PARISH HISTORY

wengerRev. Columbus E. Wenger (photo at right), who served as pastor of St. Agnes Church from 1931 to 1965, wrote the following account. Father Wenger carefully researched his church’s history from 1850 to 1927, and his work is printed verbatim because it chronicles not only the history of the parish, but to another degree the history of the Sellersville area.

“Just when the first Catholics settled in the North Penn Valley we have no means of knowing. There are many natives of the Valley today who recall that their ancestors were Catholics, but because there was no Catholic Church in the entire North Penn Valley, they joined one or the other churches which had been established here. Those however, who insisted on remaining Catholic were compelled to journey to Philadelphia, Haycock or Bethlehem, whichever place was most convenient for their baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc. Consequently, the record of Haycock, for example and its cemetery give mute evidence that there were some scattered Catholics in the neighborhood of Sellersville, Hilltown and Quakertown in the late 1850’s. These people were Germans or of German descent, for we find such names as Miller, Feist, Meickel, Rombach, Kraemer, Kohl, Fox, Rey, Stein, etc.

When the Reading Railroad constructed its line from Philadelphia to Bethlehem, it employed for the construction and maintenance of the road those who were at the time the common laborers in any construction work; that is, the Irish. They settled on the farms close to the tunnel at Perkasie, in East Rockhill township. Among those, we find such names as McLaughlin, Curran, Fardy, Kerns, Casey, Slavin, Dillon, Mulloy, Collins, etc.

Store in Perkasie serves as Church

As early as 1863 the resident pastor of Haycock, Rev. Francis Neuleld, came once a month to East Rockhill to say mass in the home of one of the Catholics there, but it was not long until it was known throughout the whole district that a priest was coming regularly, and so the congregation became too large for a private home. Arrangements were made whereby Catholic worship was to be provided over Hendricks’ general store in Perkasie. From that time onward, there was a gradual growth of Catholic population in the North Penn Valley, especially in the Rockhills.

It was at this time that we find new names added to the existing rolls: Holly, Simon, Eckert, Greisimer, Steich, Walter, etc.

THE FIRST CHURCH BUILDING

firstchurchOn September 1, 1865, the Most Rev. James Wood, Archbishop of Philadelphia purchased 98 square perches of ground on the Quakertown Turnpike in East Rockhill Township, now incorporated into the borough of Sellersville, from Solomon Katz, for the sum of $450.00. The first Catholic Church in the North Penn Valley, just about midway between Philadelphia and Bethlehem, was erected on this plot. It was of brick construction, 25×40 feet and erected at a cost of about $5,000. It was completed and dedicated in April 1868 under the direction of the Rev. Clement Koppernagel, then pastor of Haycock.

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The pastor of Haycock attended St. Agnes Church once a month. (St. Agnes was then served as a Mission Church).

The Rev. John Loughran succeeded the Rev. Clement Koppernagel in 1870. He was succeeded by the Rev. Francis Martersteck in 1871, and then by the Rev. Henry Stommel in 1871. On December 1, 1872, the Rev. Hugh McLoughlin was appointed by the Archbishop of Philadelphia as resident pastor in Sellersville. The following year, St. Agnes’ was abandoned as a parish church and was again visited (as a Mission Church) by the priest of Haycock. Father Stommel continued to look after Sellersville even after he was removed to Doylestown in 1875.

Rev. Kehm Houses Rev. Keul

When the Church of St. Stanislaus, Lansdale, was founded in 1877, the Rev. John Keul, who had been an assistant to Rev. Stommel in Doylestown, was appointed pastor of Lansdale and Sellersville, and he made his home with Rev. Jacob Kehm , at 417 North Main St., Sellersville, a pastor of the Reformed Church. On January 1, 1879, he was succeeded by the Rev. John Janssen, who relinquished his pastorate at the end of the same year to enter the Order of the Jesuits. On January 1, 1880, the Rev. James Regnery was appointed pastor of Lansdale and Sellersville. In July 1880, the Rev. James Regnery was transferred to Newtown. Lansdale and Sellersville were then abandoned as a parochial parish.

From 1880 until 1884, Rev. Hugh McGovern, assistant at the Church of the Holy Infancy, Bethlehem, visited regularly the churches of Sellersville and Lansdale. Then in Oct., 1885, the Rev. Joseph Winters was appointed as pastor of Lansdale and Sellersville and took up his residence in Lansdale, but continued to serve the congregation of Sellersville until he was forced to retire because of old age in 1908. Under his guidance, St. Agnes’ began to grow to a more substantial existence. He was followed at Lansdale by the Rev. Peter Masson, January 4, 1908. On his very first visit to Sellersville he realized the church was too small for the congregation, so he immediately undertook the construction of a brick addition 25 by 20 feet and put in the stained glass windows. It was about this time that the railroad and the Rockhill stone quarry imported a new type of labor, the Italians.

Father Fasig Appointed in 1919

On October 1, 1908, Rev. Aloysius Scherf was appointed to Quakertown, and Sellersville was attached to St. Isidore’s Church, Quakertown, which had been established in 1886. Father Scherf visited Sellersville every Sunday until he was succeeded by the Rev. Scott Fasig on October 1, 1918.

fasigIt was during the administration of Father Scherf that the house next to the church in Sellersville was purchased from the estate of Oliver Nase for the sum of $1,450 (to be used as a rectory). In November, 1919, Father (Scott A.) Fasig was transferred from Quakertown to Sellersville (and St. Agnes was established as a parish). After making extensive repairs and improvements to the rectory, he moved from the home of the Lentz family, where he had taken up temporary residence, and occupied same in the year 1920.

firstrectoryAbout the same time, the Polish people began to come out from Philadelphia and Chester into the North Penn Valley and many of them settled on the farms in the Rockhill townships.

On June 2, 1922, the property of William Cressman was purchased for the sum of $6750, and after being remodeled was opened as a church convent for nuns, with four sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in charge. (Part of this building also served as the parish’s first school.)

On November 22, 1927, a plot of ground containing two acres and 55 perches was purchased from the Berekemeyer estate, to be used as an addition to St. Agnes’ cemetery.”

(This is where Father Wenger’s account appears to end).

THE SECOND SCHOOL

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By September 1945, the parish school’s enrollment had reached 91. Father Columbus E. Wenger, whose pastorate began in 1931, announced the need for a second school. A parcel of land on North Main Street was purchased and donated to the parish by Samuel Doughty (a parishioner) in 1945. The new school, erected at a cost of $37,455.59, was blessed and occupied on September 1, 1949.

THE SECOND CHURCH

secondchurchIn 1952, the second church was conceived and built under Father Wenger’s auspices. It was completed at a cost of $77,734.87, and was dedicated on July 7, 1953. At the request of His Excellency, John F. O’Hara, Archbishop of Philadelphia, the new church was dedicated by Father Fasig, then a Monsignor, who had been St. Agnes’ first resident pastor 33 years prior.

THE SECOND CONVENT

skowronskiFather Wenger served the parish for 34 years. After his death in 1965, Rev. Stanislaus Skowronski was appointed pastor. During his 17 years as pastor, Father Skowronski brought remarkable growth to the parish. He initiated a Convent Building Fund Drive and in 1966, the new convent was dedicated. The new facility is a two-story building erected on the site of the old convent with accommodations for eight Sisters, and was built at a cost of $72,683.00.

Father Skowronski also oversaw the purchase of three additional properties adjacent to the church complex. This has afforded room for the expansion of the cemetery, additional parking space, a larger playing area for school children, and ground for a projected building program. In the fall of 1968, the interior of the second church was remodeled for approximately $25,000.00 in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the parish.

By 1969, the parish was made up of 375 families. Under the guidance of Father Skowronski, the parish had grown both spiritually and socially, becoming a vibrant community. After years of hard work, age and declining health made it difficult for Father Skowronski to continue as pastor.

Father Long Arrives

longIn January of 1983, Rev. Michael J. Long was appointed as the fourth pastor of St. Agnes. A few short months later, on March 20, 1983, Father Skowronski was called to his eternal rest.

After 18 years of teaching at St. Charles Borromeo, Father Long had looked forward for some time to administering a parish. Under the guidance of its new pastor, St. Agnes entered a new phase of its history.

The parish population had been growing rapidly and an assistant pastor had been assigned to Father Long. Rev. Gerardo M. Caruso was a former student of Father Long’s at the Seminary, and he became the first assistant in the history of St. Agnes Parish.

THE THIRD CHURCH

thirdchurchIn 1983, Father Long was charged by Cardinal Krol with the task of building a new, larger church in order to accommodate the growth of the parish. Planning began immediately that year, and St. Agnes’ third church was officially dedicated in December of 1985. The new church, built at a cost of $1,500,000 was large enough to seat 800 visitors. The beautiful brick structure was designed to complement the existing buildings, and to become the focal point for the overall parish complex.

Father Long’s next undertakings included the construction of a new Parish Office/Rectory, which was built as an addition to the original church, along with a substantial addition to the parish school.

Associate Pastors

In 1988, Father Caruso had been transferred from St. Agnes Parish. He was replaced briefly by Rev. Thomas A. McGann, who was also transferred that same year and was replaced by Rev. Michael J. Ryan. Father Ryan was reassigned in 1989, and he was replaced by the Reverend John F. Bowe.

Father Bowe’s faith, energy and sense of humor have played a large part in the significant growth the parish has seen since his arrival. Although deeply devoted and respectful of all his parishioners, Father Bowe is probably the first priest in St. Agnes’ history to be seen chasing the parish children with his oversized water gun.

Assisting Father Long and Father Bowe in their ministry at St. Agnes were two Weekend Assistant Priests. Rev. DePaul Sobotka O.F.M., and Rev. Jacob Welle, M.S.C. each served faithfully in Sellersville for over twenty-five years. The parish is also very fortunate to have been assigned its first permanent deacon. Rev. Mr. Harry Tucker was ordained a permanent deacon for the Church of Philadelphia in 1994, and was immediately assigned to St. Agnes Church, where he and his family have been members since 1976.

In 1991, Father Long had been elevated to the status of Monsignor, making him the only Monsignor in the Upper Bucks area. At various times, he was a teacher, a counselor, and a coach. While a teacher, he was also a student at the University of Pennsylvania and the American Academy of Rome, where he earned master’s degrees in philosophy, Greek and Latin. He used his knowledge of six languages, his compassion for all humanity, as well as keenly honed wit, to reach out to people with the Good News of the Catholic Faith.

By the time of Msgr. Long’s untimely passing on April 1, 1999, the parish had grown to include over 1,800 families.

Monsignor Molloy Arrives

molloy2Father John McCluskey, a retired Naval Chaplain from Philadelphia, was assigned temporarily to St. Agnes to assist Father Bowe until assignment of a new pastor could be made. Cardinal Bevilacqua chose Monsignor James E. Molloy to be the next pastor at St. Agnes Church, the parish’s fifth pastor in the eighty years since its formation. Having previously served as Rector at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, Msgr. Molloy arrived at St. Agnes on June 21, 1999.

Under Monsignor Molloy’s guidance, St. Agnes Parish continued to grow and flourish. With a bequest from Monsignor Long’s estate, a trust was established by Monsignor Molloy “The Monsignor Michael J. Long Memorial Trust Fund for Catholic Educational Ministries”. Monsignor Molloy’s vision was to institute a Trust Fund that would benefit Catholic education in the Parish for years to come.

Parish’s Permanent Deacons

On June 6, 2004, St. Agnes Parish was blessed to have two of its parishioners, James (Gerry) G. Murphy and Harry D. Antrim ordained to the Permanent Deaconate for service in the Archdiocese. Cardinal Rigali assigned Deacon Harry Antrim to ministry as a Permanent Deacon at St. Agnes’ and Deacon Gerry Murphy was assigned to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Hilltown. St. Agnes’ was now fortunate to have Deacon Antrim, along with Deacon Tucker, to assist the priests.

Parochial Vicars

After faithfully serving the parishioners of St. Agnes and giving special attention to those who were ill at home and to those in the hospital for 16 years, on June 20, 2005, Father Bowe was transferred to the position of Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph’s in Warrington.

At this time time, the Archbishop appointed Rev. James C. Otto as St. Agnes’ new Parochial Vicar. Father Otto came from a teaching position at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield. He was ordained in 1997.

Monsignor Molloy’s Passing

Monsignor Molloy unexpectedly passed away on March 7, 2006, as he prepared for the 5:15 pm Mass on a Lenten weekday.

Monsignor Wendrychowicz Arrives

St. Agnes’ sixth Pastor was appointed by Cardinal Rigali to the Parish on June 19, 2006. Reverend Monsignor John B. Wendrychowicz, as well as being the former Pastor of St. Josaphat’s in Philadelphia, serves as Chaplain for Boy Scouts for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and also serves as Chaplain for Region III of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (which comprises the states of PA and NJ).