About Our Parish

Brief History of Middletown and Early Years of the Church. Middletown is the oldest town in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. It was founded by George Fisher about 1755. By 1760, it was already well planned and laid out as a town, with several lanes and roads well constructed.

The town of Middletown received its name from its location midway between Lancaster and Carlisle on the old "Wagon Trail." It is built directly on the site of an Indian village of the Susquehannock tribe, the center of the village being just about where the town square at Main and Union Streets is now located.

It is at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Swatara Creek that the Pennsylvania and Union Canals were joined. This is at the southeast corner of what is now Middletown proper. The fact that these two canals joined here held so many advantages that the town grew rapidly for many years. It must have acquired considerable proportion right from the start because as early as 1720 a demand was made for a provincial road. The number and influence of the settlers is shown by the fact that the road was built and put into use in 1731. It went from Lancaster to Carlisle, through Middletown.

All the land that comprises what we now consider as Middletown proper was acquired by John Fisher of Philadelphia from William Penn and his heirs on May 14, 1743. In 1753, John Fisher gave all this land to his son, George, who founded Middletown. He built a large farmhouse for his family at the eastern end of town. Many other farmhouses were soon built. By 1760 there were some thirty farms and holdings scattered over "Fisher's Plot." Most of these early settlers were Scots who had formerly left Scotland to live in the north of Ireland. Aside from these people there were also many Germans and some Irish settlers of Middletown. The majority of these two nationalities was Catholic. To meet their religious needs, it is a tradition that Mass was celebrated in the area that is now Middletown as early as 1749. It is easy to believe this because Lancaster had a well organized and flourishing Catholic parish already in 1742. And Elizabethtown had its first church, a little log cabin building known as the "Church of the Assumption," in 1752. Surely the early Jesuit Missionaries who attended these two thriving Catholic centers so close to Middletown must have at times celebrated the Holy Sacrifice in the homes of the good Catholic pioneers of this town!

In the absence of a resident priest in Middletown, families would walk or drive over the rough Wagon Trial or over narrow paths cut through the wilderness to Elizabethtown to assist at Sunday Mass. In 1795, Father duBarth was appointed pastor of "St. Mary's Church" in Lancaster and of its mission church, the "Church of the Assumption" in Elizabethtown. Early in 1796 Father Louis duBarth began the erection of the stone church of St. Peter in the center of the village of Elizabethtown. The little log cabin church in Elizabethtown, built in 1752, had by this time become entirely too small for the Catholic population of Elizabethtown, Middletown and adjacent points. In 1832, Father Bernard Keonan pastor of St. Mary's in Lancaster and its mission, St. Peter's Church, built a large addition to the Stone church of St. Peter. In 1840, the mission parish of St. Peter had grown to such proportions that it received its own resident pastor, Father Francis X. Marshall. Father Marshall built the fine rectory next to the church. He also built a beautiful new altar and a pulpit in the church. A parish could be proud of a pulpit in a church in those days.

It was during Father Filan's time, around 1850, that the Catholics of Middletown began to be organized into a separate mission parish of the Elizabethtown parish of St. Peter. This was when the first official records of our parish, as a parish, began to be kept.

Father Filan remained in Elizabethtown until 1855. The famous Father John McCosker (or "Good Father John," as he was affectionately called) was appointed. By this time the number of Catholics in Middletown had increased considerably, and Good Father John took great delight in developing the mission parish. During this time, Mass was celebrated in the homes of parishioners about once each month. On the other Sundays the people of Middletown continued to attend Mass in Elizabethtown. As the number of Catholics in Middletown grew, the homes of these Catholic families became too small. Mass was then celebrated once a month in the brick school on the southwest corner of Wood and Ann Streets in Middletown.

In 1857, Father McCosker secured a plot of ground on Ann Street for one Hundred and Fifty Dollars. The ground was deeded from Stephen Wilson to the Rt. Rev. John Newman, in Trust For The Roman Catholic Parish Of The Seven Sorrows Of The Blessed Virgin Mary In Middletown. Our parish was then in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of which the Rt. Rev. Newman was then bishop. The Diocese of Harrisburg did not exist yet. Father McCosker immediately began to gather means to build the church.

The cornerstone of the "Church of St. Mary of the Seven Dolors" was laid on Sunday, September 20, 1857, by Bishop John Newman, assisted by Father O'Hara of Philadelphia, and several other unnamed priests. Father O'Hara preached the sermon on the occasion of the cornerstone laying. Fifteen months later, he preached the sermon for the dedication of the new church on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1858. The new building was completed and opened for Divine Worship in the Spring of 1859. The exact date of the first Holy Mass in the new church cannot be definitely ascertained. But it is certain that a Mass—one of the very first—was celebrated in the new church before the whole congregation on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, 1859. Quoting a news note in The Chronicle of Middletown, "The new Catholic church is located on high ground at the western end of Ann Street above Lawrence. It is a brick structure of Gothic style with a large organ gallery. It has a seating capacity of two hundred, and is a handsome, well-ventilated edifice." This news note appeared under the date of March 16, 1859. The architect for the building was Edward Hodnott of Philadelphia. He received seventy dollars for his work! The actual, over-all cost of the building was eight thousand dollars. However, by the time the church was furnished, vestments, etc. purchased, the cost had climbed close to nine thousand dollars. That was quite a large investment in those days.

On September 18, 1859, the first Confirmation ceremony in the new church was conducted by the Rt. Rev. John Newman of Philadelphia.
The first parish Mission held in the new church began on November 10, 1864, conducted by Father Mondolin, a Benedictine Monk from St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. A large crucifix was erected at the altar rail in memory of the Mission.

Father Jules C. Foin was appointed Pastor at St. Peter's Parish and of the mission in Middletown. For ten years he never ceased to labor for the advancement of the Middletown mission. The value and benefits of a Catholic education have long been recognized in our Catholic community. In 1880, Father Foin recognized the need for a school for the Catholic community. Additional ground adjacent to the church was purchased from Mr. Bodmor for eight hundred and fifty dollars. The school was built that year.

Three sisters from Glen Riddle, Philadelphia, were secured by Father Foin to teach in the school. At the same time, a convent for the Sisters was built at 418 Wilson Street. The convent cost seven hundred dollars to build.

The school was opened September 1, 1880. Thirty Catholic and non-Catholic children were enrolled. The second year the enrollment was increased to capacity, fifty-five students.

The first parochial school continued to operate for the next ten years, but in 1891, citing financial reasons, the school was closed. A Catholic education would not be available again until 1914, when the first Motherhouse of a new order of Slovak nuns was established at Jednota. The Immaculate Conception School for the children of the Jednota Orphanage and Middletown children was operated by the Sisters of Cyril and Methodius.

In 1890, Father Foin purchased three acres of ground at the eastern end of Main Street in Middletown for a parish cemetery. The ground was originally part of George Fisher's farm. George Fisher died in 1777 and was buried on the family burial plot, which was included in these three acres. So it happened that the founder of Middletown is buried in our Catholic Cemetery. Father Foin named the new cemetery "St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery." He consecrated it on June 26, 1895, having been delegated to do so by the Right Reverend Bishop J. F. Shanahan, the first bishop of the newly established Diocese of Harrisburg.

A great day for Middletown was November 24, 1891, when Seven Sorrows became an independent parish. The first resident pastor was Father Charles Kenny. Meanwhile the Sisters had left Middletown, and the vacated convent at 418 Wilson Street became the first parish rectory.

Father Kenny endeared himself to the people of all faiths by his many acts of kindness. He was especially beloved by his own Catholic flock because of his selfless attention to the needs of his people and the progress of his little parish. In July 1892, Father Kenny was made pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Father B. J. Campbell replaced him, and in May 1895, three years later, Father James Barr took Father Campbell's place. Father Barr placed the electric lights in the church. In those days, few buildings had such a convenience.

In April 1897, Father P. J. Costigan became pastor of Seven Sorrows. During his time the church was repainted on the inside and new statues were purchased. A statue of St. Joseph was donated by the men of the parish, and two parishioners also donated a large statue of the Our Lady of Victory.

Father Costigan was succeeded November 10, 1900, by Father Clement Burger, who remained until June 23, 1901, when he was replaced by Father Henry M. Herzog. Father Herzog continued the remodeling of the church. The original building had no steeple. In Father Herzog's time a steeple was built. A McShano bell was donated to the parish and installed in the steeple.

In 1903, Father Herzog built the rectory at 425 Ann Street next to the church. He had difficulty collecting the funds for this building. Card parties, lawn festivals, chance books, house-to-house collecting, and everything imaginable in those times was resorted to by this tireless priest to raise the money for the progress of the parish.

Father Herzog left Middletown April 28, 1908, and was followed by Father Peter S. Heugel. He remained only a short time. And then four priests served the parish in the space of five years. They were Father Edward A. Burhard, Father John L. Shields, Father William E. Martin and Father John M. Danneker. In 1914 Father William Howard came to Middletown. He stayed until 1917.

In March 1917, Father Jules Foin became pastor of Middletown. He had formerly been pastor of Elizabethtown when Middletown was a Mission of the Elizabethtown parish. He was succeeded by Father John C. McGovern in August 1922. Father McGovern remained only five months when he was succeeded by Father Thomas B. Johnson, who also remained only five months.

Father August Kappes became pastor June 30, 1923. By this time the parish had increased to about five hundred people. January 12, 1927, Father Richard McLaughlin became pastor. He remained until May 29, 1938. He began the remodeling of the church on June 27, 1927. The brick exterior was covered with stucco, stained glass windows were installed as well as new pews and altar rails.

Succeeding Father McLaughlin was Father Edward O'Flynn. During his time the financial income of the parish was greatly enhanced by his effort in conducting numerous "socials" for the parish's benefit. He knew how to organize his many willing and capable parish workers. When he left on March 22, 1940, Father Leo B. Kirchner became pastor. He was very active and determined in his efforts to make a success of his stay in Middletown. But after only two years and four months he died on July 11, 1942, in the rectory on Ann Street. Shortly before his death Father Bernard Mattern had become his assistant. He was the first priest to serve the parish in that capacity.

On July 16, 1942, Father Philip Gergen was appointed pastor. On July 30, 1942, Father Hamme of the Precious Blood Fathers followed Father Mattern as assistant. Father Hamme left a short time later to become a war-time chaplain in the U.S. Army. He was replaced by Father Carl Stofko who served as assistant about one year. He left in June 1944 and Father Gergen was now serving the parish alone. To assist him with Sunday Mass, he procured the services of Jesuit Fathers from Woodstock College in Maryland and from Old St. Joseph's in Philadelphia. Father Gergen also offered Mass in the Olmsted Base Chapel and at an automobile show room at 107 and 109 East Main Street in Middletown. Hundreds of new people came to Middletown during those years to work at Olmsted Depot. Father Gergen did everything possible to accommodate the people during the war years.

On July 6, 1946, Father William B. Cavanaugh was appointed pastor of Middletown. He was not able to start his pastoral duties until August 4,1946, due to a Diptheria quarantine at the Paradise School where he was previously stationed. However, Father Chester T. Loszowski had returned from active duty in the army and was appointed to fill the Middletown post temporarily. In 1947 a large addition and a kitchen were added to the hall. The parish men did most of the carpentering and plumbing free of charge. Bingo parties were started twice a week at this time. The Parish Catholic Youth Organization also started when the hall addition was made.

Up to this time, the Jesuits from Baltimore and Woodstock College in Maryland continued to help with Sunday Masses. On July 27, 1947, Father William E. Boyle became the parish assistant. He was transferred December 2, 1949, The parish did not have an assistant until June 7, 1950 when Father John Gunville came as assistant. The Benedictine Fathers from St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the Franciscan Fathers from Spring Grove helped with Sunday Masses. At this time Sunday Mass was held five times in the church and hall and Sunday Mass was also held in the Post Chapel at Olmsted Field.

In March 1948, permission was given by the Most Reverend Bishop George L. Leach to the pastor to purchase a school bus with parish funds. The big, sixty passenger Dodge bus was delivered to the parish in August 1948, at a cost of $5,463.20. The bus was used to transport students to Jednota School just outside Middletown, to St. James School in Steelton, and to Catholic High School in Harrisburg.

A bus garage was built adjoining the parish hall. It was connected with the hall so that it could be used as an annex on occasions when added space was needed. The exterior of the church was repaired, painted white, and trimmed with Permastone in late 1948. The rectory interior was also painted and papered.

With one hundred seventy-three children using the school bus, it was very obvious that a Catholic School was needed in Middletown. The pastor searched Middletown for a suitable and available site. The inspiration of God must have moved Mr. and Mrs. Matoo Stefanov to concede to the pastor's persistent request that they sell their property on Race Street to the Parish. On January 11, 1950, their property deed and the property deed of Mr. George Myers on Conewago Street were conveyed to the Most Reverend Bishop in trust for the parish of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Middletown. The price for the properties was twenty-four thousand dollars. On April 4, 1950, for ten thousand dollars, Mr. and Mrs. James Swartz sold the parish the corner property at Race and Conewago Streets. Ground was broken for the new building on October 20, 1950. No ceremonies marked this great occasion since the Bishop was in Europe and the pastor was in the hospital. Starr and Long were the building architects and Joseph Spora was the contractor. Construction costs of the new building was $350,000.

The Stefanov home at 330 Race Street was remodeled and furnished to serve as a convent. The Dominican Sisters from St. Mary of the Springs in Columbus, Ohio, staffed the new school. The kindness and generosity of Mother Bernardine and her Counsellors will never be forgotten by the pastor and people of the parish.

The first Community of Dominican Sisters arrived in Middletown on August 20, 1951. Our parish school opened September 3, 1951, with two hundred and ninety-three children in first through eighth grades, and seventy children in kindergarten. To help staff the large school, four qualified lay teachers from the parish were engaged. Their salary for the ten month school term was eighteen hundred dollars each.

The Most Reverend Bishop George L. Leech, Bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese dedicated the new building on December 9, 1951, in the presence of forty-one Diocesan priests, scores of Sisters, and a capacity crowd of parishioners, town civic leaders, and friends.

On November 11, 1951, the parish priests moved from the rectory at 425 Ann Street to the remodeled house at 300 Race Street, at the corner of Race and Conewago Streets. Ten days later Father Gunville was succeeded by Father Andrew Cools as assistant. Father Salvatore Zangari also served the parish as assistant from June 26, 1951 to September 20, 1951, when he left to become a chaplain in the U.S. Army.

Our parish school's first year was a happy one. Our Blessed Lady kept watch over us. Despite a terrible epidemic that closed the public schools for two weeks in February 1952, our school did not close for even a half session. And only seven of our children lost time through illness, much to the surprise of the school nurse, school physician, and school dentist, all of whom came regularly to care for our parish school children.

June 8, 1952, was our first graduation day. In a fitting ceremony, thirteen eighth grade students received their certificates of transfer to High School. There were caps and gowns and processions, and prizes and awards, a Holy Mass of Thanksgiving and hearty congratulations for our first graduates. Regular School classes were scarcely over when we went right into Summer Vacation School for public school children. Forty children were enrolled. Our four Dominican Sisters stayed to teach the Summer religion classes. No sooner had we closed the Summer School classes when twenty seminarians of our Diocese arrived on July 16th to take the census in the Middletown, Marietta, Elizabethtown and Mt. Joy parishes. They lived in our parish school and six parish women helped prepare their meals.

In 1960 a new convent was built at 280 N. Race Street for the Dominican Sisters. The Dominican Sisters taught in our parish until June 1972. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ sent sisters from their Motherhouse in Columbia to staff our school beginning with the 1972-73 school year.

In 1966, a home at 401 Conewago Street was purchased and remodeled into a rectory. The old rectory was razed.

On October 13, 1985, our faithful Lord called Seven Sorrows to the challenge of building our current church to accommodate his growing flock. An unprecedented sense of pride in our parish was evident as Bishop William H. Keeler officiated at the groundbreaking ceremonies that day.

One year and five days later, on October 18, 1986, Bishop Keeler was the main celebrant as our beautiful church was dedicated. The cost of building this church was $2,249,000. The 800 seat church was designed in the style of an ancient basilica to accommodate the long, narrow plot of ground on which it was built. The former church was remodeled to become a gymnasium for our school.

In June 1995, after years of dedicated service to our school, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ left our parish school. The convent was remodeled to house the living quarters for our priests and the administrative offices for the parish. The priests moved into their new residence in December 1995.

In 1996, just ten short years after the construction began on our current church, the parish gathered in the gymnasium to celebrate the retiring of the $2.7 million mortgage, a moving testament to the parish's willingness to sacrifice in response to God's calling. Our pride was evident as we watched Monsignor Lentocha burn that mortgage.

Regretfully, less than one year later, on May 26, 1997, our beloved Pastor, Monsignor Lentocha died after a three year battle with cancer. Monsignor had served Seven Sorrows parish for more than twenty years of his priestly life. Although he didn't live to see all his plans for the parish fulfilled, the challenge remained for our parish family.

Reverend Louis Patrick Ogden, who had served as the parochial vicar for 2 years under Monsignor Lentocha was installed as our Pastor on July 13, 1997. Under his leadership and guidance we now continue the challenge to answer God's call as we prepare to build again.

A building committee was formed and began the arduous task of planning for the future. After four years of countless hours of deliberation, planning and much prayer, it became clear that our active growing parish has many needs and ministries that require more space. The Parish Ministry and Education Center has been designed to fulfill those needs.

On the weekend of May 18-19, 2002, the people of the parish again gathered in the gymnasium as we celebrated the kick-off of the Capital Campaign to make this parish Ministry and Education Center a reality.

The current challenge is not unlike those that have been presented to the parish in the past. The Parish Ministry and Education Center is estimated to cost $4.5 million. The challenge of a $9,000 commitment in 1857, $350,000 in 1951 and $2.7 million in 1985 all looked equally challenging to our predecessors.

It is a rich heritage of caring and sacrifice that we have inherited from the forefathers of Seven Sorrows Parish. Our history reveals countless times when the generosity of the people of Seven Sorrows have made the commitments necessary to assure that their children and grandchildren would be able to continue living their Catholic faith.

No doubt, once again, our parishioners will carry forward the proud heritage and respond to God's call to perpetuate His work as we continue to write the pages of history here at Seven Sorrows.

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