass was celebrated and a banquet was held in the parish hall on 01 September. Former pastor Rt. Rev. Msgr. Valanciunas was the main celebrant.

On 30 May 1959, Father Degutis celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Father Degutis served as pastor of our parish until he became ill. So, in 1967, Rev. Pascal J. Sabas was appointed administrator of the parish. By 1967 there were mixed nationalities in the parish and English had replaced Lithuanian. Because of this, Lithuanian-born Father Buikas, who had resided at our parish since 1949, left for another assignment. The parish hall was remodeled in 1968. Also in 1968, St. Vincent dePaul Parish School and St. Joseph Parish School formed an affiliation. Even-number grades attended St. Vincent’s and odd-number grades attended St. Joseph’s. In 1970, Father Sabas was appointed pastor and Father Degutis went to the Archdiocesan Home for Sick and Aged Priests in Newtown, PA. Father Sabas was the first non-native-Lithuanian pastor of our parish. The convent (the Girard Mansion) was sold in 1970 for $8,800. The pastor moved his residence to the unused first floor school rooms, and the rectory on Mahanoy Avenue became the new convent. In the meantime, a new rectory was planned to be built next to the church. The old rectory attached to the church was demolished. The ground-level side entrance was added to the church during this time. Previously, this spot had been the entrance to the old rectory. The stairs next to the church and surrounding area were constructed along with the new rectory. The new rectory was dedicated on 06 June 1971. This is the current and fourth rectory the parish has had. In the forty years of the current rectory’s existence, nine different priests have lived here: five pastors and four residents.
St. Vincent dePaul School ceased to exist in 1972. The Sisters of Jesus Crucified had taught at the school for all thirty-three years of its existence. They left for different assignments. The convent / former rectory on the corner of East Mahanoy Avenue was sold to Michael Yesalavage on 07 August 1972. In September 1972, a new organ was installed. It replaced the old pipe organ that had been used since the church was built. On 01 August 1977, Rev. James J. Lofton became pastor. Father Sabas was transferred to St. Ignatius of Loyola in Sinking Springs. In September 1978, plans were finalized to completely remodel the inside of the church. The work began on 01 October. This renovation cost about $119,703.

 

                                                                                           
                                            
                  View of Altar, 1978. Before renovation.                                                                                   Interior of church after renovation. Taken in 1980.

                                   
New pews and carpet were installed. The church was rewired and equipped with new lighting. The bathroom was added. A confession room was added, which replaced the old confessionals, and the inside of the church was completely redecorated and repainted. These are just some of the many things that were done. The parishioners pledged large amounts of money to make this renovation possible. The Holy Rosary Society purchased the new bronze tabernacle for $1,800.The newly remodeled church was blessed by the Most Reverend Joseph M. McShea, founding bishop of Allentown, on April 20, 1980. In 1982, the Parish observed its diamond jubilee. Mass was celebrated and a banquet was held on October 24. A jubilee book was published.
In October 1985, Rev. David M. Liebner replaced Father Lofton as pastor. Father Lofton was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in New Philadelphia. In January 1987, the parish hall was renovated again, which included an enlarged kitchen. In April of that year the Holy Rosary Society purchased the stained-glass windows in the confession room, for $1,600. And in February 1991 the Holy Rosary and Holy Name Societies began their annual — now famous! — Chinese auction. In July 1992, the original slate roof on the church began to leak and was replaced. Then in 1995, the rectory roof required replacement. In September 1998, the restrooms in the parish hall were remodeled and updated. In July 2000 the church stained-glass windows were repaired. In 2004, the large stained-glass window which had been located directly above the altar was relocated to the wall behind the altar, for $6,686. In the spring, the church interior was repainted for the fourth time for the cost of $33,289. The Holy Rosary and Holy Name Societies provided $11,000 of the cost.

                                                                              
                        

                                        Rectory, about 1982.                                                                                         Interior of church today. As seen on August 16, 2010.

On 15 June 2004, Father Liebner retired and a banquet was held in the parish hall in his honor. Father Liebner was named Pastor Emeritus. The Most Reverend Edward P. Cullen, third Bishop of Allentown, appointed Rev. Gregory R. Karpyn as pastor. Father Karpyn had already been serving as pastor of St. Joseph Girardville since 2002. Now that both parishes in Girardville had the same pastor, the two parish offices combined into one in 2004 at St. Vincent DePaul Rectory. Father Karpyn also moved his residence here in November 2005. In 2007, the parish observed its centennial. The celebration lasted from 27 to 30 September, with the closing Mass celebrated and banquet in the parish hall on the last day. A centennial book was published. On 15 July 2008, Rev. Edward B. Connolly became pastor of both St. Vincent dePaul Parish and St. Joseph Parish in Girardville, succeeding Father Karpyn. He is the sixteenth and current pastor of St. Vincent dePaul Parish. Since the closing of many churches in our diocese, our parish has become the only parish in the Allentown Diocese to be named St. Vincent dePaul. It is one of five Lithuanian parishes remaining in the diocese. In the order of their founding, they are: St. George, Shenandoah (still a parish, although a parish without a church); St. Vincent dePaul, Girardville; SS. Peter and Paul, Tamaqua; St. Michael, Easton; Annunciation BVM., Frackville. Our parish is the second oldest Lithuanian parish in the diocese, next to St. George. It is the thirty-eighth oldest parish in the diocese and the sixteenth oldest in Schuylkill County. Prior to the closing of churches in 2008, it had been the seventieth oldest parish in the diocese.

Our parish has changed a lot since its founding by our Lithuanian ancestors who worked hard for its establishment and longevity. Very few members of our parish are conversant in Lithuanian at the present time, whereas just about everyone was in years past. The parish has become a mix of nationalities. Always will our roots be in Lithuania but, along with St. Joseph Parish, we are all one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church serving the people of Girardville and vicinity.

 

May the Name of Jesus Christ be praised forever.
Gegužes Jezaus Kristaus Vardas buti giriamas amžinai!

 

 

 

Pastors of St. Vincent dePaul Parish

Reverend Antanas
(Anthony) M.Milukas         
Founding Pastor            
1907 - May 23, 1908

Reverend Simonas
(Simon) Pautienius
2nd Pastor
May 23,1908 - May 10, 1910

 


Reverend
Jonas (John) Dumcius
3rd Pastor
May 10, 1910 - March 22, 1911

Reverend
F. Augustaitis
4th Pastor
November 22, 1913- November 9, 1916
(No Picture Available)

Reverend
Jeronimas (Jerome) Valaitis
5th Pastor
November 9, 1916 - June 15, 1920
(No Picture Available) 

 



Right Reverend Monsignor
Ignatius F. Valanciunas
6th Pastor
June 15, 1920 - August 28, 1933

 


Reverend
Michael F. Daumantas
7th Pastor
August 28, 1933 - 1953

Reverend
Joseph A. Neverauskas
8th Pastor
1953 - May 11, 1955

Reverend Andrew J. Degutis
9th Pastor
May 11, 1955 - 1970

Reverend Pascal J. Sabas
10th Pastor
1970 - 1977


Reverend James J. Lofton
11th Pastor
August 1, 1977 - October 1, 1985

Reverend David M. Liebner
12th Pastor
October 1, 1985 - June 15, 2004

Reverend Gregory R. Karpyn
13th Pastor
2004 - July 15, 2008

Reverend Edward B. Connolly
14th and Current Pastor
July 15, 2008 - Present

Fathers Lofton and Karpyn are the surviving former pastors.

 

 

 

Assistant Pastors of St. Vincent dePaul Parish
 
Reverend
Albin J. Neverauskas
1st Assistant Pastor
May 1940-1947
 
Reverend
Jerome J. Bagdonas
2nd Assistant Pastor
1947-1951
 
Reverend
Joseph A. Neverauskas
3rd Assistant Pastor
1951-1953
 
Reverend
Jonas (John) Buikus
Unofficial Assistant Pastor
1949-1967

 

 

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