By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
A handful of diocesan faithful journeyed to Geinsheim, Germany May 10-17 to join in celebrating a priest who left his native land to minister to German faithful in a region that is now a territory of the Diocese of Allentown.
Faithful from Most Blessed Sacrament (MBS), Bally travelled to the hometown of Father Theodore Schneider, who founded the parish originally as St. Paul Chapel as a mission outpost in 1741.
Father Adam Sedar, pastor, said parishioners were invited to Geinsheim by clergy and parishioners from SS. Peter and Paul along with Stefan Kastel, a descendant of Father Schneider, to witness the dedication of the town plaza in honor of the Jesuit priest.
“Our parishioners were excited to reunite with the friends they have made from there over the years and were welcomed with an incredible warmth and generosity. The people of our parish are dedicated to learning more of the great history of the parish, which is such an important part of the history of our Catholic Church in the United States,” said Father Sedar.
“Visiting his hometown brings both this history and his courageous missionary spirit alive in their hearts.”
The history of the parish began in 1741 when Father Schneider was summoned to the area of Goshenhoppen (later renamed Bally) where he built St. Paul’s Chapel and traveled widely to minister to settlers in Oley Valley and Lehigh Valley.
He also established a Catholic school now known St. Francis Academy and regarded as the first non-private parochial school in the 13 original states.
The chapel structure eventually grew into the larger church, but the chapel remains as the centerpiece of the church museum that houses religious and secular artifacts, books and parchments that chronicle Father Schneider’s work and German settlers.
Msgr. Edward Coyle, former pastor of MBS, now pastor of St. Ann, Emmaus, led six parishioners on the trip where they were guests at private homes of faithful who have visited MBS and Father Schneider’s grave over the years.
“I had the honor of blessing the plaza after the Sunday Mass,” he said.
Father Anthony Mongiello, pastor of St. Anne, Bethlehem, also accompanied the faithful on the trip that included a town celebration after the dedication.
“It was a wonderful experience. The people were amazing and treated us with such kindness,” said Father Mongiello.
During the week, he said, the group was invited for dinner at Father Schneider’s family home, where Kastel resides.
“He gave a lovely speech and presented Msgr. Coyle with a piece of the structure from Father Schneider’s room to take back to Bally,” said Father Mongiello.
Margaret Chovanes, parishioner of MBS who participated in the trip, said the relationship between the two parishes began many years ago by local historian Michael Miller and Geinsheim historian Norbert Kastel.
The trip drew the interest of MBS parishioners in light of the parish’s 275th anniversary that highlighted the legacy of Father Schneider last year.
“The plaza is located a few blocks from his ancestral residence and is adjacent to SS. Peter and Paul, where Father Schneider would have worshipped,” said Chovanes.
“The trip was a wonderful tribute to Father Schneider and an inspiration to the parishioners of both the German and American churches that share his legacy,” she said.
Chovanes said the trip featured a walking tour of the rural town Geinsheim, visits to SS. Peter and Paul, and a guided tour of Heidelberg University where Father Schneider was educated and served as rector.
In addition, the group visited the local kindergarten and participated in Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Speyer, one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
Chovanes said experiencing the faithful in Geinsheim reinforced her admiration of Father Schneider and his hometown.
“Father Schneider won many souls for Christ in an environment that was less than optimal. He must have possessed the same Christian warmth and hospitality that we were greeted with in Geinsheim,” she said.
Other parishioners who made the trip were Marian Gehringer, Beth Bakes, Kathy Bauer, Judy Parker and George Chovanes.
Their hosts were Father Michael Paul; Deacon Johannes; Sabine Hellenbrand; Petra and Clemens Stahler; Michaela and Volker Kastel; Angelika and Martin Haigis; Christa and Benedikt Kastel; Silvia and Klaus Doerzapf.
Father Schneider died in 1764 and is interred in the rear of the church beneath the floor of the original St. Paul altar, along with four other Jesuits who served the parish.