HISTORY OF THE MARONITE COMMUNITY OF

WILKES-BARRE, PENNSYLVANIA

 

 

The First Arrival

 

The first Maronites to arrive in Wilkes-Barre in 1887, namely George Bechir Raad (George Reed) and Mansour Bou Dagher (Mansour  Decker) from the village of Hardine, settled in the Georgetown section of Wilkes- Barre and started peddling at a time when mining was booming in the area. Shortly after, they sent after their wives and relatives.  Throughout the next decade, thirty-six more Maronite families came to Wilkes-Barre. They attended Mass in the nearby Latin church of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, South Washington Street, Saint Joseph's Monastery, and Saint Boniface Church.

 

Hard Beginning

 

Arriving by ship at the port of New York, they gathered at the immigration center. By accident, they came to Wilkes-Barre. When they bought their train tickets, they only had enough money among themselves to go as far as Wilkes-Barre. Arriving at the station here, their first move was to rent one house in which they all lived.

 

Rapid Success

 

In spite of such incredible hardships in the beginning, they soon adapted themselves to their new environment. In amazingly short time, they became well, to-do upper middle class families in the valley. From peddlers to hucksters they became small dry goods and shoe shop owners.

 

The Birth of Two Churches

 

In 1911, as a result of their financial success, they were in a position to establish a Maronite Church, however problems quickly arose concerning the location of this church. Because of these problems, the Maronite Community of Wilkes-Barre divided and established two locations: one at the corner of Park Ave and Dana Street and the other a short distance away on Loomis St. The Park Ave property was purchased on December 15, 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of the Loomis St. property on February 28, 1912.

 

The first group, led by Tanios Shiner, wanted the church built 'on the hill' and dedicated to Saint George. Almost all the families originally from Hardine associated themselves with this group.

 

The second group, led by Joseph Ferris and Joseph Ellis wanted the church built on the original location at the corner of Park Avenue and Dana Street. Old feuds and rivalries carried over from the homeland were the real reasons for the conflict. The result was the construction of two churches, Saint George “on the hill” and Saint Anthony on Park and Dana Streets.

 

The followers of St. Anthony continued to worship in the basement of the existing location until the completion of the construction of the church  which was dedicated on May 10, l936. Meanwhile the followers of St. George celebrated their first Liturgy in their own building on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913. This will satisfy the curiosity of many who have asked and wondered why two Maronite Parishes in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 

 

United in God’s Name

 

Until May, 1997, the two parishes maintained their unique and separate identities.

The second Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi was enthroned in February, 1997.   One of his objectives was to unify all Maronites of the Eparchy not only through the Liturgy and various activities, but through the unity of its people, the followers of St. Maron.  For the first time ever one Pastor, Fr. Fahed Peter Azar,  was assigned to serve both parishes on May 28, 1997.  During the first year many difficulties arose  in having one priest administering two congregations. From 1998 through 2000, through the dedication and support of the people, reforms were made to the following:  one Liturgy was celebrated in each church , a combined Altar & Rosary Society was established,   one weekly offering envelope system, one bazaar, one record of baptism and confirmation, marriage and deaths, one office, one rectory, one community , one church, but two buildings. In a sense we the Maronites of Wilkes-Barre feel very blessed to own two buildings yet we are one parish. This unity is credited to the people with big hearts, generous, kind and very faithful to their heritage, their faith and above all, their church which is their second home.