A History of St. James Catholic Church, Lititz, PA

On April 13, 1914, the third Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Most Rev. John W. Shanahan, D. D. wrote to Provincial, Very Rev. Joseph Schneider, “I would be very pleased to have your Fathers locate at Ephrata in this diocese. They would do much good here and I think that such a foundation would be mutually advantageous.”

Six priests from Lancaster, Columbia and Lebanon parishes signed the request. In August, the Redemptorists moved to the former “Clare Point Stock Farm.” The Redemptorists moved into the Willson Mansion which was renamed “St. Clement’s Mission House”.

Bishop Shanahan gave the Redemptorists the pastoral care of the Catholics living in 12 townships: Ephrata, Warwick, Elizabeth, Penn, Clay, W. Cocalico, E. Cocalico, Brecknock, Caernarvon, East Earl, West Earl and Earl. The Bishop, Diocesan Consultors and the Redemptorist Provincial signed this contract.

In November 1915, Father William White was transferred from Saratoga Springs, New York to engage in parochial work from St. Clement Mission House in Ephrata. Until this time, the Catholics of Lititz journeyed to Lancaster for Sunday Mass. On November 12, 1916, a party of Lititz Catholics assisted at Mass in the Chapel at St. Clement’s in Ephrata. Father White’s concern for this group deepened and he decided in May of 1917 to rent a house in Lititz for use as a chapel.

By 1917, Father White rented a small front room in Lititz, on East Main Street west of Cedar Street, for $15.00 a month. On June 17, 1917, the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, he offered the first Mass in Lititz. At this point, the first “Out-Mission” from Ephrata was begun. From the journals: “Mass was celebrated on Sunday, a sermon preached, and religious instruction given to the few children who attended.” At the end of 1917, Father White reported an average of 23 in attendance! In March 1919, the small congregation moved to a room across the street, to the site of the present Lititz Post Office

Father White planted the small mustard seed, and he worked hard and prayed and pleaded, continuing his search around the Lititz area for lax persons in the practice of their faith. He discovered about 60 Catholics in and around Lititz. Their reasons included the distance to church in Lancaster and difficult means of transportation from outlying areas, as well as a hostile attitude by some of their neighbors who knew mostly negative views about the Catholic Church.

On November 18, 1919, the vacant St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church was offered for sale at a public auction, and was purchased for $2,850.00 in the name of the Redemptorist Fathers. The first Mass was celebrated on April 4, 1920 in the new church of St. James the Greater. The bell was purchased later for $50.00.

Father White is credited with establishing the St. James Catholic Church – his hard work and devotion forged a smooth transition in the succession of Redemptorists who came after him. Many of the priests who followed in his footsteps were assigned for a short period of time, before being reassigned to a city church as a pastor or assistant pastor. Following Father White’s death, Lititz was served by Father Michael Gannon in 1923, Father Michael Kleeman from 1924 – 1926, Father Alphonse Hild in 1927, Father Peter Ebner from 1927- 1928 and Father William Murray in 1929. St. James is indebted to all the early priests who shepherded and nurtured the young and faithful pioneer congregation!

Growth of the St. James “out-mission” was painfully slow. For example, on Palm Sunday, April 1925, Mass attendance was 49 in Lititz. In June of 1930, Father Charles Schruefer was assigned to care for 25 families, totaling 92 Catholics. During the 1930’s two Holy Cross Sisters were brought each Sunday from Sacred Heart Academy in Lancaster to instruct the children with the “Baltimore Catechism” in the Catholic faith. Father Schruefer was reassigned in 1939. He had molded the nucleus for a future “parish” at St. James” out-mission, by his strength in the physical pursuits such as hand-digging out and finishing the church basement, and spiritually through strong and active societies, including the Altar Society for the women, the Holy Name Society for the men, Altar Boys and a well-run Sunday School, conducted by the Holy Cross Sisters for the children.

Father Francis Dotzler, arrived for a brief interval in 1939, followed by Father John Kappel later in 1939, who served St. James until 1941. Father Paul Koch was assigned in 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945, followed by Father Lawrence Meighan until 1946. Father William McCarthy served from 1946 to 1947. Although their time here was brief, they served faithfully and well.

Father James Clancy served from 1947 to 1956, during which time he was responsible for several major additions to the church – a new Hammond organ, replacing the small “pump” organ, a very active Catholic Youth Organization, and participation of formation of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 4191. After years of faithful service to St. James, he was transferred.

During the mid-1950’s, the area was growing through an influx of new manufacturers bringing in new people from other areas into the three towns and surrounding areas. The faithful felt the need to expand the spiritual facilities to build a parochial school. On Christmas Day, 1955, the announcement was made in the three churches that Bishop Leech had happily given permission to proceed to build a combined parish school. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in July 1956. The Bernadine Sisters arrived in August 1957 and Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) school opened in September of 1957, with an enrollment of 126 pupils. During this period, Father Clement Pirnak served from 1956 – 1957. Father Joseph Fein served from 1957-1958. All had served faithfully and well during their short assignments to St. James.

Changes had taken place with the teaching of Sunday School, in the late 1950’s, due to the closing of Sacred Heart Academy in Lancaster. Thus ended the years of faithful service by the beloved Holy Cross Sisters. They were succeeded by the Sisters of Mercy from St. Mary’s Catholic Church Convent in Lancaster. In addition to the Sisters, lay parishioners also taught the classes. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters from Sacred Heart Church convent, Lancaster, served at times in the summer Bible School and in taking the parish census.

In May 1959, Father Joseph J. Driscoll, at 64 years of age, was assigned to St. James. He had served as the Catholic Chaplain at the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

He started a renovation program, including new heating, painting, tiling the floors and purchasing the property adjoining the rear lawn of the church.

We were now in the time of great change in the Catholic Church. It was through Father Driscol that changes made by the Vatican II Council were implemented. Out-going Father Driscoll was a great ambassador for the Catholic faith. He greeted the Lititz area Christian community of ministers with a warm and friendly manner, participated in co-operative community activities and was welcomed into the local Ministerium. He established a rapport with Linden Hall – then the second oldest girl’s school in the country. He was active in Lititz area Memorial Day services, as a flag bearer, honoring those who served their country in the Moravian Cemetery ceremonies and he initiated a Memorial Day Mass at St. James.

In May 1966, St. James parish purchased new books, “The Parish Prays and Sings,” replacing the Latin missals. In October of 1966, a new altar was installed. During this time, there were changes to the style of vestments – Father Driscoll was the last priest in St. James to wear the black biretta (a hard square black hat with three vertical projections). A multitude of changes took place during this transition.

In a letter to parishioners, dated January 25, 1967, Father Driscoll wrote: “St. James will celebrate its Golden Jubilee this year of 1967. A parish that grows numerically must necessarily adapt its program to the changing times. If it is to do God’s work and be His instrument in helping to save the souls of those entrusted to it, it must progress in a truly Catholic way and expand to meet the needs of all the people of God as God wills it.”

“That is why I am extending a special invitation to you to help reactivate our parish and continue the work of God. In accord with the spirit of the Vatican Council, we are calling on

the laity, not only to lift the burden of the administrative work of the parish, but also we sincerely hope to give to the good people of the parish their rightful place in helping in the decisions and the policy of St. James – after all, the Church IS the people of God!”

On February 6, 1967, an open meeting for all men and women was held for the nomination for the first “Board of Laymen.” This first council was nominated (16 men and 2 women) and a ballot was drawn up, with seven elected to serve on February 19, 1967. In 1967 Father Driscoll celebrated his 50th year as a Redemptorist.

In May 1967, Father Francis Sands arrived at St. Clement’s Mission House and began to assist Father Driscoll at St. James. In March 1968, the inauguration of Boy Scout Troop #142 took place with 12 boys in attendance. Father Driscoll, at 72 years of age, was reassigned in June of 1968 to New Smyrna Beach, Florida after nine years of service at St. James and continued his dedicated work with zeal.

In June 1968, Father Francis Sands succeeded Father Driscoll. He had a variety of concerns to face – the continuous growth of the congregation, inadequate parking and facilities, the education program, activating the Vatican II directives. At this time, evening Masses were one of the outgrowths of Vatican II options. A Saturday evening Mass was established. Father Sands also initiated the first formal drive for the future Church. He received support and encouragement from Bishop Joseph Daley, and took the first step by purchasing the Becker site, for future use. In May 1972, Father Sands celebrated his Silver Jubilee of his priesthood. In April 1974, Father Sands was assigned to St. Joseph’s Parish in Odenton, Maryland.

In May 1974, Father Frances P. Nelson, C. Ss. R. was assigned to St. James. During his first four years, plans for the new church were prepared and construction commenced and was finally completed in 1978. There were 345 active families in the parish, comprised of 1,100 individual members. Of these, 22 children are enrolled in C. C. D. classes. The first Mass was celebrated there on July 2, 1978

It was on the feast of John Neumann -January 5, 1977 – that St. James, which had been a mission of St. Clement Mission House, Ephrata, since its inception, was at this date established by Bishop Joseph Daley as a parish! Father Nelson became our first pastor of St. James! The parish was to encompass the Borough of Lititz and the townships of Warwick, Clay and Elizabeth.

During Father Nelson’s tenure, Eucharistic Ministers and Cantors were chosen from the laity to serve St. James. Previously, Father Driscoll had started to implement the Vatican II directives by selecting readers (lectors) from the laity. Bishop Daley assigned Deacon Ralph E’del, a parishioner of St. Anne’s Parish, Lancaster, as St. James’ first deacon, in 1978.

Father Nelson organized the Men’s Club, which replaced the Holy Name Society. The Women of St. James succeeded the former Altar Society. The Legion of Mary was also established during this era. Besides the professionally-run pledge drive, necessitated by the need to pay the large debt of the new church, there was introduced a very successful fund raiser. Organized and established by a dedicated group of the laity, they started the St. James Bingo on September 12, 1978, and have continued in the same dedicated manner, faithfully each Monday, since that time. The parishioner staff and workers have all been volunteers. The Bingo has been well received and supported by the community at large.

On Sunday, July 2, 1978, Mass was celebrated for the last time at St. James on Front and Water Streets. After the 9:15 AM Mass, Father Nelson transferred the Blessed Sacrament in preparation for the first Mass at the new church at 11:30 AM. St. James was now in its new church on Woodcrest Avenue. Dedication of the new St. James Church took place on Saturday, October 14, 1978, and it was blessed by the Most Reverend Joseph T. Daley, D. D., Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

On July 15, 1981, Rev. Matthias Zeiler, C. Ss. R., arrived as the second pastor of St. James. He was installed by Monsignor Damien McGovern, the Dean of Lancaster County. The Parish Council was present at the Mass and participated at the installation which took place on July 19, 1981, at the 9:00 AM Mass.

During August 1981, the IHM Sisters held a summer school for the small children and also visited the homes in the parish. In September, 45 children were enrolled to attend 0. M. P. H. School. In December 1981, Confirmation was held. Eighty students were confirmed by Bishop William H. Keeler.

In February 1982, Father Zeiler noted that it was good to have two parishioners preparing for the diaconate and were making good progress. One of the decisions reached during the Second Vatican Council was the restoration of the permanent deacon in the church, after a period of 1,000 years. The Diaconate is an ordained ministry

In July 1982, Rev. Lawrence Murphy, C. Ss. R. was assigned to St. James, to serve as Assistant Pastor. In 1983, the two parishioners preparing for the diaconate received the Sacrament of Holy Orders from Bishop William H. Keeler. Deacon Matt Culley served St. James from 1983 to December 1986. Deacon Donald Hackman served St. James from 1983 to 2000.

Rev. John Kresslein, C. Ss. R., was assigned to St. James in 1984 and became the third pastor. Father Kresslein came to St. James from the other former “out-mission” – turned parish at the same time as Lititz – Our Lady of Lourdes in New Holland, where he was the assistant pastor. He had worked for 21 years in the Redemptorist foreign missions in Puerto Rico and six years in the Dominican Republic.

In 1984, Rev. Raymond Weithman, C. Ss. R.,was assigned as assistant pastor to succeed Father Murphy and served until 1986. In 1986, Rev. John Creaven, C. Ss. R., was assigned to succeed Father Weithman as Assistant Pastor.

In June 1989, Father Kresslein was honored by the parish on the occasion of his Fortieth Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. A dinner was held, in his honor, in the parish hall for the special observance.

A new two-story classroom building for religious education was planned and built in the later 1980’s. It has five beautiful and functional classrooms on each floor. The Parish Religious Education Program was an outgrowth of Vatican II. It was formerly referred to as “CCD” (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine). A religion education committee was formed, headed by a Staff Director and Catechists. The books of instruction were approved by the U. S. Bishops and carefully follow the bible and traditions of the Church.

The “Legion of Mary” was established in St. James during Father Nelson’s pastorate and grew through the era of both Father Zeiler and Father Kresslein. Their spiritual work included visiting shut-ins, the sick in hospitals and in nursing homes. In 1990, Father Kresslein was transferred to his native Baltimore, Maryland after six years of faithful service.

Rev. Raymond Collins, C. Ss. R., was assigned to St. James in the summer of 1990, and became our fourth pastor. Father Collins put great emphasis in the expansion of lay ministries. At the time, there were 1,450 parishioners, comprised of 694 families. He believed “that the facility that was completed in 1990 was quite adequate for the present and near future”.

1992 became the 75th Anniversary of St. James! Father wanted bits of history provided each week in the church bulletin. So each week, for 26 weeks, there was a page of “thumbnail sketches” of St. James history. Also, there was a “Weekend of Celebration” June 13 and 14, 1992 at the Family Style Restaurant on Route 30 East. Several guests were members of the early days of St. James, who came from out of state. On Saturday, there was a dinner dance and, on Sunday at 3 PM, an Ecumenical Vesper Service, followed by an open reception. Father Collins reminded us that “a parish is as good as the people involved”. Father Collins was transferred to Bethpage, Long Island, NY, in 1993.

Rev. Gerard Szymkowiak, C.Ss.R. arrived in August 1993, to become our fifth pastor. Father Gerard brought much beauty into the Church both inside and outside. The seasonal and holy days were uplifted with appropriate candles, decorations and flower arrangements. Outdoors, beautiful bushes, flowers in gardens, and an assortment of flowering trees with pink, white and yellow flowers in springtime and colored foliage in the fall. Father Gerard introduced us to the spiritual writings of Blessed Sister Faustina, and the devotion of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, including the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass, observed the first Sunday after Easter. The Thursday Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament following the 9:00 AM Mass, until repose at 4:00 PM, the Hours of Great Mercy prayers are said at 3:00 PM, and followed by the Chaplet. It is a great privilege for people of St. James to have Adoration, except on Holy Thursday.

In early summer of 1999, the corpus of the crucified Christ, which was made in a studio in Italy, arrived. It was in a coffin-like crate and, after a long and arduous task of bringing the cross down to the floor, attaching the corpus to the heavy wooden cross and erecting the cross, depicting the suffering, dying Christ the Redeemer, entitled CRISTO DEL TACCA, became a moving and memorable inspiration to the parishioners. After nine years of spiritual enrichment for the parish, Father Gerard was transferred to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, as pastor, in his native Baltimore, Maryland in 2002.

Father James O’Blaney arrived from Saratoga Springs, New York, in August, 2002, to an ever-growing St. James. Father understood the monumental task of enlarging the church to meet the growing needs. The church was enlarged, as was the sanctuary area.  The expanded church was painted a deep gold, and the wall behind the altar, tabernacle and crucifix and between the triple windows was stippled in dappled effect of different tones of bright gold, effectively enhancing and emphasizing the whole altar area and crucifix. Our Mother of Perpetual Help icon was placed left of the triple windows, and the icon of St. James to the right of the triple windows. In the newly extended back of the church, the image of the Divine Mercy is set on an alcove and the picture of St. Faustina was placed nearby. The refinished statue of the Blessed Mother and a newly carved wood statue of  St. Joseph were placed in opposite alcoves.  The Narthex and hallways on both sides of the Church have been tiled with flagstone appearing ceramic tiles. Ceiling tiles have been replaced and a beautiful built in setting for our Pieta. All these and many more practical and beautiful changes have taken place over a long period of time.

Father O’Blaney’s 50th and 55th anniversaries of his ordination to the priesthood were celebrated with the parish with beautiful Masses and Celebrations with family and friends from previous parishes. Our parish family is beginning to plan for the celebration of his 60th ordination anniversary on June 24, 2018.

This year, 2017, we are filled with joy as we celebrate 100 years as a Eucharistic Community of Life and Love. A robust schedule of activities has been planned and implemented, including the apex event on June 25, 2017 – a Mass of Celebration and Parish Meal. Bishop Ronald Gainer was the primary celebrant of the Mass, which was con-celebrated by Father O’Blaney and many fellow Redemptorist priests.

At this time in May 2017, St. James has in excess of 3600 parishioners and 1300 families, with these numbers increasing.

We continue, to paraphrase the old Baltimore Catechism, to know God, love God, and serve God in this world to be happy with Him in the next. Let us thank God for all the blessings received in the past and pray for continued guidance in the future.