Immaculate Conception History

Commemorative 180th Anniversary IC history books are available for sale at the Parish Office. 

 

History of Immaculate Conception Church

Bastress, Pennsylvania

 

The year was 1838, Martin Van Buren, the 8th president of the United States was in office and the Reverend Father Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J., a Jesuit missionary and assistant pastor at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Churchville, Goshenhoppen Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, was assigned to administer to German Catholics in the northeastern and northcentral Pennsylvania areas. Fr. Steinbacher began his ministry in the Nippenose Valley around 1836 or 1837 when there were only three German Catholic families living here. The permanent Catholic presence in the Valley was cemented by Fr. Steinbacher when on April 14, 1838, he purchased 414 1/2 acres of land known as "Stanhope" from Clement S. Miller for $250, in what was then Susquehanna Township. Fr. Steinbacher deeded 20 acres to Bishop Neuman on August 9, 1853 for the use of the parish. The first and second churches and the cemetery are located on this parcel. The Rt. Rev. Frances Kenrick, then Bishop of Philadelphia, noted in his diary while visiting the Valley on August 30, 1842: “About six years ago the Rev. Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J., began this colony, having bought the land for his brethren. He visits the chapel four times a year, on the fifth Sunday of the month. On occasion of these visits he remains usually about ten days. He makes his home generally near the town of Reading.” The Diocese of Philadelphia was growing rapidly due to the emigration of German and Irish Catholics between 1830 and 1850. The number of churches increased from 22 to 92, priests from 35 to 101, and the Catholic population from 35,000 to 170,000 during this time frame.

 

Soon after purchasing this first tract of land, which was the Catherine Kurtz Warrant, Fr. Steinbacher began selling parcels to new parishioners. On May 14, 1838, he sold fifty acres for $31 to Francis, Joseph and Mathias Harter. In July of that year he sold 25 acres to Michael and Jacob Zuber, each for $18.75. The next year, 1839 he purchased at least two more tracts, one containing 435 1/4 acres, the Peter Orwig Warrant, which bordered the first parcel on the east. Again, he sold this land to parishioners. In 1841 Fr. Steinbacher sold 357 acres north of the church to his brother John, and 420 acres of the Orwig warrant south of the church to his brother Joseph. On August 11, 1842, he sold to his brother John, the remaining fifteen acres of the Orwig Warrant below the present Church which included “the privilege of getting water for his use out of the spring near the Chapple" (While installing a water line from the reservoir to the new social hall in 1987, the remains of a stone foundation were discovered a few yards east of the reservoir. It is believed that this was the site of John Steinbacher's home. This property later sold to Deutschle then to Young, before Fr. Lenfert bought it back for the church) On May 20,1843, he sold 20 acres from the Peter Orwig plot to Michael Dinger (Dincher). On October l, 1844 he sold twenty acres to John Schilling for $60. This parcel was bordered on the east by that sold to Michael Dincher. The Schilling deed dated May 1, 1846 listed Fr. Steinbacher as a resident of Adams County. This is a partial list of properties sold according to Lycoming County Courthouse Records. It is said he bought and sold about 1,200 acres at an average cost of $1.00 per acre.

 

A good number of the first parishioners were from Fr. Steinbacher's home parish of St. Paul's in Churchville. (The names of the church and village have since been changed to Blessed Sacrament and Bally respectively.) The name and years of the arrival of the families are recorded in the "Family Book," compiled by Father Treyer. He made this notation under Jacob Zuber, "This family lived in Reading five years, from there to the Elsass, and from Elsass 1836 here." Under the name of Joseph Eck is this note: "This family was born in Berks County and migrated here in 1837." In 1838 the following families arrived: Jacob Popp (Bubb) from Bally, Peter and Jacob Doll from Goshen-Hoppen, David Gibson from Berks County, George Keller from Johnsburg, Christian Nittinger from Berks County, Phillip Reichardt from Berks County, Jacob Diebold Schilling from Pottsville and Sunbury, and Michael Zuber from Berks County. In 1839 the following families arrived: John Bower from Berks Co., Adam Engel from Williamsport, Joseph Bertin and a brother of Fr. Steinbacher, Joseph John Steinbacher, called the schoolteacher, arrived from Kleinbittendorf, Saarbrucken, Germany. In 1840 Peter Buchleitner and the families of his three sons came from Saarbrucken, Nicholas Muscheno from Germany and Pottsville, Henry Nau from Germany, Henry Schuler and Peter Schuler both from Brosscossel, Saarbrucken, John Theodore Steinbacher, another of Fr. Steinbacher's brothers came from Kleinbittendorf. Anton Sweier came from Berks and Lebanon Counties in 1841. Peter Bower came from Berks Co., Lawrence Eiswerth from the Pfalz, Germany, John Peter Scheuer and George Adam Dietrich came from Germany. In 1842, John Burchardt came from Pottsville, and Wendolin Dapp from Manayunk. Those families that migrated direct from Germany to the valley came mostly from the south-western section, the Saarland district and Rhineland Palatinate through the mid 1840’s. They included Jakob Wenner and his son-in-law Johann Hamm, Christian Steppe, Peter Düncher, Peter Lorsong, and Valentine Youngfleisch. The parish continued to draw German immigrants through the 1850’s.

 

What started with fourteen families at its inception, by 1842 had grown to seventy families of Germans or German decent, and two Irish families. By 1847, Bishop Kenrick noted the flock had grown to around 80 families. This number increased rapidly until it reached over 196 families in 1876. By 1892 it was reduced to about 100 families due to western migration. Within 25 years the Citizens Gas and Water Co. of Williamsport or the Williamsport Water Company (now the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority) began to purchase farms in the eastern section of the parish, and would ultimately displace twenty-two parishioner families. Several of these families stayed within the confines of the parish by moving into Nippenose Valley, while a good many moved to Williamsport. As Williamsport and Jersey Shore became more industrialized, more families gave up trying to eke an existence on the farm and moved from the parish, and it remained around 100 families throughout the depression years. With easier travel to and from work in Williamsport in the post-war years, it became possible for more families to stay in the Valley making a living from non-farm income and once again the parish began to increase. It had grown to 1004 members in 265 families by the 150th anniversary in 1988 and 356 families today. Immaculate Conception holds the distinction of being the oldest parish in Lycoming County and the oldest German parish in the Scranton Diocese.

 

The first church built by Father Steinbacher was erected on the site of the present Rectory. It was completed by 1839, and during that year, Fr. Steinbacher’s brother Joseph came from Germany and took up residence in the living quarters of the new chapel. This small chapel was a two-story structure, with the low first story being of stone and the second of wood frame. The first story was used for a time as a school. Fr. Steinbacher’s nephew, Alois, was born and lived part of his childhood with his parents in the living quarters of this first church, and in a 1922 letter, he described its construction and location.

 

With the congregation rapidly growing it was soon apparent that a more substantial house of worship would be needed. With his academic background, Fr. Steinbacher also held a position as a professor of Latin and Greek Eloquence at Georgetown College while at the same time he was nurturing the growth of our parish. He fully intended to establish a college for the Society of Jesus in the Valley. Fr. Steinbacher deeded 130 acres to Georgetown College (current location of the convent and mountain above) presumably for this purpose. Central to his dream, would be a grand church building. His dream began to take shape when he blessed the cornerstone of the second church in May of 1842 which was located between the current rectory and cemetery. This mountain stone chapel measured approximately 36 feet wide by 50 feet long, standing nearly 26 feet high at the square, and 38 feet to the peak, was designed to be the first section of a much larger church. Bishop Kenrick again noted in his diary regarding his August 30, 1842 visit: “I went by stage, the Rev. Mr. Nugent being my companion on the way, to the town called Jersey Shore. Here the Rev. Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J., was awaiting me. He brought me to a place eight miles distant called Nippinoes Valley. I was lodged there in the home of a Mr. Reichert; and the next day I confirmed ninety in a chapel, which is temporarily erected, but is designed to form part of a very large church”.

 

First Church                                                                                                                   Second Church

Built Ca. 1838, Located on the site of the present Rectory                                 Built 1842, Located on Terrace Between Rectory and Cemetery

 

With the completion of this second church, the upper story of the first church was used as a rectory and the lower story used as a meeting place and office for collecting pew rent. A monument was erected on December 8th, 2007 commemorating the location of the second church and marking the corners of its foundation. At the time, it was believed that the second church was dismantled and its timbers used in the construction of the school and convent in 1874, and the memorial stone was engraved reflecting that understanding. Recent discovery of historic photographs indicate that the second church stood as late as 1908. (Perhaps it was actually the first church that was demolished and its timbers used in the construction of the school. We may never know for sure, but the building of the brick rectory would have eliminated the need for the first church building where Fr. Lenfert lived, and would have coincided with the construction of the school.)

 

Although Fr. Steinbacher had designed this second church with plans to enlarge it, his new assignments took him far from the Valley and his dream of a new Jesuit College with a grand church never materialized. As early as 1855, Fr. Grundner, then pastor, started making plans for the third and present church to be constructed on the site of the original barn that had been built by Fr. Steinbacher and his brother, Joseph. On February 13, 1856, John T. Steinbacher, another brother of Fr. Steinbacher, died from injuries suffered while cutting timbers two days earlier, to construct the new church. Fr. Grundner was reassigned before the work of building began in earnest in 1859. In 1860, the Church was completed and dedicated under the direction of Fr. Joseph Hamm.

 

The dimensions inside are 41 by 86 feet and 23 feet high. The steeple soars to a height of approximately 101 feet. The walls are of native field stone laid two to three feet thick and the timbers supporting the floor are hand-hewn yellow pine harvested from the church property. The intricately framed roof system is of chestnut timbers with secondary beams supporting the free span of the ceiling by wrought iron suspension rods. The most critical connections are locked in place by iron plates and wedges as opposed to the wooden pins that we are accustomed to in typical barn construction. The massive steeple is constructed around eight 10-inch by 10-inch chestnut columns. Although we were a parish of immigrant farmers, it is clear that the architect of the church was a master craftsman who employed the latest building technology of the day. All of the mason work and labor were donated. The hauling, also, was done free of charge. Some men worked as much as ninety days. Some of the carpenters who were not members of the parish received a dollar a day. When it came to pay these workers some of them donated as much as half of this money. The main carpenter, called in the books the architect, received $1.50 a day. As far as can be ascertained from the ledgers regarding the payment for labor they are as follows: carpenters $1,429.26, plasterers $202.54, painters $176.99 blacksmith $57, making a sum of $1,865.79. To this would have to be added the cost of a few materials such as lime, plaster and finished lumber. The two bells were cast three blocks from Independence Hall at the Joseph Bernhard Bell Foundry at 120 North 6th St, Philadelphia. The total sum according to the records was about $3,000 to $4,000 ($85,000 to $113,000 in today’s dollar). The income of the parish for the two years 1859 and 1860 was $3,150. After the present church was completed the second church was then used as a school.

 

In 1872, under the pastorate of Fr. John Lenfert, the present brick rectory was constructed. The sacristy and original vestibule were added onto the church sometime before 1908 according to dated photographs. The stained-glass windows were later added to the vestibule in 1918. The patterned slate steeple roof was removed in 1975 and replaced with modern shingles and a new cross was installed on top. The original vestibule was removed and a new narthex with a columned portico was built at the main entrance to the church under Rev. Robert T. Busteed in 1997. The original stained glass windows from the vestibule were reused in this new narthex that includes rooms for a confessional and restroom, as well as a handicap entrance at the north side and an electric lift to make the church easily accessible to everyone.

 

The Third and Present Church - Built 1860

 

Our Pastors

 

 

 

Most Rev. Francis Kenrick       Rev. Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J.               Bishop of Philadelphia                                      1838-1847                          1830-1851     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J.   Founding through 1847

 

Rev. Father Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J., was born to Johannes Steinbacher and Maria Chauvin on December 27, 1796 in Kleinbittendorf, Saarbrucken, Germany. He was ordained a priest in 1820 and entered the Society of Jesus on December 3, 1832. He was assigned to assist Father Boniface Krukowski at Goshenhoppen, PA in 1833 and attended to parishes in Reading, Lebanon, Massillon, Pottstown, and others. In 1838, he became Superior of the mission at Goshenhoppen. In 1839 he was at Conewago and ministered to Catholic communities at Littlestown, Gettysburg, Mountains, and Paradise, PA. In 1840 he was professor to the juniors at Georgetown College, and in 1841 he returned to Goshenhoppen. In 1842, he transferred from Goshenhoppen to Conewago to replace Father Lekeu as Superior there. This remained his charge until he was replaced by Father Michael Tuffer in 1846.

 

It was during this period of his life that he embarked on extensive missionary work throughout northeastern and central Pennsylvania and founded our parish in the Nippenose Valley, along with three others in this region. It could be said that he is responsible for many of the Catholic families living in the county today, as he apparently encouraged many to immigrate from the area around his birthplace. Among the immigrants were two of his brothers, John and Joseph, and his father, John. He also had a priest nephew, Rev. Peter A. Steinbacher, C.Ss.R. who visited Bastress and signed records in 1844. (Rev. Peter Steinbacher was the son of John Thomas Steinbacher and was ordained in 1840.)

 

The story of Father Steinbacher’s arrival in the Nippenose Valley relates that he was on his way through the area with the intentions of heading up the Pine Creek Valley in search of land that he had heard was for sale in Potter County. Beginning the rocky descent into the Nippenose Valley, his horse stumbled on the steep mountain side and went down on its knees, nearly throwing its rider. Giving no particular thought to the incident, Fr. Steinbacher continued on his way. Several days later, he reached a point near Waterville in the Pine Creek Valley. There he attempted to cross Pine Creek by raft, but it capsized in the swift current and the good priest was thrown into the water. He reached the shore with much difficulty. Being a devout man, he had asked the guidance of the Lord in his selection of a site for the church he desired to build, and so interpreted this incident as a sign that he should proceed no further in that direction. He then realized that his horse had not stumbled on the mountain overlooking Nippenose Valley, but had knelt down as a sign from the Heavenly Father, and it was there that he should build his church. It may be no coincidence that the view of the “Seven Sisters”, the mountains that line the southern rim of the Nippenose Valley, from the church may have influenced the missionary in his selection, remembering how Rome was built amongst seven hills.

 

In 1839 Fr. Steinbacher called for his brother Joseph to join him from Germany. Joseph made his home in the living quarters of the first church for approximately the next thirteen years. A scholarly man like his brother, Joseph had studied medicine in Germany. He often led the congregation in Rosary services when no priest was available to say Mass, and he also frequently conducted burial services. Joseph Steinbacher also taught school in the chapel, providing the only formal education for the children of the parish until a stone public school building was built by the township in 1848 on the present site of the Nippenose Tavern.

 

Father Steinbacher was fond of recounting one story of a missionary excursion fifty miles northwest of the Nippenose Valley, where he came road weary, wet, and hungry to a log cabin in the wilderness. Upon entry, he found four young gentlemen who were on a sporting trip from Philadelphia and were attracted to the area by the abundance of trout in the streams. The four seemed to be quite amused by the good Father’s not-so-dignified appearance and passed the time, while cooking their supper, by telling jokes at Fr. Steinbacher’s expense, first in French, then Italian, and finally Greek thinking that this backwoods clergyman was oblivious to their mocking. After quietly listening to them berate him for some time, Fr. Steinbacher took occasion to politely point out all of the grammatical errors they were making and noted that although they seemed to perfectly understand the foreign modes of cooking, they did not seem to be very much at home in the languages. The four were astonished to hear the Priest’s eloquence in the languages (Father was fluent in seven languages), and by great coincidence, turned out they were students from Georgetown College where Fr. Steinbacher taught foreign language.

 

In 1847 Fr. Steinbacher was Superior at Newtown and in 1848 was assigned to St. Mary’s German Church in Erie, PA (where his nephew, Rev. Peter Steinbacher had been previously assigned in 1841 before relocating to Louisiana). Immaculate Conception parish records were signed by him for the last time in July of 1847. The last child baptized at the parish by Fr. Steinbacher, was his nephew Aloysius.

 

Father Steinbacher remained in Erie through 1853 making many improvements to the church and cemetery located there. He was perhaps in Bastress for the last time in 1853, since it was on August 3rd of that year that he recorded a deed in the Lycoming County courthouse that conveyed to Bishop Neuman 20 acres that included the area of the first and second churches, the cemetery, and about 15 acres of woodland above the Jacks Hollow Road. In 1853 Fr. Steinbacher was teaching once more at Georgetown and in 1854 he relocated once more when he was called to the Holy Trinity German parish in Boston, Mass. to assist the Rev. Gustav Eck, S.J. in turning around this debt stricken community and reconciling deep divisions within the congregation that was on the verge of being disbanded by Bishop Fitzpatrick. (Holy Trinity Parish survived these crises and remained open until its closure in 2008.) With Fr. Eck’s health now sharply declining, he was recalled to his home in Europe, and Fr. Steinbacher accepted a position as the President Professor of Languages and Mathematics at St. Johns College, Frederick City, Maryland in 1855. He eventually a Professor of German at St. Josephs College, Philadelphia. Fr. Steinbacher relocated to Worchester, MA in 1858, and in 1859 was Superior at the church of the Holy Trinity, Boston. In 1860 he was at the church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston and the following year at the church of St Mary’s on Endicott Street, Boston, and remained there until his death on February 11, 1862. His old mentor, Bishop Kenrick, now Archbishop of Baltimore relayed the following in a note to Bishop Spalding of Louisville, Kentucky:

 

“I thank you for communicating the death of good Mr. Haseltine, who, I trust, was well prepared to meet his Master. Father Nicholas Steinbacher, S.J., the German translator of my ‘Primacy,’ died still more suddenly, a few days ago, at Boston. He was found dead in his bed. He was a priest of learning and zeal. We know not the day or the hour. Father Steinbacher was my age.”

 

Boston vital records indicate that Fr. Steinbacher died of a heart attack at the rectory at 118 Endicott Street, Boston, and was buried in the Mt. Auburn Catholic Cemetery in Watertown, Massachusetts.

 

Rev. Severin Rudolph Etthoffer  1847 - 1849

 

Father Etthoffer was born in Hungary in 1808, and ordained a priest around 1845. He left Hamburg, Germany in August 1847 for America. He signed parish baptismal records here in Bastress from November 1, 1847 to March 25, 1849. From here Bishop Kenrick assigned him, in 1850, to be the first pastor of a new parish of St. Mary’s on Oak St, in Manayunk. In 1852, he was made pastor of St. Joseph’s in Easton, PA, and oversaw missionary churches in Wayne and Pike Counties. In 1855, he is listed at St. Mary’s in Elizabethtown, MD. That same year he moved west and took charge of St. Raphael Church in Naperville, IL on May 14th. Later that year he died on October 27th and was buried in St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery in Naperville. He was one of three priests who died while in service to that parish within a span of ten years

 

Rev. Francis Xaverius Treyer 1849 - 1853

 

The Reverend Francis Xaverius Treyer, of Swiss nationality, was the successor of Rev. Rudolf Etthofer. He acted as administrator until the year 1853 and is listed as living with John and Barbara Steinbacher Schuler in 1850. He also said Mass in Williamsport for the few Catholic families there in the home of Alois Stopper. From here he went to St. Mary's Church in York in the capacity of assistant to the Reverend Joseph Wachter and assumed the pastorship after Father Wachter was transferred to Haycock. Being infirm, he died after a few months on June 4, 1859. His body is interred in St. Mary's Cemetery, York, Pa.

 

Rev. Antonius Mary Grundner, OSBVM  1854 - 1858

 

From October 1854 to Sept. 1858 Father Antonius M. Grundner of the Order of the Servites was pastor. A native of Tyrol, Austria, he was born October 17, 1823, and ordained June 25, 1848. He was the first member of the Servite Order to come to America when, in 1852, he began working among the German speaking Catholics in New York City. After his assignment in the Valley he became pastor of St. Alphonsus Church in Philadelphia. During the last fifteen years of his life, he was spiritual director of the Franciscan Sisters of Glen Riddle, PA. Here he died and was buried August 13, 1876.

 

During his pastorate at Bastress, Fr. Grundner enlarged the old cemetery and enclosed it with a stone wall. Bishop Neumann visited the parish on two occasions during this time. Before Fr. Grundner left the parish, he laid plans for the construction of the present church, and began having timber from church property cut for its construction. Fr. Grundner also ministered to the Catholic community in Williamsport while stationed in Bastress, and in 1854, he laid the cornerstone of the first St. Boniface Church.

 

Rev. Joseph Hamm 1858 - 1861

 

Reverend Joseph Hamm followed Father Grundner as pastor. A native of Nuderwinden, Baden, Germany he was born July 27, 1822 and obtained his classical education at Konstanz and studied philosophy and theology at the university of Freiberg, Baden. He took an active part in the failed Baden Revolution of 1848 which sought to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. Fr. Hamm was finally captured and imprisoned, but escaped and came to America where he completed his theological studies. He was ordained in Philadelphia on June 10, 1854 and came to Bastress in 1858. On March 2, 1859, Georgetown College deeded 130 acres to Bishop Neuman for $10 that would include the site of the current church, convent and the wooded mountain above. Under Fr. Hamm’s leadership the present substantial stone church was built on that parcel and was finished in 1860.

 

On October 20, 1863, Fr. Hamm became pastor of St. Mary’s York, Pa, and in 1867 he was accepted into the Milwaukee diocese where he became the first resident priest at St. Mary’s, Dane County, Wisconsin. He was later transferred to Dacadia where he served 20 years of fruitful labor. He died November 16, 1892 at the age of 70 and is buried in St. Nicholas Cemetery in Belgium, Wisconsin.

 

Rev. Michael Muehlberger 1862 - 1863

 

It appears that a Fr. Worner assisted in Bastress after Fr. Hamm left, until mid-January 1862. Father Muehlberger was next in charge, although it was not intended to be a long-term assignment. He was ordained in Pittsburgh by Bishop O’Conner on February 16, 1856 and was assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Glenshaw, PA. He apparently relocated to the Philadelphia Diocese as he is then listed as the pastor of St. Patrick’s in Trevorton from 1860 to 1861 and came to Bastress in the 3rd week of January, 1862. He appears to have also had charge of the parishes in Milton and Danville while overseeing Bastress until May 1863. Fr. Muehlberger signed the Sacramental records as “Temporary Pastor”. He continued the work of his predecessors the short time that he was in the parish. No further records can be found on Fr. Muelberger following his assignment in the Nippenose Valley.

 

Rev. John H Lenfert 1863 - 1903

 

The next priest to shepherd the flock at Bastress left an indelible mark on the parish, much as its founder Father Nicholas Steinbacher did. Father Lenfert came from Germany in 1862 and finished his priestly studies at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia. He was born near Munster, Westphalia, Germany, February 19, 1831. He received his education at the Munster Academy and in September 1862 immigrated to Philadelphia, Pa., where he entered St. Charles Seminary. On the 26th of February 1863, he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Wood, of Philadelphia. The following month he was appointed assistant at St. Paul's Church, Reading , Pa. He must have learned his duties with much speed, because in June he received his appointment to Bastress. The original letter from Bishop Wood instructing him to report for his new duties on June 21st is still in the church files.

 

Father Lenfert soon gained the good will of his people by his sincerity, piety, and zeal. Under his pastorate the parish grew in faith as well as in number. With the increase in number came the necessary improvements in the furnishing of the church and the upkeep of the property. During the first week of September 1869, a pipe organ, built by Pomplitz in Baltimore, Maryland, was installed. A subscription for the new organ was taken up netting $1,415. In 1871 the tower of the church was repaired with iron tie bars being installed to pull together the spreading timbers, at a cost of about $500. In 1872, the present rectory was built. Prior to that time the first church building was used as a rectory and was located on the same location as the new rectory. The basement was a half story containing the offices of the church committees where the pew rent was collected. The upper story was built of wood and served as living quarters for the pastor.

 

On July I, 1874, four Sisters of Christian Charity came to the Valley and in the same year the convent and school were built. In 1880 a collection was taken up and three new altars were built and the large Crucifix, as well as the statue of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph that are currently on the altars were installed. In 1883, Fr. Lenfert laid out an addition to the cemetery, and at auction on May 8, 1894, for $150 he bought a piece of property nearly seven acres in size from the shoemaker Nick Young’s estate, where the current parish hall is located.

 

In 1901, Fr. Lenfert again purchased new altars from the Josephinum Company, Columbus, Ohio. These beautifully carved wooden altars are in the church at the present time. The purchase of these altars was made possible to a great extent through the donation of the Blessed Virgin 's Altar by John Engler, who, however, died before it was erected. His widow also donated $500 toward the Main Altar. Also installed at this time were the current baptismal font as well as the statues of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Anthony de Padua, St. Peter, the Blessed Mother and St. John at the foot of the cross, St. Paul, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and St. Wendel of Tier. St. Wendel was of particular interest to the parishioners at that time since he lived in the Saarland area of Germany where most of the parish’s immigrant families originated. Sometime after 1901 the original plank flooring of the church was covered with the tongue and groove yellow pine flooring that is in place now.

 

Father Lenfert also did missionary work outside of the parish. He oversaw St. Boniface in Williamsport from October 1865 to 1869 and occasionally visited Jersey Shore, as well as other areas. Fr. Lenfert was involved in the investigation of a purported miracle that occurred in Williamsport in 1858 when a relic of Peter Claver, S.J. was applied to the broken clavicle of Margerita Schnyder by the Jesuit missionary, Francis Weninger, who was traveling the country promoting the cause of canonization for Claver. Two surgeons had been unsuccessful in properly setting the bone and the young woman was living with considerable pain at all times and was unable to use her right arm. Following confessions, Fr. Weninger met with Miss Schnyder in the Sacristy of St. Boniface Church, and with the application of the relic, Margarita regained the use of her arm and was relieved of all pain. Fr. Lenfert conducted the investigations in Williamsport in 1866, and collected testimony from Miss Schnyder’s sister, Mary Ann Stopper of Bastress. While the miracle was not discredited, the Roman Curia’s Congregation for Rites set this case aside in favor of other miracles in the ultimate canonization of St. Peter Claver in 1888.

 

At the age of 72 Fr. Lenfert became ill and passed away in at the rectory at 1:35 P.M. Wednesday, May 13, 1903. At his bedside were Father Louis C. Schmitt, assistant pastor at St. Boniface, and Fathers Eugene Burrows and James Gilloegly. In the history of the parish written by Reverend George T. Schmidt in 1917, he very beautifully describes Fr. Lenfert in these words: "Father Lenfert, the memory of whom is still fresh, was undoubtedly a priest of the highest type. Modest, unassuming, he led a life of self-sacrifice that has borne most precious fruit. History has no place for him in the Hall of Fame, riches and luxuries were not his, earthly comforts as we have them today, he knew not, rather he suffered from privation, endured ingratitude, felt the longing for association with his fellow priests - but surely the angels in heaven have recorded his services, his fidelity, his zeal for immortal souls. Although he was not known as a man of great eloquence, his simple instructions and explanations of the catechism took deep root in the hearts of his hearers. He developed a congregation of pious God-fearing people." The beloved priest is buried in the midst of his flock in the parish cemetery where his parishioners had erected a handsome monument. His likeness was later included in the large painting on the church ceiling.

 

Rev. John W. Balta, J.U.D.  1903

 

After Father Lenfert's death, Father John W. Balta, J.U.D., took temporary charge of the parish from June to September 1903. Born on July 4, 1874 in Brainerd, Minnesota, he lost both his parents while still very young. The young Fr. Balta was taken into an orphanage in Minneapolis for some time before he was adopted into the family of John K. Zachmann in St. Michaels, MN. He attended parochial school there and entered Josephinum in 1889 to prepare for priesthood. He was ordained in 1900 and his first assignment was at St. Nicholas Parish in Wilkes-Barre where he remained for three years until his temporary assignment here. Though he was here only a few months, he also made lasting improvements, primarily by having the church basement excavated for the use as a parish meeting place. After leaving here, he pursued further studies in Rome where he was promoted to a Doctorate of Canon Law. He then became assistant at various churches until he was appointed rector of the parish of Weston, Pa., and then on November 23, 1910. pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Honesdale, Pa. After a brief illness, he died December 7, 1914, and was buried in Honesdale.

 

Rev. Carl von Welden  1903-1907

 

Following Father Balta, came the arrival of Father Carl von Welden, who like Fr. Steinbacher has family who are parish members still today. He was born of nobility at Leutstetten, near Munich, Germany on August 24, 1867. He studied in Ravensburg Germany, and with the Jesuits in Feldkirch. In September 1887, he came to America to pursue his theological studies at St. Vincent's Seminary in Latrobe, PA. He was ordained by the Most Reverend William O'Hara, Bishop of Scranton, August 19, 1893. He served as assistant in Rochester, New York, and also at St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre, and from October 1897 to June 1900, at St. Boniface Church in Williamsport. Then, for a second time he became an assistant of St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre. In October 1901, he was appointed pastor of the Sacred Heart Church in Weston, Pa., and from there he came to this parish September 15, 1903.

 

During his tenure in the Nippenose Valley, a two-story addition was built onto the western side of the school to make room for two more class rooms. This allowed the use of one of the former class rooms for a larger Convent Chapel. The new convent chapel was formally dedicated by Fr. von Welden at High Mass held there on Feb. 22, 1905. He also made many modern improvements in the rectory and the convent. Among these improvements was the installation of running water by means of a ram pump, and steam heat, in the rectory.

 

After leaving here, Fr. von Welden was transferred to the pastorate of the Sacred Heart Church in Luzerne, Pa., July 1907. In 1911 he received his appointment for St. Boniface Church in Wilkes Barre. Here he remained until his resignation due to ill health after which he went West. He spent the remainder of his years as chaplain in St. Mary’s Hospital in Oshkosh, Wisconsin until his death on July 21, 1950.

 

                                                            ca. 1908

 

Rev. Louis C. Schmitt 1907 -1912

 

The next pastor, Father Louis C. Schmitt was born in Wilkes-Barre on June 11, 1875. He attended college at Canisius College, Buffalo, and studied philosophy at St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland. After finishing his studies for the priesthood at the University of Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria, he was ordained there on July 26, 1900. He immediately returned to the states and was appointed as assistant pastor at St. Boniface in Williamsport, and in that capacity, became acquainted with Father Lenfert and the parishioners at Bastress. He subsequently was to be with Fr. Lenfert during his last hours on this earth. Fr. Schmitt was assigned the pastorate at Bastress in August of 1907, and was to remain until 1912. He lost little time in improving conditions at the parish. He immediately set about liquidating the debt, and after that accomplishment, he began beautifying the area around the church buildings. He instituted what are still called "frolics", in which parishioners gather to perform whatever task is required at the time. In Fr. Schmitt's time it was clearing away trees, terracing the land and planting grass, shrubs, and flowers, transforming the church grounds from a wild mountainside to the manicured landscape we see today. Under Fathers von Welden and Schmitt, famed German immigrant artist, Count Berthold von Imhoff of Reading, PA, was contracted to redecorate the interior of the church. The large painting on the ceiling as well as the stenciling around the front altar was added at this time. It appears the artist returned later and additional work must have been done to the ceiling painting as it is signed “B Imhoff 1907 & 1935” in the lower right corner. This painting depicts the Immaculate Conception being venerated by Saints Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Elizabeth, Theresa, Agnes, and Barbara. The angel at the center is holding a banner which reads “Maria Sine Labe Concepta” (Mary, Conceived Without Sin). Fr. Schmitt also had the portrait of the parish’s beloved Father Lenfert included among the Saints.

 

Fr. Schmitt had the original lime-plaster stucco on the exterior of the church, which required constant maintenance, replaced with a modern concrete stucco which remains today. Parishioners did the work of stripping the old lime coating from the mountain stone walls, and hauled it in wagons to their farms, where it was spread on the fields to boost the fertility of the ground. On October 22, 1908, Fr. Schmitt bought a piece of property from John “Hemlock” Bower and his brother Mike Bower; a small 500-square-foot lot that lies in the parking lot in front of the current hall. Four days later he bought the final piece of property that makes up the current church parcel, 18 ½ acres from Peter Deutschle which included the fields below the church and what would be the site of the 1956 school.

 

In his first year as pastor, 1907, Fr. Schmitt organized the “Bastress Country Fair” which was held in the Thomas Building on the corner of Third and Mulberry Streets in Williamsport. The Interior of the building was elaborately decorated by Bush & Bull Department Store, and parish farmers brought their best produce to vie for the top honors. Many odds and ends, market goods, household goods, candies and refreshments were sold as a fundraiser from the fair’s Wednesday opening through its closing on Saturday October 26th. Music was provided by the Lettan and Hazel Orchestra, and the fair was very well attended, raising over $1,500 for the parish.

 

Two years later in 1909, the first Labor Day Picnic was held in the Church picnic grove, with many games available for the enjoyment of the attendees, and chicken and waffle dinners were sold. The annual Labor Day Picnic has continued to this day being the primary fundraiser for the parish. Homestyle ham and turkey diners are served in the parish hall from noon to 6 p.m. with games and concessions in the picnic grove. In the basement of the hall one can play bingo and purchase homemade candy and canned goods from the “Summer Kitchen”. Over 1,400 meals are routinely served at the Labor Day picnic. A second annual picnic was later added on July 4th and ran for many years until it was moved to Memorial Day. Now it is held Sunday, the week prior to Memorial Day. These church picnics continue to be a testament to the tight-knit family community active in this rural parish.

 

Under Fr. Schmitt, the large concrete cistern on the mountain above the church was constructed to facilitate the installation of running water in the convent and school, and a side porch and large front porch were added to the building. He also made improvements to the rectory, removing the two-story front porch and replacing it with the one-story porch which wraps around the west side of the building. A new barn for the animals was also built in 1910 and stood until 1987, when it was demolished to make easier access to the new social hall.

 

Rev. George Thomas Schmidt  1912 -1923

 

Upon Father Louis C. Schmitt's resignation, Father George T. Schmidt became pastor. Fr. Schmidt was born June 5, 1885 in Wilkes-Barre and attended St. Nicholas School. He finished his studies for the priesthood at Canisius College, in New York, then the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Fr. Schmidt returned to the states and was ordained in Scranton in 1908. His first assignment (like his predecessor’s) was as assistant pastor of St. Boniface in Williamsport.

 

After taking charge of Immaculate Conception, it wasn't long before Fr. Schmidt noted the necessity of a larger area than that afforded by the church basement in which parish functions could be held. So, in 1914 he supervised the construction of the first Parish Social Hall, which was built of timber taken primarily off church property. Much of the work was done by "frolics" with Fr. Schmidt using his hammer and saw to assist in the construction, which cost approximately $1,000.

Aided by a bequest from the estate of Andrew Birkle of Williamsport, a "Grotto" was built into the mountainside just across Jacks Hollow Road from the Church. The masonry work was performed by Louis Ulsamer with the digging and hauling of materials being done with other parishioners’ assistance. The Grotto is adorned with a statue of the Immaculate Conception carved from a solid block of Carrara marble in Genoa, Italy. Marble from the Carrara quaris has been considered the highest quality for sculpture since antiquity. Michelangelo sculpted his David and La Pieta from this same stone. The dedication on October 14, 1915 consisted of a solemn High Mass in the church at 10 a.m., followed by a procession to the Grotto where it was dedicated by Msgr. Peter C. Christ, Vicar General of the Diocese, assisted by many priests. A large crowd from all sections of the Valley, Jersey Shore, and Williamsport, was in attendance.                                               

1st Parish Hall - Built 1914               

Another improvement made during Fr. Schmidt's pastorate was the installation in 1916 of electric lighting plants, one for the convent and school and another for the church, rectory and social hall. Following the end of the first world war, a collection was taken up and a memorial was erected in the cemetery to the four parish sons who lost their lives during that conflict. Three of them, Clarence A. Eck, Frederick W. Eck, and Henry P. Shurer are buried at the foot of the memorial. The forth, Joseph W. Lorsong is buried in St. Boniface Cemetery.

 

In October 1919, Fr. Schmidt began the new practice of delivering his sermons in English on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays of the month, Sermons were still given in German on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. He also introduced the use of the weekly envelope system of collecting church dues in 1922.

 

Father Schmidt enjoyed the rural lifestyle of the Bastress area. He farmed the fields on the church grounds and could be found helping neighboring farmers cradling wheat at harvest time. Father Schmidt was also an accomplished author and had published several books while stationed at Bastress including The American Priest (1919), The Catholic American (1920), The Principle Catholic Practices: A Popular Explanation of the Sacraments and Catholic Devotions (1920), The Church and the Problems of To-Day (1921). Fr. Schmidt also penned the first written history of our parish for the 75th anniversary which was celebrated in 1917, and the History of the Scranton Diocese for its 50th anniversary in 1918.

 

Fr. George Schmidt terminated his pastorship in Nippenose Valley on August 6, 1923, when he was assigned to St. Mary’s Assumption Parish in Pittston. In 1928 he was assigned to St. Mary’s Assumption Parish in Scranton where he would remain until his death. Fr. Schmidt was named Vicar General of the Diocese of Scranton on Dec. 10, 1946, and was elevated to the rank of domestic prelate with the title of Monsignor by Pope Pius XII on May 26, 1948. Msgr. Schmidt died in St. Mary’s Hospital, Scranton on February 27, 1954. He had suffered a stroke while visiting there for a routine checkup 18 days earlier.

 

The Grotto – Built 1915

 

Rev. John B. Meyer 1923 - 1961

 

Father John B. Meyer immediately succeeded Father Schmidt as pastor. Fr. Meyer was born March 5, 1892 in Buffalo, NY, but raised in Williamsport. Like several past pastors he enrolled in the University of Innsbruck, Austria to complete studies for the priesthood. When World War I erupted he returned to the United States and completed studies at Charles Seminary in Overbrook, PA.

 

He was ordained by Bishop Michael J. Hoban at St. Peter's in Scranton on December 23, 1916 and in April of 1917 was assigned to St. Mary's of the Assumption Parish in Scranton as assistant pastor. He remained there until August 8, 1923 when he assumed the pastorate of Immaculate Conception.

 

Fr. Meyer was dedicated to Catholic education and his motto was: "Every Child in Catholic School". Prior to 1928 only those students who could walk to school every day attended the parochial school, except for a few who boarded at the school during the week and returned home on weekends. So, in 1927 Fr. Meyer wished to purchase a school bus, but lacking funds, decided to take his petition to the Blessed Virgin. Thus, began the "May Devotions" in which the parishioners assemble in the Church at 3 o'clock on Sundays in May; then, while reciting the Rosary, they process to the grotto where prayers to Mary are offered. The procession then returns to the church for benediction. The prayers of the first May Devotions were answered, as a Ford Model A school bus was purchased in 1928, allowing children who lived a distance from school to attend. Parishioners today continue these unique devotions each Sunday in May as has been our custom for over ninety years.

 

During Fr. Meyer's long pastorate, the church interior was redecorated twice; the second time being in 1951. A new W.W. Kimball organ was installed on December 31, 1936, and the original 1869 pipe organ was “disassembled and placed in the church attic to be stored as a relic”, as Fr. Meyer was quoted in the newspaper. The rectory was also improved. After a chimney fire in the school damaged the building, Fr. made plans to construct a new school. This was completed in 1956.

 

Fr. Meyer had declined a number of offers of other pastoral appointments throughout the diocese, wishing, as he often said, to remain with "his people" in Bastress. And remain he did until 1961 when at the Fourth of July Parish Picnic he suffered a fatal heart attack. Thus ended 38 years of service to the people of Nippenose Valley. At the funeral Mass the Most Rev. Jerome D. Hannan, Bishop of Scranton had termed Fr. Meyer "a priestly priest in every sense of the word". He was laid to rest in the parish cemetery alongside the only other pastor to die while at Bastress, Father John Lenfert.

 

Rev. Robert M. Everling  July 1961 – October 1961

 

With the death of Father Meyer, Rev. Robert Everling, then Chaplin at Divine Providence Hospital, was appointed administrator of the parish for a brief period until the appointment of Father Joseph F. Fox in October.

 

Father Everling, son of the Nicholas and Mary Kittner Everling, was born in Hawley, Pa, on May 9, 1921. He was a graduate of Honesdale Catholic High School, Honesdale, and Saint Bonaventure College, Saint Bonaventure, New York, having received his Bachelor of Arts degree on April 18, 1943, as well as his Master of Arts Degree in Theology in April 1947. His studies for the priesthood were completed at Christ the King Seminary, Saint Bonaventure, New York. Fr. Everling was ordained to the priesthood on May 31, 1947, in Scranton, by Bishop Hafey. Following ordination, Fr. Everling served as Assistant Pastor at Saint Boniface Church, Wilkes-Barre, and as Director of Camp Saint George, Mountaintop. He later was appointed to the Chaplaincy of Divine Providence Hospital, Williamsport, in September 1952, where he served for twelve years. He then became Assistant Pastor of Saint Boniface Church, Williamsport. Fr. Everling was appointed to his first Pastorate on September 10, 1968, at Saint Joseph Church, White Mills. Later, on September 9, 1971, he became Pastor at Saint Boniface Church, Wilkes-Barre, as well as administrator of Saint Boniface School. After serving there for thirteen years, Father was appointed Pastor at Saint Lawrence Church, Great Bend, on September 6, 1984, and remained in that ministry until October 15, 1993, at which time he retired and was named Pastor Emeritus. Fr. Everling, at that time a resident at Mountain View Care Center, Scranton, died on April 1, 2009, and was buried at St. Mary Magdalen Cemetery, Honesdale.

 

Rev. Joseph F. Fox 1961 - 1991

 

Father Fox was born January 31, 1916 in Scranton, the son of Fred and Anna Rosen Fuchs. He graduated from St. Paul’s elementary and high school as valedictorian of his class. Fr. attended St. Thomas College (University of Scranton), and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. In 1938 he then pursued theological studies at the Canisianum in Innsbruck, Austria to complete his priestly education. Earlier that year in March, Hitler had annexed Austria and several months after Fr. Fox’s arrival, the Nazis took over the university and expelled the seminarians on November 21, 1938. Evidently expecting trouble, the seminary authorities had arraigned for the students to continue their studies in Switzerland. The next year however, World War II had begun, and Bishop Hafey ordered the seminarians to return to Scranton. The group was somehow able to make its way to Genoa, Italy, where they boarded a ship for home. A few days after departing from Genoa, their ship was intercepted and ordered to halt by a German U-boat. Fortunately, the ship’s captain was able to convince the U-boat captain that they were not the enemy and they were permitted to continue to New York. Following his adventures abroad, Fr. Fox completed his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, NJ, and was ordained by Bishop Hafey in Scranton on June 5, 1943.

 

Fr. Fox’s first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in West Scranton. He remained there for eighteen years until his appointment to Bastress, October 12, 1961

 

While Fr. Fox was stationed here, many improvements were made to the parish campus. A new convent was constructed in 1965 for $116,402, and two additions to the school were built to provide additional classrooms and a library in 1972 and 1979 respectively. In 1975 the patterned slate steeple roof was replaced with modern shingles by parishioner Bob Clark. In 1976 the church interior was repaired, and repainted and significant restoration work was done on the artwork in the sanctuary by Charles Horn. The cemetery was enlarged under Fr. Fox. The picnic grounds were also enlarged and in 1979 the outdoor restrooms were removed and a concession stand built. Seeing that the parish was quickly outgrowing the parish hall, Fr. Fox also began a hall building fund in 1979 to plan for the construction of a modern facility. After a tornado swept through the area on May 31, 1985, felling many trees planted during Fr. Lenfert's tenure, and damaging the social hall, plans were advanced to construct the new building which was completed in May 1987 for $275,399. True to form, the parishioners, like many of their progenitors, performed much of the work with the exception of laying the foundation and building the frame. The new Social Hall was the pride of the pastor and parish.

 

Parish Hall – Built 1987

 

Fr. Fox took a very active role in the parish school; this author remembers standing in line in the hallway of the school waiting for his report card every quarter. Fr. Fox, seated in a chair at the southern end of the hall would calmly look over the grades of each child before handing them over to them. He always had some words of encouragement for each and every one.

 

Fr. Fox retired from active ministry and was named our Pastor Emeritus on June 20, 1991. He lived out his remaining years with his sister, Catherine, in Dunmore, Pa, but stayed in close contact with his flock in Bastress until his death on Sunday, July 26th, 2009. Fr. Fox is remembered by all who knew him as a very humble man, with never any ostentation about him. With his kindly chuckle, and slight stutter to his speech, his gentle instruction left an indelible mark on the souls of his congregation, and the spirit of the parish. Fr. Fox is buried with his parents and his sister at St. Catherine’s Cemetery, Moscow, PA.

 

Rev. Robert Thomas Busteed 1991-2006

 

Father Busteed, the son of Thomas and Marjorie Doherty Busteed, was born in Scranton on November 2, 1943. He was a graduate of North Pocono Joint High School and the University of Scranton. He completed his studies for the priesthood at St. Pius X Seminary, Dalton, and was ordained by Bishop McCormick on May 24, 1969. During his first years as a priest, Fr. Busteed served as assistant pastor at St. Lawrence, Great Bend; St. Mary’s, Old Forge; St. Vincent’s, Plymouth; and St. Boniface, Williamsport. His first pastorate was at Thomas the Apostle Church in Elkland, starting there July 22, 1983. He served there until July 8, 1991, when he was named pastor of Immaculate Conception.

 

During his time as pastor, Fr. Busteed took on several major projects to both improve and preserve our historic church building. At a cost of approximately $80,000 in 1994, Fr. Busteed had the original stained-glass windows removed, and painstakingly re-leaded and original printed patterns restored, to preserve their beauty and improved their thermal efficiency by setting them in modern frames with a second exterior glass pane added. In 1997 the small vestibule entrance was replaced by the large narthex that we see today. The second organ, installed by Fr. Meyer in 1936, was replaced in 2000 with a modern M. P. Möller organ made by the Allen Organ Co. in Macungie, PA. The 1936 square wooden pipes were re-installed on the north side of the choir loft as Fr. Busteed planned to have them reconnected to the new organ in the future. In 2002 the original narrow church pews and wooden kneelers were removed and replaced with new oak pews with padded kneelers. At the same time, red and black checkered linoleum that was installed in the aisleways under Fr. Meyer, was removed and the yellow pine flooring was restored to its original beauty

 

In 2006, the Diocese called a meeting of the parishioners, at which it was announced that our parish would be linked with St. Luke’s of Jersey Shore, and while remaining separate parishes, would share a pastor. Fr. Busteed was to be reassigned to St. Rita’s in Gouldsboro on July 6th, and our beloved parish school would be enveloped into the new St. John Neuman Regional Academy. Despite the fear and change that came with entering into this new chapter of the parish’s history, the faith and commitment of its parishioners have allowed it to continue to thrive and grow like that rarely seen in this new century.

 

Fr. Busteed’s assignment in Gouldsboro would be brief. Being diagnosed with cancer shortly after leaving Bastress, he was called to his eternal reward on July 23, 2008 at St. Mary’s Villa, in Elmhurst. Fr. Busteed, like Fr. Fox before him, is fondly remembered as a humble man who lead a plain, down-to-earth lifestyle. He too is buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery, Moscow.

 

Rev. Thomas James Petro, J.C.L. 2006- 2008

 

Father Petro was born in Wilkes Barre March 7, 1974 and was raised by his parents Thomas and Maria Petro in Exeter, PA. He attended Wyoming Area Catholic School, Exeter, and Seton Catholic High School, Pittston, before entering his priestly studies at St. Pius X Seminary. Fr. Petro was ordained by Bishop Timlin on June 24, 2000. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Kingston until July 6, 2003 when he was named pastor of St. Ann Church in Sholola.

 

Father Petro already pastor of St. Luke’s in Jersey Shore since September 13, 2005, would succeed Fr. Busteed as the first joint pastor of these two newly linked parishes on July 6, 2006. For the first time in 157 years there would be no priest living in the rectory. The three remaining Sisters of Christian Charity took up residence in the rectory with the arrival of the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth at the convent. The offices for both parishes were set up at in the Immaculate Conception Rectory. Fr. Petro served as pastor until July 8, 2008. From here he studied Cannon Law at the Gregorian University in Rome and returned to the U.S. in 2011 with a Judge of Cannon Law Degree. Fr. Petro was then made administrator of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Towanda. In 2012 he was made pastor of St. Patrick Church, Nicholson and Our Lady of the Abingtons, Dalton and in 2016, Fr. Petro was made Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Dupont, where he is currently stationed.

 

Rev. Shane L. Kirby 2008 -2009

 

Father Kirby was born in Waynesburg, PA, the oldest of the family of two boys and two girls, and graduated Waynesburg Central High School in 1991. Brought up in the Pentecostal tradition, he was baptized and confirmed a Catholic on April 14,1990 while still in high school. He graduated Marywood College in 1996, worked a while then entered the seminary in 1998 for the Diocese of Scranton. Fr. Kirby studied at the University of Scranton and St. Pius X Seminary, where he graduated in 2000, and went to Rome for graduate theological seminary at the Pontifical North American College. He was ordained June 26, 2004 and served as assistant pastor in Clarks Summit, PA and in Tioga County. In 2007 he served as Bishop Martino's secretary for a year and then was assigned as administrator of our parish on February 9, 2008.

 

Although his time in Bastress was brief, he made a lasting impression on the parish. Fr. Kirby had a new 28’ by 70’ picnic pavilion built on the picnic grounds by Miller & Engel Construction in 2008 to replace the original one that was in poor condition.

 

Following his time in Bastress, on July 8, 2009, Fr. Kirby was assigned to St. Joseph the Worker in Williamsport until 2012 and from there Bishop Bambera sent him for canon law studies at CUA in Washington until 2014. He then became a pastor again in Jermyn, PA at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary until 2017 and was Chancellor and Vicar for Canonical Affairs during that same time. Most recently Fr. Kirby was appointed to the Congregation for the Clergy and relocated to Rome on November 20, 2017 for this several-year assignment, where he currently resides.

 

Rev. Charles J. Cummings 2009

 

Father Cummings, the son of Charles J. and Marian Houchens Cummings, was born in Williamsport on January 18, 1942. He attended St. Joseph School in Williamsport, graduating in 1960, before entering Mt. St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, MD, and completing his studies for the priesthood at St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton. He and his 15 classmates, the first class to be educated and ordained from the new seminary, were ordained at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton by Bishop McCormick on May 25, 1968, the 100th anniversary of the Diocese.

 

Fr. Cummings was fist assigned as assistant pastor to St. Patrick’s Church in Wilkes-Barre then, in 1970, he was made pastor of St. Mary of the Mount Church in Dunmore. From 1974 to 1977 he served as Director of Propagation of the Faith. Following this assignment, Fr. Cummings served as Chaplain of Mercy Hospital, Wilkes Barre until 1981 when he was named pastor of St. Aloysius, Ralston, and Assumption Church, Cascade which he held until 1984. Returning to hospital ministry, Fr. Cummings next served as chaplain of Mercy Hospital in Scranton from 1984 to 1994. From there, he was pastor of St. John Neuman, Lords Valley, and then in 1998 Fr. Cummings became pastor of Ascension and Holy Rosary Churches in the Newberry section of Williamsport. With the consolidation of parishes in Williamsport, and closing of the Newberry parishes, Fr. Cummings was named pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Luke Churches on July 8, 2009. He retired from this post on November 12th of that year, but remains a familiar face around Lycoming County, acting as a substitute priest whenever his assistance is needed.

 

Following his retirement and at the suggestion of his brother and nephew, Fr. Cummings begin writing the homily and family stories he had been telling for many years. In 2017 he published “Love, Laughter and Living Saints,” recalling many childhood memories, parish happenings, and stories of inspiration and faith.

 

Monsignor Neil J. Van Loon V.F. 2009 – 2010

 

With Father Cummings’ retirement, Msgr. Van Loon was named Parish administrator on November 24, 2009. Msgr. Van Loon was born in Wilkes-Barre on June 6, 1952 to John W. and Evelyn Harron Van Loon. He graduated from G.AR. Mem. High School and Kings College. He attended the Univ. of Scranton and St. Pius X Seminary before enrolling in St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York where he completed his priestly studies. Msgr. Van Loon was ordained by Bishop McCormick in Scranton on September 1, 1979 and was assigned as assistant pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Parish, Clark Summit. In 1983 Msgr. Van Loon was appointed secretary to Bishop O’Conner and assistant chancellor. He continued in this capacity under Bishop Timlin and was named Chancellor of the Diocese in 1988, and Chaplain to His holiness (Monsignor) in 1991. His first pastorate was at St. Ignatius, Kingston in 1996, and was assigned as Episcopal Vicar of the western region of the Diocese on June 29, 2005, before becoming administrator to Immaculate Conception on November 24, 2009.

 

During Msgr. Van Loon’s administration, the Rev. Albert P. Leonard, served as priest in residence until February 1, 2010.

 

Made possible by a very generous bequest by the late Rev. Joseph Fox, in 2010 Msgr. Van Loon enlisted the services of Robert A. Ritterbeck Painting, Inc. to repaint the interior of the church, adding the elaborate borders and gold leaf accents to the existing ceiling artwork and walls. The painting of the church interior would be completed during the pastorate of Msgr. Van Loon’s successor, Father Kozen. Msgr. Van Loon was next assigned to St. Maria Goretti Parish, Laflin on July 11, 2010, and then to St. Paul’s Parish, Scranton in 2015, where he is currently stationed.

 

Rev. Bert Steven Kozen, V.F. 2010 – Present

 

Father Kozen was next to be assigned as pastor to the parish on July 11, 2010. He would be both the third native pastor from Williamsport, and the third pastor with blood ties to many of his parishioners. Born in Williamsport on August 5, 1955 to Wallace G. and Cora Mae Stopper Kozen, he attended St. Boniface Elementary School and Bishop Neuman High School. He continued his studies at Scranton University and St. Pius X Seminary, finishing his priestly studies at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA. Fr. Kozen was ordained in Scranton by Bishop McCormick on April 24, 1982. He assisted at St. Rose of Lima, Carbondale; Annunciation, Williamsport; St. John the Evangelist, Honesdale; and St. Mary’s, Wilkes Barre before his first pastorate at St. Michael’s in Canton in 1992. While stationed at Honesdale, Fr. Kozen petitioned Bishop O’Connor to allow him admittance into the US Army as a chaplain. Bishop O’Connor agreed and Fr. Kozen would go on to be deployed into active duty as a chaplain to the U.S. Army on four separate occasions to Nicaragua, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, before being assigned to Immaculate Conception. Between deployments, Fr. Kozen served as pastor of St. Basil the Great Church, Dushore, from 2004 to 2008. Fr. Kozen retired from the Army in 2015 at the rank of Brigadier General.

 

Fr. Kozen has continued the work of his predecessors in maintaining and improving the parish campus. In 2013 the picnic grounds were expanded and parking area below the parish hall greatly increased. The church parking lot was repaved, and new roofs were put on the convent, school, and rectory. In 2018 a collection was taken up and nearly $12,000 was raised to commission a new bronze statue of the Angel of Victory by the Cave Co. of Old Westbury, NY, to replicate the original installed atop the World War I memorial in the parish cemetery. The original statue was badly damaged during the tornado that struck the area on May 31, 1985. The new statue was installed by parishioners on August 27th and a re-dedication service was held on Veterans Day, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

 

Church Interior – Prior to 1900

 

Church Interior – 2018

 

 

 

Catholic Education in Bastress

Maria Immaculata School and Convent, February 1956

Immaculate Conception Catechetical Center - 2018

Immaculate Conception School 1956 - 2009

Even before the first school structure was built in 1874, a Catholic education was foremost in the minds of the parishioners. The first classes were conducted for a short time in the lower story of the first church. Classes were probably taught by Joseph John Steinbacher, who was called the schoolteacher. He had immigrated to America in 1839. The second church was also used as a school prior to the arrival of the Sisters.

 

The arrival of four Sisters of Christian Charity on July 1, 1874 must have created great excitement for the Catholic community, even though they were little prepared for them. Sister Barbara, superioress, Sister Marcaria, Sister Demetria, and Sister Desideria made their first home in the Old Bhülm house on the northwest corner of Coldwatertown Road and the Newberry Road (Route 654). Classes started on July 16th in the second Bastress public schoolhouse (current Dennis Ulsamer home) as the parochial school was not ready for use until Nov. 10th, the day on which the public school reopened. Even then only one room was ready for occupancy. Twelve pupils made up the first classes.

 

The cornerstone for the school and convent was laid on August 21, 1874, but the convent portion was not constructed until the following year. The new edifice was blessed by Bishop O'Hara on September 15, 1875 when he came for Confirmation and said the first Mass in the new Chapel. By 1976 there were around 80 children attending the school. The first school and convent was "T" shaped and during Father von Welden's pastorate (1903-1907) an addition was added to the west end giving it an "H" shape which provided more classrooms and a larger chapel. Around 1910, during Father Schmitt's tenure, a beautiful front porch and latticed east porch were added. By 1914 the school was so well attended that not a single student enrolled at the Bastress Township Public School that year.

 

As most of the pupils lived a great distance from the school, several spent their week nights at the school, living in the attic dormitory, and going home after Friday classes. These great distances made it difficult for many to attend school as most were needed at home to do chores. In September of 1927 the eighth grade was added, and in 1928 a Ford Model A school bus was purchased, allowing many more pupils to get a Catholic education. Parish groundskeeper and custodian, Hank Schuler, drove the school bus for thirteen years and his wife Pauline for an additional seven. The Model A was eventually replaced by a 1939 White. The bus route ran on Route 44 from the Herman Eck farm in the west end of the Valley to Lorson Road on the east end.

 

Due to a chimney fire that spread into the western wall of the school in November 1954, along with further deterioration of the old wooden structure, and stiffer building codes, plans were made for a new school. In 1956 construction of the new cement block, four-room school was completed for a cost of approximately $60,000 with classes from first through eighth grade. The new convent, with accommodations for seven nuns, was constructed in 1965 for $116,402.

 

A two-story addition for two more classrooms was built below the school in 1971. The 7th and 8th grades were dropped for the 1971-72 school year, allowing each grade, first through sixth, to have its own room. The first lay teachers were hired in 1971 to teach alongside the four Sisters of Christian Charity. The library addition was built between the new class rooms and the original building in 1979. Prior to that, the library was on the ground floor of the convent, with Lucille Engel acting as the first librarian, followed by Dorothy Flook. A kindergarten class was added on the ground floor of the convent in the former library in 1990.

 

What started in 1874 with twelve pupils grew to 131 in 1994. While the school had room for approximately 150 pupils, smaller families and increasing costs started to wear on our little school. Although the parish prided itself on the fact that it was one of the very few parochial schools in the area able to operate in the black, enrollment had dropped to 75 for the 2005-06 school year, and it was announced by the Diocese that Catholic education in Lycoming County would be consolidated under a new St. John Neuman Regional Academy for the following school year. Classes at the Bastress Campus would be reduced to pre-school through third grade for the 2006-07 school year, and third grade was later dropped for 2008-09. With attendance down to 23 students, that would be the last year the school would remain open, bringing a somber close to a 135-year tradition of Catholic school education in Bastress. A pre-school facility was operated by the Academy through 2010. Today the school building is used for weekly Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) instruction of our school aged children.

 

With their mission in Bastress now complete after 135 years of untiring service, the remaining three Sisters of Christian Charity (Sr. Mary Clare Stopper, a native daughter of the parish, Sr. Ann Elizabeth Dincher, and her fraternal sister Sr. Celia Dincher, natives of Williamsport, whose ancestors originated in Bastress) with heavy hearts, moved out of the rectory that had served as their convent for the past three years. A very grateful parish held a Mass of thanksgiving and appreciation reception for the Sisters on June 14, 2009 with 35 sisters in attendance, 15 of who had served our parish school. Sr. Mary Clare would go on to be the last religious Sister to teach at St. John Neuman Regional Academy in Williamsport.

 

Farewell Mass for S.C.C. – June 14, 2009

Some of the Sisters Who Served at Immaculate Conception School

Front Row Lt to Rt: Msgr. Neil Van Loon, Sr. Theresa Bower, Sr. Catherine Laboure Hutt, Sr. Ann Elizabeth Dincher, Sr. Esther Falzone, Sr. Celia Dincher, Fr. Shane Kirby.

2nd Row: Sr. Joanice Carlson, Sr. Joanne Kane, Sr. Marlene Weitzel, Sr. Patricia Murphy, Sr. Mary Thomas Blank, Sr. Mary Clare Stopper,

3rd Row: Sr. Martha Kavanagh, Sr. Laura Berryman, Sr. Stanislaus Surgoft, Sr. Carlita Jones

 

“The Cross”

 

An interesting anecdote warrants mention in this text of the mountainside shrine known to parishioners simply as “The Cross”. The story that has been handed down through the generations is that in 1862 a parishioner by the name of Phillip Finkler who was married to Hanna Lorson, was making his way one day on foot, across the mountain trails leading from his home in what is now water authority property to the church for Mass. Along his journey, a violent thunderstorm erupted with fierce winds roaring through the hollow and lightning continuously striking very near to where Finkler crouched in fear for his life. Praying that the Lord preserve his wellbeing, he vowed that he would return to the site and construct a shrine if he was to survive. The storm subsided and Finkler made it to church unscathed. True to his word, he returned to the site and erected a small shrine enclosing a crucifix to commemorate his deliverance.

 

The shrine has been continuously maintained by parishioners ever since, first being rebuilt by Finkler’s nephews John and Jacob Lorson around 1895, then restored again by Henry Miller in 1962. In 1998, Fran Lorson, Finkler’s great-great-great nephew restored the mountainside shrine to its current condition and Bob Clark made the copper roofing. For years, it was a traditional pilgrimage for the school children to make the hike into the mountains to visit the spot and recount the story of “The Cross”.

 

Rectory Housekeepers

 

The history of the parish would not be complete without the mention of these women who dedicated their lives to the service of the Lord through the task as rectory housekeeper. This job required more than cooking and cleaning for the pastor. For many years there was a large garden behind the rectory which produced a good deal of the vegetables consumed at the rectory and a flock of chickens were kept for eggs and meat. Many fruits and meats were also canned for rectory use, all being done by the housekeeper. Much of the church cleaning and preparations for liturgical celebrations were performed by the housekeeper.

 

A Catherine Shun served as housekeeper for Father Hamm and Sarah Kitner is listed as keeping house for Father Lenfert in 1870 followed by Harriet Brennan in 1880.

 

The next known housekeeper was Anna von Welden. She came to America from her family home in Bavaria to keep house for her brother, Rev. Carl von Welden who was stationed here in 1903. She stayed in Bastress after her brother moved on, and married Henry Wenner in 1908, She then operated the Bastress store and post office opposite the Bastress Hotel until its closure. Anna also served as parish organist until October 31, 1928. She passed away in Bastress at the home of her son Carl, in 1944.

 

Barbara Eiswert Eck, widow of William A. Eck, served as housekeeper for Father Louis Schmitt following the death of her husband. She was followed by Victoria (Bower) Miller then Sophia R. Klumpp, from Scranton, who kept house for Father George Schmidt.

 

Mary Ulsamer Bower was asked by Father Meyer to be his housekeeper for a short time until he found someone permanent. This was 1923, shortly after her husband James Bower died, and the job lasted some 28 years, until her death, in the rectory, on August 2, 1951.

 

Mary Bower tending to the Rectory flock.

 

Fr. Meyer then approached Helen Stopper, who at the time was employed by Weldon's Mfg. Co. in Williamsport. She took on the duties as housekeeper on December 1, 1951, and continued in that capacity until March 1, 1986, when her health prevented further service to the parish, a period of over 35 years. Helen was also church organist from February 1, 1929 until March 1, 1986, a span of 57 years. Helen was a resident of Leader Nursing Center, Jersey Shore, when she passed away in 1996.

 

While none of these women took vows of service to the Lord as a sister or priest would, they should be remembered for the important role each played in the history of this parish.

180th Anniversary

 

The 180th anniversary of Immaculate Conception Parish was officially celebrated on June 3rd, Corpus Christi Sunday, 2018 with a magnificent Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Bambera. Serving as assisting Chaplains were Msgr. Neil J. Van Loon our former Administrator and current Pastor of St. Paul’s Scranton, and Rev. Glen E. McCreary Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, Muncy. Deacon Gerald L. Carpenter, Queen of Angels Parish Jessup, served as Deacon of the Mass and Deacon Stephen B. Frye, St. Ann’s Williamsport, Master of Ceremony. Concelebrants in attendance were Rev. Brian F. Van Fossen Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker, Williamsport, Rev. Bryan B. Wright Pastor of Holy Child, Mansfield, our former Pastors, Rev. Thomas J. Petro Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Dupont, and Rev. Charles J. Cummings, retired, and our Pastor Rev. Bert S. Kozen. During his homily, Bishop Bambera related his memories as a newly ordained priest, visiting Father Fox and attending our Labor Day Picnics. The parishioners will long remember the resplendent musical performance provided by the parish choir and ensemble for the Mass. Following Mass, a catered dinner provided by Crouse Catering, Williamsport, was held in the Parish Hall for all in attendance. In August, an information panel highlighting the history of the parish, was installed outside the entrance to the church.

 

With such a rich faith history here in the Nippenose Valley, much has been accomplished for the glory of God and the perpetuation of His Church by this generation and those who preceded it in this small rural parish. Having the distinction that most of the current parishioners can trace their ancestry back to the original Catholic settlers in this valley, and the first Catholic presence in Lycoming County, we pray that our faith and thriving parish life will continue proclaiming Christ’s Word from this mountain side for many generations to come.

 

Front: Fr. Wright, Fr. McCreary, Bishop Bambera, Fr. Kozen, Fr. Petro, Fr. Cummings

2nd Row: Msgr. Van Loon, Fr. Van Fossen, Deacon Carpenter

 
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