The Diocese of Allentown was formed on January 28, 1961, when Pope John XXIII signed a document separating the counties of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The news became public February 15. The following April 11, Bishop Joseph McShea, then auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, was installed as the first Bishop of Allentown by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States in the new Cathedral Church of Saint Catharine of Siena in Allentown.
Bishop Thomas Welsh succeeded Bishop McShea in 1983, followed by Bishop Edward Cullen in 1998 and Bishop John Barres in 2009. Like Bishop McShea, Bishops Welsh and Cullen were former Auxiliary Bishops of Philadelphia. Bishop Barres was a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, DE, when he was appointed. He became the first priest ordained a Bishop in Allentown’s Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena.
Catholics form the largest single religious group in the five counties of the Diocese. In the 104 parishes of the Diocese, there are more than 270,000 registered Catholics, representing more than 21 percent of the general population.
The Diocese of Allentown is the center for two national movements. National Shut-In Day was founded in Reading, in October of 1970, under the leadership of the late Monsignor Felix Losito. It gained nationwide recognition in 1972, when President Nixon signed a congressional resolution establishing the third Sunday of October as Shut-In Day across the nation. Operation Rice Bowl, founded in the Allentown area by clergy of varying faiths, has spread to Catholic dioceses throughout the United States. Catholics across the nation have raised millions of dollars to provide hunger relief through this Lenten program.