SS. Simon and Jude, Bethlehem Celebrates Centennial of Faith

SS. Simon and Jude, a mainstay of West Bethlehem since 1917, celebrates its centennial this year. (File photo)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

Much has changed in the world as it was in 1917. The year marked the May 29 birth of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The United States entered World War I on April 6 under President Woodrow Wilson. Film audiences were watching Mary Pickford star in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” on the silent silver screen.

It was also a milestone year for faith in West Bethlehem, with the founding of the parish of SS. Simon and Jude, of which Msgr. William Baver has been pastor since 2005.

The highlight of the anniversary year was a Mass celebrated Sunday, Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. by Bishop Alfred Schlert. There was a light reception in the parish hall after the Mass.

Current and former parishioners were invited to a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Msgr. Baver July 21, the founding date of the parish. Refreshments were served in the parish hall after the liturgy.

SS. Simon and Jude asked parishioners to make a commitment to pray in thanksgiving and petition for the members of the parish – past, present and future – so that “each prayer be a flower in the spiritual bouquet that we offer to our God.”

Finishing by Saturday, Oct. 28 – the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude – participants were asked to pray the following for the parish: participate in extra weekday Masses, pray the rosary privately, pray the rosary in community, novenas, Divine Mercy Chaplets, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, acts of charity, days of fasting and stations of the cross.

Some parishioners gathered for “Sharing a Meal, Sharing a Memory” May 3 at Rudy’s Bar and Grill, Bethlehem. They participated in a trivia quiz about the history of SS. Simon and Jude, and were entered into a prize drawing.


Sharing the parish history in his homily at the July 21 Mass, Msgr. Baver said on July 21, 1917 SS. Simon and Jude became the first territorial parish in the city of Bethlehem. Archbishop Edmond Prendergast appointed Father Elmer Stapleton as founding pastor.

For the first three years a small chapel, known as the Church of the Nativity, on Union Boulevard became the first worship site.

In 1918 a plot of ground was purchased at Sixth and Broad streets. In 1920 the parish purchased the Olivet Evangelical Church between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The church building was dedicated Sept. 25, 1920 by Cardinal Dennis Dougherty. In 1922 the construction of the school and convent began.

The school of SS. Simon and Jude opened Sept. 8, 1923. The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) staffed the school. The six sisters who initiated the IHM residence in the parish were Mother Lucilla and five others living at St. Bernard Convent, Easton. The convent was dedicated Sept. 22, 1923.

Demolition of the old church began in 1930. The new church would resemble the Swedenborgian Cathedral, but was actually patterned after Holy Cross Church in Mount Airy.

Father John Mundy prepared for the dedication of the new church on Oct. 2, 1932. He resigned due to poor health in June 1940 and Father Owen Donnelly was named pastor. In 1961 the parish was under consideration to be the cathedral when the newly formed Diocese of Allentown began in 1961.

Father Frederick Melley became pastor on May 28, 1964, and a new school was opened in September 1968 with 415 students.

Also in September 1968 the present convent was completed and the IHM sisters took up residence with Mother Dolores Jean, who was principal. In total there were 144 deceased sisters who had ministered in the school. There are an additional 49 sisters alive who are ministering elsewhere but were stationed in the SS. Simon and Jude convent.

Father Melley was named a domestic prelate with the title of monsignor in May 1971. In June 1976 Msgr. Charles Moss was named pastor. The church basement was then transformed into a parish hall and air conditioning was installed in the church.

Father Robert Reed was named pastor in December 1981. Debts were eliminated from prior projects and there were 200 children in the school. Many active groups reached out to the needs of parishioners during his 24 years as pastor.

Msgr. Baver was appointed pastor in June 2005.

SS. Simon and Jude School was closed with about 113 students in 2006. Seven years later the newly formed Seton Academy closed its doors with 85 children remaining in a three-way merger of parishes. For a total of 87 years the IHM sisters influenced the students and teachers in the area.

Today the former convent is a home for unwed mothers, the Mary’s Shelter Cay Galgon Center.

The former school was recently leased to the Vietnamese Community, who worship there each Sunday. The Vietnamese language will now be taught to a new group of youth

on the parish grounds. SS. Simon and Jude is a regional center for the Vietnamese community.

The new motorized lift assists seniors and parish groups to enter the parish hall. New air conditioning and refurbished church doors welcome all to Sunday worship. New microphones assist both the folk group and adult choir in enhancing participation at Mass.

“We honor SS. Simon and Jude as our powerful patrons. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude Thaddeus joined together in Persia where they were martyred to focus our attention and the building up of the Church is the work of God,” Msgr. Baver said.

“These apostles were called by God as are. We ask the Father to give the Church continued growth and increase the number of those who believe in him.”

Msgr. Baver said at least seven priestly vocations came from the parish and at least seven religious sisters into the IHMs, Sisters of St. Joseph (SSJ) and the Order of St. Francis.

“We no longer have war bonds, minstrel shows or sodalities. Our seniors, St. Vincent de Paul Society and Knights of Columbus are the groups that offer companionship, monetary and food assistance to the poor and pro-life ventures respectively,” said Msgr. Baver.

“And we all still marvel at the grapes symbolic of Christ and the two peacocks representing immortality on the front of the main altar.”

On behalf of Deacon Reuben Hartzell and Deacon Jeffrey Trexler and the parish staff, Msgr. Baver congratulated all the faithful “on this milestone 100th anniversary.”

“St. Paul says as God’s chosen ones, let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” Msgr. Baver said.