Development of the Catholic Faith in Berks County
History of Holy Rosary Church
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 600.
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 Paonessa 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.
Original Holy Rosary Church
The boundaries of the new Church included all Italian-Speaking Catholics of Reading and vicinity.
The first Pastor of the newly erected Church was the Rev. Gesualdo Paonessa, who organized the congregation and opened the parochial records.
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.
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.
Rev. Eugene Marchetti was born in Turin, Italy on February 2, 1892. He graduated from Touraine University and received his Doctorate of Divinity from Rome. He attended St. Charles Boromeo Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood on May 26, 1907. He was the first Italian priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
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. Monsignor Bornemann, once again, demonstrated his generosity when he purchased the old Franklin Street Public School building at 240 Franklin Street at a public auction on June 19, 1913 at an individual cost of $10,175. The former Public School was built in 1868 and closed in 1908. For a period it served as the Reading Public Library. After spending nearly the same amount to remodel and furnish the structure Monsignor Bornemann presented it to the Italians of Reading as their own 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.
Original Holy Rosary School and Convent
The first floor of the new school was also fitted with a chapel. On September 12, 1915, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. George Bornemann officiated at a dedication of the chapel. Several hundred members attended a high mass, which was the first to be sung in the chapel.
Original Holy Rosary Chapel - 240 Franklin Street
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. On October 1, 1921, Monsignor Bornemann, purchased the premises located at 236-238 Franklin Street for $6,200. After having converted the premises into a convent for the Sisters he sold them to Holy Rosary for $1,700.
After twenty-eight years as pastor of Holy Rosary Church, Fr. Marchetti was transferred to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel R. C. Church in Allentown, PA. His successor, Rev. Leonard T. Miconi, was appointed pastor of Holy Rosary on April 26, 1938, by His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia. Rev. Leonard T. Miconi took possession of the Parish on April 29, 1938.
Rev. Leonard T. Miconi
The Rev. Leonard T. Miconi was born in Reana del Roiale, in the Province of Udine, Italy, on Oct. 9, 1897. He attended the schools of Rovigo and Verona and later lived in nearby Vergnacco. After attending public schools and college, he went into the Italian Army in World War I. At the conclusion of his ecclesiastical studies, he was ordained on April 15, 1922 by the Archbishop of Udine, Antonio Anastasio Rossi. For ten years, Father Miconi served in his original Archdiocese where he founded the Parish of Magredis in the Province of Udine in 1924. In 1932, he came to the United States, where he served as Pastor in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania and in Allentown before coming to Holy Rosary Parish.
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 more worthy of divine worship and more comfortable for the faithful. In that same year an automatic heating system was installed.
Remodeled Chapel at 240 Franklin Street
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 21, 1939 when it was solemnly rededicated.
On Sunday, April 14, 1940 at a parish meeting at the Spartaco’s Hall, the first new Church campaign was launched with a motto of courage and determination, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” The first drive lasted only four months during which $11,999.95 were collected. The amount, although far from the goal, was very encouraging, if one considers the difficulties determined by the critical conditions of the time.
At this time another concern arose: the old Rectory at 208 W. Green Street was too small to accommodate the clergy, the size of which had increased in order to serve the growing congregation. It was realized that the Chapel at 240 Franklin Street - almost one mile away from the Rectory - was the real center of parish activities and therefore it was more convenient for the clergy and people to have an office closer at hand. A resolution was then drawn up and a new property, located at 46 South Third Street (which later became the site of the new church), was purchased for $4,200 on July 19. It was converted into a modern rectory and solemnly blessed on September 12, 1940 by Bishop Hugh Lamb, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.
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. In order to enhance the Sanctuary of the chapel at 240 Franklin Street a new Alter dedicated to St. Joseph was erected. Improvements to the main Alter included two angel statues, one on each side, plus new linoleum covering the Sanctuary and the aisles. Among the improvements to the parish buildings were the installation of the chimes and the paving of the sidewalk in front of the school. The original mortgage of $1,983.72 for the old Rectory at 208 West Green Street was finally paid off.
On April 27, 1941 a parish meeting took place on the school grounds and a second church campaign was launched.
Another noteworthy event of 1941 was Holy Rosary Day, held at Carsonia Park on Sunday, August 10. The festival was intended to interest the youth in the parish movement and to draw more enthusiastic cooperation for the church campaign. Appropriately, New York Yankee baseball star Joe DiMaggio graciously made an appearance for this event. The star baseball player left advice for the youth, “There are three good rules to follow for the boy who wants to become a professional ball player. These are: (1) clean living, (2) hard work and (3) willingness to take advice from older people.”
The second campaign came to a close at the end of May, 1942 with a total amount of $13,000. It had been another success, despite the fact that it had been hindered by war conditions.
In 1942 the old Rectory at 208 West Green Street was remodeled in 1942 and converted into apartments. The Convent at 238 Franklin Street was also renovated and furnished that year.
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, after careful study, the northwest comer at the intersection of two main city streets, Third and Franklin, was purchased for the site of the new church. It was practical to buy three properties that would amount to an area of 60 by 170 feet, including the new Rectory. The contracts were settled and the grounds were legally ceded to the Parish on the following dates: 237 Franklin Street, May 14; 239 Franklin Street, June 30; 44 South Third Street, August 27. To complete the plans and to be ready for eventual transfers, it was thought best to also acquire the property situated at 110 South Third Street. This transaction took place August 30. The sum total of the newly acquired estate, including the rectory with relative improvements, amounted to the considerable figure of $29,300.
Site of the new Church of the Holy Rosary. Northwest corner of Third and Franklin Streets
In 1943, after thirty-nine years, the Parish paid off its debt which amounted to over $11,000.00. To this seemingly endless litany of improvements and repairs to parish properties the following items were added: the decoration of the altars, an automatic stoker and the school playgrounds.
Plans for the new church and rectory were announced in 1949. The rectory was built at a cost of $65,000. In order to clear a site for the new church, it was decided to build the rectory on the premises of 237-239 Franklin Street. The Romanesque style rectory was constructed or Port Deposit granite, trimmed in Indiana limestone. Dedication of the newly-completed rectory and ground-breaking ceremonies for a new church were held on Sunday, August 20, 1950 at 3:30 o’clock. The rectory was blessed by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Leo Gregory Fink, V. F., dean of Lehigh and Northampton counties, a native of Reading. At the ground-breaking ceremonies for the new church the first spadeful of earth was turned by the Rev. Leonard Miconi.
New Rectory - 1950
The new church, 57 wide and 130 feet long, would be built on the northwest corner of Third and Franklin Streets, fronting on South Third Street. Demolition of the old buildings started immediately, but an unstable party wall on an adjacent building, court litigations, labor strikes, and difficulty in obtaining steel delayed the start of construction. The church finally began to take form by the fall of 1952.
Construction of the Steel Frame of the New Holy Rosary Church
On June 28, 1953, with impressive traditional ceremonies, the cornerstone was laid by the Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas F. McNally, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and who was delegated by Archbishop O’Hara to represent him at the opening of the New Holy Rosary Church. This ceremony was followed by a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving at the New Church celebrated by the Monsignor Luigi G. Ligutti, Executive Director of the National Rural Life Conference and official representative of the Holy See at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
New Church of Holy Rosary, 1953
Sanctuary of the New Church of Holy Rosary, 1953
The interior of the church is a credit to Father Miconi, who had visited his native Italy and there selected the various types of marble that would be used. He succeeded in bringing the Italian artists to Reading to supervise personally the installation of the rich-looking marble. Pietro Rizzotti and his son of Artegna, Italy had traveled from Italy in 1950 on a steamship with sixty-seven tons of seven types of marble.
The main Altar in the Sanctuary is surmounted by a white marble crucifix, having as a background a panel of unique mahogany colored marble from the quarries of Verzegnis, Italy.
There are two Altars on either side of the Sanctuary. The one on the left is dedicated to Saint Joseph and the one on the right to Saint Mary. Both contain fine marble statues representing those to whom they are dedicated. The statues are of Carrara marble encased in two niches of red-brown Verzegnis marble, trimmed with golden Cipollino marble.
The church has twenty stained-glass windows on the main floor, all but the rearmost two pairs of which corresponded to the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary then in use (the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries). A large, impressive triple window adorns the rear wall of the New Church at the level of the Choir Loft. The central window depicts Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. The left one bears the inscription “Ave Maria” (Hail Mary) above a Rosary, and the right one “Pater Noster” (Our Father) above a Rosary.
The church, built on a slight elevation, presents a majestic facade which features the traditional sturdy arched entrance, surmounted by a graceful limestone cross resting upon the peak of the gable. Instead of the usual rose window, there is a triple choir window framed in Indiana limestone, set above three large oak entrance doors, which forms the exterior central motive and accentuates the vertical lines of the facade. The roof is covered with Italian day tile and the gutters and rain conductors are of copper. The window frames are of aluminum.
After the completion of the new church the remodeling of the school started. Prior to the remodeling, classes had been conducted upstairs in classrooms with outdated desks and faded blackboards. Classes were afterward conducted on the first floor in large, light, airy rooms. Each of the four classrooms had all the latest educational equipment, including modem blackboards, desks, tile flooring, large cloak-closets and non-glare lighting.
On October 3, 1954, the Parish celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The Parish was honored with the presence of Archbishop O’Hara, who officially dedicated the New Church. A huge crowd took part in this festivity and heard many congratulatory messages read from high Church and civil authorities, among which were the Apostolic Delegate, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pennsylvania Governor John S. Fine. Because the large crowd would have packed the New Church, provisions were also made so that the celebration could be seen over WHUM-TV. This telecast was the first of its kind in the region. Archbishop O’Hara offered to Father Miconi his heartiest congratulations for his great achievements and pointed out the appropriateness of the dedication and Golden Jubilee during the Marian Year.
Following the Fiftieth Anniversary, the rebuilding and remodeling of the original Church at Schuylkill Avenue and Green Street (hereinafter referred to as the “Chapel” or “Mission Chapel”) took place. It was time to partially demolish and reconstruct this faltering structure. Accordingly, the north end of the edifice was razed, thereby making room for parking.
On September 21, 1957, the parishioners of Holy Rosary honored Father Miconi with a testimonial dinner on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of his priesthood. The Right Reverend Monsignor John V. Tolino hailed the Holy Rosary Pastor’s “vigor, zeal, and devotion.” The Rev. Otto Toffolini of St. Paul Parish, Philadelphia, lauded Father Miconi personally and for his work as a priest.
On Jan. 28, 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 on May 12, 1963 by Pope John XXIII. The appointment was announced at a Mass celebrating his 25th Anniversary as Pastor of Holy Rosary.
On this very same day, Holy Rosary Parish also observed another first in its history: the dedication of the “New Bells.” The bells, which had been cast in the Netherlands, were installed in the belfry of the Main Church. The first bell bears a Latin inscription which is translated as, “In Memoriam to Paul J. Patti, 1921-1961” and then “Joseph, Bishop of Allentown.” The second bell has inscribed in Latin, “VOX ET VOTA FIDELIUM HUJUS ITALICAE PAROECIAE ET PAROCHI LEO T. MICONI. VOX MEA VOX SALUTATIONIS PIETATIS ET AMORIS” (The voice and prayers of the faithful of this Italian parish and its pastor Leo T. Miconi. My voice is the voice of salvation, mercy and love). The third bell also bears a Latin inscription: “GLORIA ET LAUS DEO NOBIS AUTEM VENIA ETSALUS” (Glory and praise to God and to us pardon and salvation).
At the completion of the school year in 1968, Holy Rosary Grade School officially closed its doors to education because of the insufficient number of Sisters. This event was a blow that was hard for the parishioners to understand and accept.
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 on May 22, 1968.
From 1968-1972, Monsignor Miconi remained as Pastor in name and retired to a modest home in the Riverdale section of Reading where he engaged in hobbies such as writing, fishing, painting and inventing. In fact, he invented the Micone Machine, a coin-separating machine for which he received a U.S. patent.
On February 5, 1972, the Parish of Holy Rosary was saddened by the sudden death of its Pastor, Monsignor Miconi. The new administrator, the Reverend Felix A. Losito, celebrated Holy Mass for the repose of his soul on behalf of the people of the Parish. He was eulogized during the homily as a great benefactor and friend of the Italian community. Monsignor Miconi’s remains were interred in his beloved Italy.
On February 8, 1972, the Rev. Felix A. Losito, was appointed pastor of Holy Rosary.
Rev. Felix A. Losito
Rev. Felix A. Losito was born to Vincent and Jennie LaSalle Losito on May 7, 1931 in Wickatunk, Monmouth County, New Jersey. Vincent Losito moved his family to the suburbs of Philadelphia and rose from poverty to success through his mushroom farm. There, his son Felix attended Kennett Square public schools before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia on September 1, 1948. He was ordained to the holy priesthood on May 15, 1958 by Cardinal John O’Hara, Archbishop of Philadelphia, in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. On May 18, 1958, Father Losito celebrated his first Mass in thanksgiving to God before his parents, other relatives and parishioners of the Church of St. Patrick Church in Kennett Square.
Following his ordination, Father Losito served as Assistant Pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, Bethlehem for more than three years and at Holy Family, New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for six months before his appointment as Pastor of Immaculate Conception, Kelayres, Pennsylvania, where he served for six years. There, he was known as a beloved pastor and as a capable administrator who renovated both the Church and the Rectory, and as a dynamic leader in the community. Father Losito instilled fervor within the Italian community in Kelayres for God and the Parish.
In the fall of 1969, Father Losito oversaw the renovation of the Mission Chapel at Schuylkill Avenue and Green Street. It had become necessary to update the Chapel according to the liturgical norms of Vatican Council II. A group of dedicated men of the Parish, under the leadership of Santo “Sandy” Guido, donated their time and labor by installing paneled walls, suspended ceilings, carpeting, a new confessional, a new lavatory, spider-web tinted windows, a new lighting system, plus a new shrine to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and a side altar of repose for the Blessed Sacrament. The old altar was replaced with a wooden one in order to allow the Mass to be celebrated according to the liturgical norms of Vatican Council II.
With the completion of the renovations to the Mission Chapel, Father Losito officially concelebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving with Father Kelly and Father Masiar. The Reverend George F. Hazier, Associate Pastor of Sacred Heart in Allentown, delivered the homily. Following the Mass, a testimonial dinner was held June 21, 1970 at Stokesay Castle for the men who had worked at the Chapel. These men who gave of themselves for the Glory of God were honored by the parishioners in attendance.
In the fall of 1970, Father Losito announced to the people of Holy Rosary the need for a Shut-In Day. The shut-in visitation movement was sparked when Father Kelly, Associate Pastor, returned from a visit to a parishioner in a convalescent home. The woman who had been visited by the Associate Pastor explained to him that she had not seen any of her ten children in over a year-and-a-half. After hearing the story of this poor abandoned woman, Father Losito decided something had to be done “about this horrible cancerous loneliness that exists among some people” in our senior citizens’ homes. He therefore formed an executive committee for the newly established Shut-In Day with himself as chairman.
Father Losito’s motto for his shut-in visitation movement became “visit someone who cannot visit you.” The motto was inspired by the story of the Christmas Eve visit to Rome’s Regina Coeli Prison by Bl. Pope John XXIII. When asked by one of the surprised prisoners why the Holy Father would come to such a place, Pope John replied without the slightest hesitation, “You could not come to see me, so I came to see you.”
On October 18, 1970, Mayor Victor R. H. Yarnell officially proclaimed that Sunday to be “Shut-In Day” in the City of Reading and further urged each citizen to add some light to the emotional darkness of Reading’s shut-ins on this special day.
The young and energetic priest, not content to have Shut-In Day celebrated only locally, made contacts in February of 1971 to State Representatives Michael A. O’Pake and Russell J. LaMarca to introduce legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives establishing Shut-In Day on the third Sunday in October. Like an answer to a prayer, Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp signed a resolution in September of 1971 approved by both houses of the General Assembly, declaring Shut-In Day on a statewide basis.
At the federal level, a similar resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Gus Yatron and on August 7, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon established the third Sunday in October as National Shut-In Day, calling on the people to “visit at least one shut-in person on this special day.”
On October 22, 1972, at a banquet attended by about 400 persons at the Abraham Lincoln Motor Inn, Father Losito and Gov. Shapp praised the Shut-In Day movement that had emanated from Reading throughout the whole country. Father Losito was praised by the Governor who mentioned that the National Shut-In Day Founder had set a mark in this world, had brought the young and the old together, and had people working as a team. He added, “his work is beyond description and soon other states would follow the idea of honoring shut-ins.” Father Losito said, “we stand on the threshold of a day that will probably be celebrated by millions in the future.”
Since 2002, National Shut-in Day has been observed on February 11 in order to coincide with World Day of the Sick, a day proclaimed by Pope John Paul II.
By 1973, Father Losito noticed that the interior of the Main Church was showing signs of deterioration. He immediately called upon professional painters to decorate the walls of the interior of the Church with an egg-shell white coat of paint.
A significant change in the Main Church of Holy Rosary Parish took place in 1975. The Sanctuary was renovated in order to conform to the liturgical norms of Vatican Council II. Through the generosity of the parishioners, the renovations began with the removal of the former altar along with the two uppermost of the five steps leading to it. Father Losito made the best use of what he had by using the oak like marble wall panel from the original altar to erect the Crucifix against it. A new wooden altar was installed. The Altar is freestanding so that the priest can face the congregation when he celebrates Mass. Maintaining the Romanesque-type architectural style of the Church, a temple-style portico of columns with a pinnacle roof, modeled specifically after the Baptistery of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, was installed as the reredos. The fluted columns with graceful taper and ionic capitals resting on an Attic base give great strength and support to the large overhung roof.
Sanctuary of Holy Rosary, 2015
The side Altars have Roman-style semi-circular arches with smaller un-fluted Ionic columns added in order to give greater depth to the vault-style alcoves. Marble base columns taken from the original altar were used to support the new altar of repose - the resting place for the Tabernacle where the Divine Lord in the Holy Eucharist is always present for worship.
Saint Joseph Side Altar, 2015
Saint Mary Side Altar, 2015
Over the rest of the decade, the generous parishioners of Holy Rosary made donations to further adorn the Main Church. The Sanctuary was ornamented with gilding and each wall bears a golden inscription from Scripture: “Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you” and “I have called you by your name, you are mine” (both from Isaiah 43:1).
Later, a pair of wooden angel statues were hung on the wall behind the Sanctuary. Plaques containing the Ten Commandments were hung on the front wall of the Choir Loft.
After an eight-year absence of a parochial school at Holy Rosary Parish, Father Losito petitioned the Diocese of Allentown for permission to reopen its elementary school at 240 Franklin Street. After receiving approval, Father Losito expressed his idea for a new name for the school. It would be called “Cabrini Academy,” after the saintly Italian immigrant who had come to this country to attend to the needs of Italians, namely Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.
The school building, which had been marked for demolition by the Reading Redevelopment Authority, was spared when the Parish unveiled its plans to recondition it. The Lukens Construction Company was called to make improvements to the exterior of the building under the direction of Louis Masciotti, Jr., architect.
The Reverend Joseph A. DeSantis, Associate Pastor, was appointed to serve as its first principal. In September of 1976, Cabrini Academy opened its doors to twenty-one kindergarten students in a renovated room on the second floor of the building. Angela Bubbenmoyer was the first teacher. During the first school year, the Diocese had granted permission to add a first grade class the following school year.
Over time, Cabrini Academy added classes until it reached the goal of having first through eighth grade classes. A preschool was later added. Stella Leonti was the second principal.
On August 24, 1979 Cabrini Academy and Holy Rosary Parish were blessed with the arrival from the Parish of St. Anthony, Easton of the Daughters of Divine Zeal upon the invitation of Monsignor Losito, in order to help staff the school. The Sisters help with the school as well as the catechetical program. The Daughters of Divine Zeal (known by the Latin acronym “FDZ,” which stands for Filiarum -Divini Zeli) were founded in 1887 in Messina, Italy by Blessed Father Hannibal Maria Di Francia and Nazarena Majone.
Cabrini Academy & Daughters of Divine Zeal, 1979
The charism of this order is revealed by their Founder’s call to obey Christ’s command, “Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). The apostolate of this teaching order, therefore, is essentially catechetical. The Sisters vow to offer their lives as a prayerful oblation to God for the sanctification and increase of priests and religious and for the propagation of holy vocations. They fulfill their consecration through daily prayer, participation at Mass, office recitation, Rosary and personal prayers. The life and efforts of the Sisters are the means of leading the youth into personal contact with God through prayer, dialogue and Christian living. In 1994, the Order opened its national Formation Home, Hannibal House, located on Hill Road in Reading.
Sister Lucy Cassarino, FDZ served as the principal of Cabrini Academy from 1981-1997 and was succeeded by Sister Marita Olango, FDZ.
Cabrini Academy was certified by the Middle States Evaluation and Certification program in 1989 and received its accreditation in 1992 - the first school in the Diocese of Allentown to be accredited.
With its white stucco facade, ironwork and long portico, the school building gave a neo-Italian touch to the community. In fact, Cabrini Academy won the Architectural Achievement Award from the Reading Redevelopment Authority in 1977. The former Holy Rosary Convent at 236 Franklin Street was leveled so that a parking lot could be constructed with an entrance from Franklin Street and an exit onto Grape Street.
Holy Rosary Parish was bestowed a great honor in May of 1977 when Bishop McShea announced that Father Losito had been elevated to the dignity of an Honorary Prelate to His Holiness Pope Paul VI with the title of Reverend Monsignor. The investiture ceremony was conducted in the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena on Wednesday June 29, 1977, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles. In July, the Main Church overflowed with a throng of people as the newly-proclaimed Monsignor Losito offered a Mass of Thanksgiving with various members of the clergy and civil dignitaries present. Later, a testimonial dinner was held at Stokesay Castle with Church and civil authorities in attendance, as well Monsignor Losito’s family relatives and members of his former parishes. Holy Rosary parishioner Betty Garito and Mamie DeMarco were chairman and co-chairman, respectively of the dinner.
Monsignor Losito received the Fresh Air Fund Award of Merit in 1977 “in appreciation of outstanding effort on behalf of underprivileged children of New York City.” The following year, Meade Camp #16 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War named him the recipient of their Good Citizen Award “in recognition of his many contributions to the welfare of our community.” Also in 1978, a plaque was presented to Monsignor Losito and to the people of Holy Rosary Parish “in grateful recognition of generous service to the Hispanic Community of Berks County.”
In May of 1978, Monsignor Losito celebrated two major anniversaries: his twentieth as a priest and his tenth as Pastor of Holy Rosary.
Monsignor Losito convened the Parish Council in the spring of 1979 to discuss the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Parish. Plans were formulated for some renovations to the interior of the Main Church. After some careful assessment of the plans, a decision was made to wash the walls, install six chandeliers, refurbish the pews, install new kneelers, carpet the aisles and install an improved public address system at a cost of over $50,000.
Monsignor Losito selected a group of parishioners as the nucleus of the Diamond Jubilee Committee who would plan for a gala celebration in October of 1979. Officers were chosen, with William and Theresa Ciabattoni appointed the Chairpersons.
On October 14, 1979 Bishop McShea celebrated the Diamond Jubilee Pontifical Mass at 11:30 A.M. in the Main Church. The Knights of Columbus 4lh Degree Color Guard added to the beautiful pageantry during the procession and Holy Liturgy. The Offertory procession was enriched by the presence of the Cabrini Academy students and officers of the Diamond Jubilee Committee.
The second part of the celebration took place on October 28, 1979, when the parishioners participated in a gala dinner-dance banquet at Stokesay Castle and danced to the music of Sam Marabella’s Orchestra. Dinner music was provided by the Holy Rosary Guitar Group. The guest speaker was the Reverend Monsignor Peter J. Cavallucci, a native son of Holy Rosary Parish. City, state and federal officials plus several other clergymen and the Daughters of Divine Zeal attended the evening’s festivities.
Monsignor Losito celebrated two major anniversaries in May of 1983: his Silver Jubilee as a priest and his fifteenth anniversary as Pastor of Holy Rosary. A banquet was held in his honor at the Abraham Lincoln Motor Inn with the Reverend Dr. Robert Cofenas as the speaker.
The parishioners of Holy Rosary celebrated Monsignor Losito’s thirtieth jubilee as a priest and his twentieth anniversary at Holy Rosary at the Sunday Mass on March 20, 1988. The Mass was celebrated by Monsignor Losito. The Choir was led by its Director, Theresa Eaman. Citations from the U.S. Congress and Pennsylvania House and Senate were presented by Congressman Gus Yatron, State Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone and State Senator Michael A. O’Pake, respectively.
A reception followed at Holy Name High School. Sam Marabella’s Band, Stankey & the Cadets and Mariachi Pueblo provided the entertainment. The program book for the reception included a heartfelt letter from the parishioners to their pastor thanking God for his priesthood and his service as Pastor of Holy Rosary Parish. The touching letter notes the spiritual growth of the parishioners attributable to their pastor, expresses their love for him and invokes God’s blessings upon him. La Verne Calvaresi chaired the celebration committee.
In 1989, Monsignor Losito began writing a column in the A.D. Times, the Allentown Diocesan newspaper called “The Shut-in Corner.” In 1990, the Sanctuary was further ornamented when a railing featuring grape vines was installed on the walkway above it. It is made of hand-carved wood with overlaid gold leaf. The motif of gilding and grape vines was subsequently continued throughout the Sanctuary. A new pulpit, which reflected the motif, was added that same year. Two years later, the pews were renovated in order to be more congruous with the style of the Sanctuary.
In 1991, Monsignor Losito began writing a monthly column entitled “The Spiritual Corner,” which replaced “The Shut-in Corner” in the A.D. Times.
In 1992 a chapel was installed in the Holy Rosary Rectory, called the “Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Chapel.” The parishioners donated all the necessary items for its use and adornment, including hand-painted copies of El Greco paintings.
In 1993 a new tabernacle was installed in the Main Church. A model of the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City, Monsignor Losito explained that the Tabernacle was installed in order to complete the theme of the Sanctuary and also because “in our modern day, some of our homes are more beautiful than our Churches.” “Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence deserves the best that we can give Him.” The Tabernacle was built by Mark Yundt. Donations were solicited on behalf of the deceased for its installation.
A Prayer and Praise Mass, sponsored by the prayer groups of Berks County, was celebrated by Monsignor Losito at the Main Church on January 12, 1993. He led a Praise and Rosary at Alvemia College on May 11, 1993 and another Prayer and Praise Mass on August 8, 1995 at the Main Church.
The year 1994 was notable for a Parish renovation and beautification campaign. The interiors of the Main Church and Chapel were repainted and a ramp and new public address system were installed. At the Chapel, which was also repainted, new doors were installed as well as a new organ and new chapel sign, made by Salvatore Miccicke. The Church Hall was also beautified. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised through the generous contributions of the members of the Parish for this project.
The Holy Rosary Church Hall became the focus in 1996 of a renovation drive spearheaded by the Cabrini Academy Home and School Association to install acoustic tiles in order to improve the acoustics in the hall. Led by Michael Polyak, the volunteers donated their time and money to the project. Also that year, a new Sanctuary Lamp (hanging from the ceiling) was installed in the Sanctuary of the Main Church through the Memorial Fund offered in memory of our beloved deceased.
In 1997, Monsignor Losito wrote a book, Attaining Heroic Holiness Through Speech: “The St. James Master Plan.” It was the subject of a sermon on the Eternal Word Television Network.
In May of 1998 Monsignor Losito celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and his thirtieth anniversary as Pastor of Holy Rosary Parish.
In 1999, the necessity of replacing the thirty-one-year old organ at the Main Church provided another opportunity for the parishioners to demonstrate their generosity. Within a month, $35,000 was raised and a new organ was installed.
Monsignor Losito wrote a second book, Love is the Measure of All Holiness in 1999, a compilation of his articles in “The Spiritual Corner” of the A.D. Times.
That same year Monsignor Losito wrote a children’s book entitled Donato the Little Donkey. The book tells a story about a donkey named Donato that carried Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
During 1999, plans began for the celebration of the Centennial of Holy Rosary Parish in 2004. However, the plans had to be put on hold during Monsignor Losito’s prolonged illness and until after the Jubilee Year of 2000. The parishioners of Holy Rosary prayed to God for the recovery of their pastor and their prayers were answered favorably.
The Daughters of Divine Zeal celebrated their twentieth anniversary at Holy Rosary Parish with a dinner at Riveredge on December 28, 1999. The Sisters were overwhelmed with the outpouring of affection shown them and thanked Lisa Dobrzyn Geltz, Monsignor Losito and all the parishioners for making their celebration memorable.
In 2002, Monsignor Losito published his fourth book, Donato the Little Donkey II. This sequel tells how Donato the Donkey carried Mary and Joseph to find the child Jesus in the Temple.
In 2003 the Daughters of Divine Zeal celebrated their 50th anniversary of arrival in the United States.
Plans for the celebration of the Holy Rosary Parish Centennial were restarted in 2002 and a Centennial Committee was formed. Theresa Eaman, the Choir Director, chaired the Centennial Choir Tape Committee. The Holy Rosary Choir recorded a beautiful tape and compact disc featuring several hymns, some of which were in Italian. The selection included a number of Christmas hymns. Appropriately, the tape and compact disc were released in time for the Christmas 2002 season and heralded the beginning of the centennial celebration.
In preparation for the Holy Rosary Parish Centennial, beginning in October, the interior of the Main Church was repainted, its lights were restored and its pews refurbished. As always, the parishioners were generous in assisting this campaign through the dedication of memorial pews. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised for the renovation.
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.
Holy Rosary Centennial Banner, 2004
Monsignor Losito's fifth book, His Love is Unstoppable, was published in 2004. It is a compilation of his articles in “The Spiritual Corner” published in the A.D. Times since the publication of Love is the Measure of All Holiness.
On April 6, 2008, Cardinal Justin Kigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, made a rare visit to Berks County. About 600 Catholics gathered at Holy Rosary Church where Cardinal Justin Rigali presided over Mass and later met many worshippers in the parish hall.
Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, the school became known as the Cabrini Academy 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.
Under the co-directorship of Sister Marietta Castellano and Sister Evelyn Pascua - both members of the Daughters of Divine Zeal - Cabrini Academy Early Learning Center opened Aug. 30, 2010 to start a new era for the parish of Holy Rosary.
In the Spring of 2010 Holy Rosary Chapel at Schuylkill Ave. and West Green Street was sold to the congregation of God’s Worship and Praise Temple. The nondenominational church formerly rented the facility before purchasing the building for $130,000. The church also purchased an additional parcel of land at 457 Schuylkill Ave.
On Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, Monsignor Felix A. Losito was honored at a luncheon for shut-ins at Fairgrounds Square Mall, Muhlenberg Township marking the 40th anniversary of the National Shut-In Visitation Society, founded by Monsignor Felix A. Losito.
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 Felix A. Losito devoted his life to serving God by spreading the good news of salvation through Christ. Although his legacy of accomplishments are considerable, the greatest legacy of this exemplary priest is the faith he nurtured in his spiritual children.
The Reverend Monsignor Joseph A. DeSantis was appointed an interim administrator during Msgr. Losito's absence. After the death of Msgr. Losito, Monsignor Joseph A. DeSantis was appointed pastor.
At the end of the 2016 school year the Cabrini Academy Early Childhood Center closed its doors. The old school building in existence since 1868 was demolished in October, 2016.
Today Holy Rosary Church is composed of about 900 families of mostly European descent.
Cabrini Academy Demolition, October 2016
Holy Rosary Church