Development of the Catholic Faith in Berks County

History of Holy Rosary


In the early 1900’s only a few Italian families were to be found scattered throughout the City of Reading. But their number increased so rapidly that it soon became necessary to look after their spiritual needs and organize them into a congregation.

In 1904 Monsignor Bornemann, rector of St. Paul’s Church, North 9th Street, arranged the purchase of a church building that once belonged to St. Mark's Reformed congregation, at Schuylkill Avenue and Green Street.

The Church was acquired for $6,000. Of this amount, the Italians had already paid $1,000, and had assumed a mortgage indebtedness of $4,000 at 5 per cent., with the Pennsylvania Trust Company. Father Bornemann contributed $1,000.

Considerable work was required in fitting up the edifice as a suitable place for Catholic worship. Numerous repairs were needed. New pews had to be installed, for those originally in the church were removed to St Mark's new edifice at Greenwich and Ritter. Altars had to be built, the outside painted, the interior walls frescoed and numerous other work done. The seating capacity of the church was 660.

The Church of the Holy Rosary was solemnly dedicated on October 2, 1904, by His Excellency, the Most Rev. Archbishop Diomede Falconio, Apostolic Delegate to the United States. The presence of this high church dignitary in Reading aroused much enthusiasm, not only among the members of Holy Rosary church, but among Catholics generally in Reading.

A procession of clergymen and altar boys accompanied the Monsignor while he blessed the interior of the church and the surrounding grounds. Then followed a solemn high mass. It was celebrated by Rev. Father Bornemann. Father Paaonessa was deacon and Father Ganster sub-deacon. The choir of St. Paul's Catholic Church sang Gounod's Convent Mass, under the direction of Charles Hencke. The sermon was delivered by Father Caruzzo, of Philadelphia who spoke in Italian.

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Original Holy Rosary Church - Schuylkill Avenue and Green Street.

The boundaries of the new Church included all Italian-Speaking Catholics of Reading and vicinity.

A double bell dedication took place in Holy Rosary Church on October 26, 1904. Two bells, one to be afterwards placed in the church and the other for the House of Good Shepherd, in North Reading, were dedicated. The bell for the Holy Rosary Church was cast in Baltimore. It weighed 400 pounds and was donated by Father Bornemann and members of St. Paul’s parish.

The first Pastor of the newly erected Church was the Rev. Gesualdo Paonessa. On August 13, 1907, Fr. Paonessa was succeeded by Rev. Vito Nicola Varalli, who continued his work until Sept. 1, 1909. He was followed by Rev. Antonio Orlando who held pastoral duties for eleven months and on August 3, 1910 was succeeded by Rev. Eugene Marchetti.

The Italian population increased and in a few years the large number of Italian children called the attention of the Ecclesiastical Authority to the necessity of a Parochial School. Here again the appeal to the generosity of Monsignor Bornemann was not made in vain. He purchased an old Public School building at Third and Franklin Streets at an individual cost of $20,000 and after having furnished and remodeled it, presented to the Italians of Reading their Parochial School. His Excellency Most Rev. John Bonzano, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, blessed the new building with an impressive ceremony on November 2, 1914.

The former public school was built in 1868 and closed in 1908 as a public school. For a period it served as the Reading Public Library. The first floor of the new school was also fitted with a chapel.

The Sisters of St. Dorothy, who came from Italy, took charge of the newly opened Parochial School and established themselves in the same building.

The Sisters dwelled in the school building until Oct. 11, 1921. During these years, the pupils increased beyond the accommodations of the School and it was deemed necessary to provide a Convent for the Sisters. Here intervenes again the interest of Monsignor Bornemann, who in October, 1921, purchased for the Italian Congregation, from Carrie L. Mellert and Allen C. Mellert, the premises located at 236-238 Franklin Street and turned them into a Convent for the Sisters of the Parochial School.

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Holy Rosary School and Convent

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Chapel, Third and Franklin Streets

After twenty-eight years as pastor of Holy Rosary Church, Fr. Marchetti was transferred to the Mt. Carmel R. C. Church in Allentown, Pa., and in his place was sent by His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia, the Rev. Leonard T. Miconi, who was appointed on April 26, 1938 and took possession of the Parish on April 29, 1938.

The Rev. Leonard T. Miconi was born in Vergnacco, a suburb of Udine, Italy, on Oct. 9, 1897. After attending public schools and college, he went into the Italian Army in World War I.

He entered the seminary at Udine April 15, 1932, and served in his original diocese for 10 years.

After coming to this country, he aided Italian immigrants in the United States. From 1932 until his appointment, he served parishes in Marcus Hook and Allentown.

In 1938, following a diligent inspection of the Church premises, a resolution was drawn whereby immediate action had to be taken concerning the Holy Rosary buildings. First and foremost came the school property situated at 240 Franklin Street. Laborers were secured. Plumbers, carpenters, plasterers were following each other, and in a short time the school was remodeled and improved.  Parishioners and friends, invited to see the work accomplished, were visibly amazed at the splendid results of the first enterprise. From the school, attention was turned to the first floor of the same building. Here, too, there was quite a job to perform. Floors, walls and ceilings were badly in need of urgent repairs and these also were soon realized. Three fine altars and two niches were erected in the chapel and beautifully decorated. One of the niches was dedicated to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the other to the great Wonder-Worker, St. Anthony of Padua. Thus, the Holy Rosary Chapel was rendered less unworthy of divine worship and more comfortable for the faithful.

The school building was repaired but very cold indeed, and the problem was solved by the installation of an automatic heating system.

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Holy Rosary School

Having provided for the most pressing material necessities of the parish, care had to be given to the spiritual and moral welfare of its members.  The first parish census brought forth a better vision of the situation. Through careful scrutiny it was soon learned that a number of children and adults as well had not received their First Holy Communion, nor had they been confirmed. To fill this gap, courses of catechetical instructions were immediately organized. Clergy, seminarians, sisters and young ladies put out all their efforts in this work of spiritual reconstruction.

The Church attendance increased to such an extent that another Mass had to be added exclusively for the youth of the parish, thus bringing to five the number of  Sunday Masses.

In 1939, the original parish Church at Schuylkill Avenue was renovated. Old gas lighting was replaced with electric lights. It was readily discovered that the whole structure demanded repairs. The roof, the ceiling, the floor, the walls, the belfry and the altars were reconditioned and the Church, within a few months, had a completely new aspect. Vestments and sacred vessels were also procured, together with altar boy outfits and banners for the various societies. The Church was overcrowded with people on Sunday, May 21st, 1939 when it was solemnly rededicated.

In 1940, the old Rectory at 208 W. Green Street became too small to accommodate the clergy. A resolution was then made and a new property located at 46 South 3rd Street was purchased, converted into a modern rectory and solemnly blessed on September 12, 1940 by His Excellency Bishop Lamb on his coming to the church to administer Confirmation.

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Rectory, 46 South Third Street

Also In 1940, the chapel at 240 Franklin Street (first floor of school building) became the main church and the Schuylkill Avenue church became known as the Mission Chapel.

A significant event of the year 1942 was the appointment of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, commonly known as the Salesian Sisters. Imbued with the spirit of their holy Founder, St. John Bosco, the children's friend who brought the "Preventive System" in the arduous field of Christian education, the good Sisters, on August 15th assumed their new post with whole hearted enthusiasm. The parish extended to them a most cordial welcome, wholly aware that the Daughters of Don Bosco, from the path traced out by their Founder, would create an atmosphere of truly Salesian joy among the youth of Holy Rosary.

In 1943, properties located at 237-239 Franklin Street and 44 South Third Street were purchased for the site of a new Church. It was thought best to acquire also the property situated at No. 110 South Third Street. This transaction took place August 31, 1943.

Dedication of a newly-completed rectory and ground-breaking ceremonies for a new church were held on Sunday, August 20, 1950 at 3:30 o’clock.

The three-story rectory was constructed on a 40 by 40 foot plot on the north side of Franklin Street near Third, across the street from the combined church and parochial school. The exterior of the rectory was faced with Oxford granite, brought here from the Conowingo Dam section of Maryland. The rectory had offices, a reception room, parlor, dining room and kitchen on the first floor and five bedrooms, studies and four bathrooms on the second and third floors. The rectory was blessed by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Leo Gregory Fink, V. F., dean of Lehigh and Northampton counties, a native of Reading.

The new church, 56 by 130 feet, would be built on the northwest corner of Third and Franklin Streets, fronting on South Third Street. At the ground-breaking ceremony the first spadeful of earth was turned by the Rev. Leonard Miconi, rector of the Italian parish.

The old rectory at 46 South Third and the properties located at 237-239 Franklin Street and 44 South Third Street were torn down to make way for the new church.

On Sunday, June 28, 1953, the present church, located at 3rd and Franklin Sts., was dedicated. The new church conformed in architecture with the recently finished rectory.

The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Luigi Ligutti of Des Moines, Iowa, executive director of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, was the celebrant for the first Solemn High Mass held inside the new Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

The service was conducted a short time after the laying of the cornerstone and blessing of the new edifice during dedication rites, witnessed by a gathering estimated at more than 2,000 persons.

The Rt. Rev Thomas F. McNally, of Jenkintown, vicar general of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, presided at the laying of the cornerstone and blessing of the church. He was assisted by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. John V Tolino, of Philadelphia, and the Rt. Rev. Msgr. John N. Wachter, rector of St Paul's Catholic Church. Reading. Also assisting were the Rev. George V. Dougherty, Ph. D., professor at St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, and the Rev. Peter Cavallucci, of Germantown.

The Mass was attended by more than 1,100 persons who filled the church. Monsignor Ligutti delivered a sermon in English and Msgr. Tolino, one in Italian. Both emphasized the importance of a parish church to a Catholic.

The Rev. Richard Calligaro, of Newark, N. J., as deacon, and the Rev. Calogero Graziano, of Marcus Hook, subdeacon, assisted Monsignor Ligutti during the Mass. The Rev. Dr. Theodore C. Wagner, rector of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, West Reading, was master of ceremonies, assisted by the Rev. James McDonald, of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, of Reading.

The ceremonies included a procession from the combination school-chapel, and the color guard of the Fourth Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus.

The combination church and parochial school was used entirely for school purposes after the completion of the new church. The church proper on the first floor of the building was transformed into classrooms.

On Feb. 15, 1961, Rome announced the creation of the new Diocese of Allentown comprised of Berks, Northampton, Carbon and Schuykill Counties. Bishop Joseph McShea was named the first Bishop of the newly formed Diocese.

The Rev. Leonard T. Miconi was elevated to the rank of monsignor in May 1963 by Pope John XXIII. The appointment was announced at a Mass celebrating his 25th year at Holy Rosary.

On May 14, 1968, under the Allentown Roman Catholic Diocese, Msgr. Miconi was granted an extended leave of absence on the recommendation of his physician. Bishop Joseph McShea appointed Rev. Felix A. Losito to Holy Rosary as administrator.

Born in Wickatunk, N.J., May 7, 1931, Rev. Felix A. Losito attended public schools in Kennett Square, Chester County. He studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, and was ordained on May 15, 1958.

Prior to coming to Reading, Msgr. Losito served as assistant pastor at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, Bethlehem, from 1958 to 1962; assistant pastor at Holy Family Church, New Philadelphia, Schuylkill County, in 1962; and pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, Kelayres, Schuylkill County from 1962 to 1968.

On February 5, 1972, the Rev. Msgr. Leonard Miconi passed away at the age of 74 en route to Community General Hospital.

On February 8, 1972, the Rev. Felix A. Losito, was appointed pastor of Holy Rosary.

On May 5, 1977, the Rev. Felix A. Losito was elevated by Bishop Joseph McShea to the rank of Domestic Prelate, and was given the title of Reverend Monsignor.

In 1977, Holy Rosary School was renamed the Cabrini Academy in honor of Mother Frances Cabrini, an Italian-born nun who came to the United States and became a citizen. She was the first American granted sainthood.

Members of the Daughters of Divine Zeal, an order of nuns founded by Hannibal Maria Difrancia, an Italian priest who dedicated his life to orphans and the poor, started serving Holy Rosary in 1979.

On Sunday, May 16, 2004, the Centennial Celebration of Holy Rosary parish was held with solemn services befitting this momentous occasion. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Edward P. Cullen of the Diocese or Allentown at 2:30 p.m. Con-celebrants were Monsignor Felix A. Losito, pastor; the Rev. John Conte, who resided at the rectory; and Monsignor James Treston, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Whitfield, the homilist.

Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, the school became known as the Cabrini Early Childhood Center for prekindergarten and kindergarten pupils. Declining enrollment and rising costs strained the parish’s ability to finance Cabrini Academy, which had 84 students, down 60 percent from the 2000-01 school years.

On November 3, 2011, the Reverend Monsignor Felix A Losito passed away at the age of 80 in the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. He suffered head injuries after a fall in the rectory and had been hospitalized since July. The Reverend Monsignor Joseph A. DeSantis was was appointed an interim administrator during Msgr. Losito's absence. After the death of Msgr. Losito, Monsignor Joseph A. DeSantis was was appointed pastor.

Reverend Monsignor Felix A Losito.

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Cabrini Academy 240 Franklin St., Reading

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Present Holy Rosary Church

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