The History of - St. George Maronite Church

 

 

The Maronite community of Wilkes-Barre traces its beginnings to the year 1887 with the arrival of the first two Maronite immigrants, George Bechir Raad (George Reed), and Mansour Abou Dagher (Mansour Decker) who settled in the Georgetown section of Wilkes-Barre, Twp.

 

Their destination of Wilkes-Barre was chosen for them by the Fayour brothers, who were merchants and bankers in New York City. They themselves had migrated from Hadeth El-Jebbe shortly after the American Civil War and established a mercantile business in the lower Manhattan "financial district."

 

Mssrs. Decker and Reed, wishing to migrate to the U.S., were given a note of introduction to the Fayour Family from their cousin, Kathur, wife of Skander Nassiff Dagher (Decker) of Hardine Lebanon, their home village. Upon arrival in New York, they took up residence with the Fayour Family, and after approximately two months, it was decided that they should settle in Wilkes-Barre, which was

in the throes of an economic boom due to the demand for Anthracite coal.

 

Many thousands of immigrant miners (principally from Eastern Europe) were settling in the Wilkes-Barre area (Wyoming Valley). George Reed and Mansour Decker were welcomed to Wilkes-Barre by Sayed Saba from Fiah, Lebanon, a member of the Greek Orthodox Antiochene community and, as far as is known, was one of the earliest Lebanese immigrants to this area. He assisted them in establishing their residence in the Wilkes-Barre area.

 

Being typically Lebanese with an industrious and pragmatic nature, they immediately began peddling dry goods "door to door" to the near-

 

by mining communities of the area, and within a short period they prospered and began sending for relatives and families from their native Lebanon.

 

With the coming of more relatives and friends from Lebanon, a small community of Maronites began to develop. In 1892, the first Maronite couple to be married in Wilkes-Barre were the late George and Catherine Decker. In 1896, Margaret Decker, the daughter of Man- sour and Catherine Decker became the first Maronite child to be born and baptized in Wilkes-Barre.

 

This community, having no Maronite church, and having normal spiritual needs, looked to Latin Rite churches for their spiritual nourishment. Namely, St. Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception (Irish Community), St. Joseph's Monastery (Franciscans), and St. Boniface Church (German Community). It was during this period of the 1890's and early 1900's that various "transient" Maronite priests would visit this community, offering religious services in the Maronite tradition, and satisfying, to a certain extent, the spiritual thirst and hunger of these immigrants, who missed their homeland and its traditions.

 

In these early years, economic conditions forced these immigrants to live ten to fifteen persons to a rented home before they became established. In an amazingly short time many of these immigrants became "well-to-do," middle class families. Their rapid rise on the economic scale is recorded in the Annual Record Almanac published by the local Chamber of Commerce. From peddlers and hucksters they became dry goods and shoe merchants, and in their obituary notices in years to come they were described as "prominent local merchants."

 

 

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 St.; 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 founding members of St. George Maronite Church on Loomis St. were five men: Joseph Ferris, Joseph George, Samuel Joseph, Anthony Shiner, and Joseph Thomas. These men and their followers drew up a petition and presented it to the late Most Rev. Michael J. Hoban, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, who granted them permission to build a church on Loomis St. A fund-raising campaign was undertaken, and in a short time $2500 was collected. A parcel of ground was purchased from Anthony Shiner for the sum of $800, and a contract was awarded to the late Isaac Saba, a building contractor, who was a native of Kfarhatna, Lebanon.

 

St. George Maronite Church was completed and the first divine liturgy was celebrated on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913 by the first pastor, Rev. Abdallah Torobay.

 

Fr. Torobay served the community until 1915, when he was followed by the following clergy: 1915-16 Rev. Louis Decker; 1916-22 Rev. Paul Rizk, who established a grammar school conducted by the Sisters of Mercy. It was also during his pastorate (1921) that the same home of Anthony Shiner, next to the church, was purchased to be used as the rectory. Up to this time the previous pastors had lived with Anthony Shiner and his family. Fr. Rizk was followed by Rev. George Sebhelani, 1922-23; Rev. Joseph Awad, 1923-26; Rev. Joseph Solomon (Ferqh), 1926-32. It was during Fr. Solomon's pastorate that the Novena to St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus was established and continues to this day. The statue of St. Theresa was purchased from the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, France in early 1927 through the efforts of Msgr. Stephan Doueihi, who also obtained the relic of St. Theresa from this convent. During this period (1926-32), a community/parish band was begun under the leadership of Anthony Matzer. This band earned for the Maronite Community a favorable reputation, as a result of their many performances throughout the community and on the radio. St. George Parish was then served by Rev. John Koury, 1932-34, who served as interim pastor, residing at St. George's rectory, while St. Anthony's Maronite Church on Park Ave was being built. He was later to serve as the pastor of St. Anthony Parish. In 1934 Rev. David El-Mouallem, STD (later to be named Chor-Bishop) became pastor and served in that capacity for forty-four years until his death in 1978.

 

Rev. David El-Mouallem was born in the small village of Hardine in the mountains of Lebanon on October 10, 1887. Named Boutros by his parents, job Joseph and the former Shaheenie Sliman Hassey, he was the youngest of seven children. He was baptized by the village pastor, Rev. Boutros Hassey, in St. Shiner's Church, and in the same church at

the age of seven he received his first holy communion.

 

As he began his studies in the small school of the village his spiritual intensity was evident and blossomed as he progressed to higher studies of Philosophy and Theology at the Col- lege of St. John Maron in Kfarhai. The late Patriarch, Elias El-Howyeck, recognized his abilities as a linguist and transferred him to the College of Sagesse, (Al-Hikmat), Beirut.

 

In 1905 he received the minor and major orders of subdeacon at the Patriarchal winter residence, Bekerkee, and the following year (1906) at the summer residence, Diman, he was ordained Deacon, by Archbishop Joseph Abi-Najm. He then completed his Doctor of Theology degree, and the following year on September 7, 1907 Archbishop Abi-Najm con- ferred the sacrament of Holy Orders on Deacon Boutros who then took the name "David." 

 

Fr. David served as professor of Arabic in the College Francais de la Sainte Famille des Ecoles Chretiennes and also served as chaplain to the College of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where he also taught Arabic and French. He continued teaching for twenty- seven years at which time he was notified by the Maronite Patriarch, His Beatitude Elias El- Howyeck, that he had been chosen by the Sacred Oriental Congregation at Rome to

come to the United States and serve as pastor of St. George Maronite Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. He arrived in Wilkes-Barre on October 18, 1934 and three days later on Sunday, October 21, he celebrated his first Divine Liturgy with the community of St. George.

 

He dedicated himself to serving the spiritual needs of the community, and worked diligently for the goal of the greater honor and glory of God. The Novena to St. Theresa, which was started years before, was developed to its highest by Father David who was revered by thousands who came from far and near to at- tend the widely acclaimed novena.

 

The parish experienced further growth through the development of active societies such as the Kassab-Joseph Veteran Post; the Christian Mothers Altar and Rosary Society; the St. Theresa Society; and the Holy Name Society.

 

During the pastorate of Msgr. El-Mouallem a new cornerstone was laid, officially dedicating the church, which had not been done prior to this. The community grew and

 

developed during this time, and in 1956 the church was enlarged and renovated, and in 1976 additional interior and exterior renova- tions were done.

 

Due to the ill health of Msgr. El-Mouallem in 1977 Msgr. Hector Doueihi served as temporary administrator until the arrival of Rev. Anthony J. Mike, who was named administrator until after the death of Msgr. El- Mouallem, when he was named pastor. Rev. Mike served the community from 1977 until 1982 when he was succeeded by Msgr. Joseph Feghaii who served as pastor for both St. George and St. Anthony parishes, assisted by Rev. Hares Zogheib. They served the two parishes until 1984, when Rev. Richard Saad and Rev. Michael Thomas continued the joint service in the same capacities of Pastor and assistant respectively. In the Fall of 1984, Rev. Sam Najjar replaced Rev. Thomas as assistant and served until 1985. In 1985 Rev. Louis Baz replaced Rev. Saad as Pastor, and shortly afterwards in the same year separate pastorates were again established with Rev. Baz serving as pastor of St. George and Rev. Antoun Saad serving as administrator of St. Anthony. In 1986 Rev. Moussa Joseph was appointed administrator of St. George, and Rev. Joseph Naja took over as pastor for St. Anthony.

 

The parish of St. George has produced two vocations to the priesthood: Rev. William Bonczewski May 29, 1976, and Rev. William Decker, March 19, 1977.