St. Andrew Church parishioners recall a lifetime of memories
Next July, the St. Andrew Roman Catholic Parish in North Catasauqua will officially be dissolved. In its place members of the St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish, also in North Catasauqua, will join them as members of a new St. John Fisher Parish.
While the parish name will change, the exterior and interior of the St. Andrew building on Third Street, where the parish members will worship, will remain as beautiful and breathtaking as ever.
"All the people are great who come here and they care about one another," said St. Andrew parishioner Ann Marie Shema of Northampton after Sunday's Mass. She and her husband Joseph have been parishioners of St. Andrew for 27 years and plan to become St. John Fisher parishioners.
Margaret Kuchera of Catasauqua, who has attended St. Andrew since her birth 88 years ago, said the church has been a permanent fixture in her life. She was both baptized and confirmed at St. Andrew.
"It's in my heart," said Kuchera of the church. "It's with me. I never gave it up. The church has been the same over the years."
Many parishioners believe St. Andrew is unique among other Catholic churches in that it offers a place to worship along with a support system and a sense of camaraderie among the parishioners.
Last month the Diocese of Allentown issued an official statement indicating St. Andrew and St. Lawrence the Martyr parishes will merge and become St. John Fisher. In a study conducted by the diocese, it was revealed it is no longer economically feasible to operate both parishes. Based on the findings of the study, the diocese also decided to retain the St. Lawrence church building on Second Street as a location for funerals and an annual celebration on the feast day of St. Lawrence.
The St. Andrew Parish was founded in North Catasauqua Nov. 30, 1902, on the patronal feast by the Most Rev. Patrick John Ryan of Philadelphia. According to the church website, the Baptism of Mary Benko on Nov. 4, 1902 was the first event officially recorded at the church.
The parish was established to meet the needs of Slovak immigrants in upper Lehigh and Northampton counties, the website goes on to state. The church provided a place for those of Slovak descent to worship in their native language.
The Rev. Heinen was largely responsible for the establishment of St. Andrew. Known as the "Apostle to the Slovaks," Heinen, who pastored St. Joseph Church in East Mauch Chunk from 1894 until his death in 1910, was in regular contact with Slovaks within his parish.
Slovaks began arriving in the Lehigh Valley in the 1880s and 1890s. Sensing a great need, Heinen reached out to the early immigrants. Beginning in 1902, he began to recruit and organize the parishioners of St. Andrew. The boundaries of St. Andrew's extended to Slovaks and Slovak-Americans in a wide area including Siegfried (now Northampton), Fullerton, Ormod, Hokendauqua, Coplay, Cementon, Bath, Egypt and Fogelsville.
The church gets its name from Andrew the Apostle, who was the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and later left him to follow Jesus.
A martyr, he is said to have been crucified at the city of Patras in Greece, bound to a Latin cross.
A parishioner of St. Andrew for 43 years, John Daub of Hokendauqua has fond memories of a funeral Mass for Father Birosh in 1989.
"I never heard such beautiful music. All the priests in the diocese sang," recalled Daub. "Father Birosh did not like anything fancy, but he got one heck of a send-off."
"Everybody works together. A lot of volunteer work is done here," said Ed Ferenchak of Catasauqua. He has attended the church his entire life.
John Marhefka is another longtime St. Andrew parishioner who recalls the many activities the parish participated in. He and his wife Rose, both of North Catasauqua, have been parishioners for many years.
"The picnics we used to have and the dinner dances are what made the parish go," said Marhefka. "We were a happy-go-lucky parish. We were also fortunate to have good priests."
Shema said she hopes those currently attending St. Lawrence will consider becoming a member of St. John Fisher.
"It's the most beautiful church," Shema said of the worship location of St. Andrew and its parishioners. "It's friendly. It might be small, but it's mighty."
The Rev. Eric Gruber, who has served as priest for both St. Andrew and St. Lawrence the past five years, will remain as the priest of St. John Fisher next year, according to the Diocese of Allentown.
"Hopefully we all can stay together in harmony," said Ferenchak.