Last rites at St. Joseph Church

First Posted: 8/22/2013

The St. Joseph’s Church choir will sing its final notes.

The church, a fixture in Wyoming for nearly 100 years, known for its vibrant choir and rich pipe organ, will close its doors after a final Mass today at 2 p.m.

The Rev. Leo McKernan, who has been pastor of St. Monica’s Parish since the merger of St. Joseph’s in Wyoming and Our Lady of Sorrow in West Wyoming in 2010, said a lack of parishioners is the main reason for church consolidation.

“The fact is the congregations are not what they used to be,” McKernan said. “Demographics have changed. Everyone was living in the Valley and had large families. That’s not the case anymore. The families are smaller and the children are moving away after college.”

St. Joseph’s has been host to only one service a week, the 8:30 a.m. Mass and an occasional wedding or funeral. It was St. Monica’s secondary worship site, with Our Lady of Sorrows being the primary one.

Longtime parishioners Joe and Fran Lisewski of Wyoming said they are sad to see their beloved church go. They remembered the five-day summer festivals of years ago.

“It was really something people from all over the area looked forward to every year,” Joe Lisewski said. “They had a giant dance floor where the current church is. They had games of chance. They even had live chickens. It was a focal point for the whole community.”

In later years, the one-day Harvest Festival on the third week in September was just as popular.

“They had a polka band and a lot of the stuff bazaars have,” Fran Lisewski said. “They had all the Polish food, too. Haluski, pierogies, kielbasa and potato pancakes.”

The Lisewskis were married at Immaculate Conception Church in West Pittston because it was Fran’s home church, but Joe is a lifelong member of St. Joseph’s and the couple have been parishioners there as a family since.

“I remember when I first came to St. Joseph’s,” Fran said. “One of the first things I noticed was the magnificent choir. The choir has always been really good here.”

The Lisewskis joined a group a parishioners on Friday morning at the church to share some memories. They included Clem Zekoski, Gloria Dickson, Theresa Dickson, Eliana Parra, Pat Robinson, Walter Bednar, Paul Konopka, Mary Flynn, Carol Skalski, Maria Parra, Frank Parra and organist/choir director Theresa Dickson.

Dickson was eager to show off the church’s pipe organ.

She said the St. Joseph’s choir took the initiative and assumed the responsibility for the funding of the organ. On December 2, 1979, the new organ was dedicated with a blessing and organ recital.

The massive 700-pipe Casevant Frères Pipe Organ is slightly smaller than the one at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton, Dickson said.

“The keys are reversed color and made of ebony and ivory,” she said. “It’s wonderful to play. Such a glorious sound.”

St. Joseph’s formed in 1913 by a small group of Christians dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker. In 1914 land was acquired and the church construction was complete in 1916.

By 1917 the church began to expand when the congregation purchased land for a Parish Cemetery in West Wyoming. A rectory was added in 1918.

The congregation erected a combination garage and meeting hall but the fear of mine subsidence put a plan for a new church on hold.

Right after World War II, a hope of a new Church was revived. The Diocese said the church must wait 10 years, and on April 18, 1955 permission was granted to construct a new church. It was dedicated on Oct. 5, 1958 by Bishop Jerome D. Hannon. A new rectory was completed in 1967.

St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Sorrows churches have been linked under one pastor since 2006 and the closing was a long slough. The Diocese ultimately determined St. Joseph’s would merge into Our Lady of Sorrows.

St. Joseph’s had undergone extensive internal refurbishing during the autumn of 1988 in preparation for the Diamond Anniversary. A genuine marble altar was installed and extraneous materials were removed from the back altar and focus centered on the tabernacle.

Now, one year before St. Joseph’s centennial, the congregation says farewell.

“Most people understand, but there are some that are having difficulty,” McKernan said. “This church is a big part of their life.”

The two churches are only several blocks away, a 1-minute drive or a 15 minute walk.

“We’re not going to try to keep it,” McKernan said. “It will have to be sold.”

All of the items in the church will either be used by Our Lady of Sorrows or taken by the Diocese for other churches. The stained glass windows will be removed and reused elsewhere and the buildings will likely be sold.

“I look at it like a transplant operation,” McKernan said. “A heart or lungs will be removed from someone that died to save the life someone else. We’re helping give life to another church.”

McKernan said it could be sold to another religious denomination or it could be used as funeral home, offices, or art or dance studios like other churches in the Diocese that have been sold.

The choir, which has been around almost as long as the church, continues to be well known. It will sing favorite hymns in English, Polish and Latin at 1:30 p.m., before the final Mass.

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