Development of the Catholic Faith in Berks County

Sacred Heart Parish, West Reading


In 1916, the late Monsignor George Bornemann, pastor of St. Paul's Church in Reading secured a plot of ground at the southwest corner of Eighth and Hill Avenues in Wyomissing.

On July 8, 1917, His Excellency, Archbishop Edmund F. Prendergast of Philadelphia appointed Monsignor George Bornemann's nephew, the Reverend Charles J. Bornemann, as the first pastor of a new parish dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Sacred Heart Church was officially founded to provide for the spiritual needs of those Catholics, primarily of German descent, living west of the Schuylkill River. 

It was almost two years before a two-story church and school building was dedicated on the southwest corner of Eighth and Hill avenues in Wyomissing. In the interim, Bornemann and his parishioners celebrated Mass in the Wyomissing Town Hall at Penn Avenue and Wyomissing Boulevard.

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First Pastor (1917 - 1928)

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First Church - School Combination
(1919 - 1930)

On Sunday, July 7, 1919, a ceremony was held to dedicate the completed two-story combination church and school building. Archbishop Dougherty officiated at the dedication ceremony. He arrived in Reading at 10 a.m. and was met by a committee of clergyman from Reading and vicinity. The archbishop was conveyed in a touring car to the Wyomissing church. At the entrance of the edifice approximately 50 members of the Brotherhood of St Paul's Church and the Knights of Columbus of Reading, formed a line, headed by 15 members of the Knights of St. Kasimir, of St. Mary’s Church. These men acted as a guard of honor to the prelate. The knights were in full uniform and were in charge of Sergt. John Sakiewics.

The formal services began at 10:10, with every available seat in the spacious edifice filled. Many persons stood in the rear. Among those in attendance were distinguished laymen from various parishes in Reading.

Archbishop Dougherty was assisted at the dedication ceremony by Rt. Rev. Monsignor Peter Masson, of Allentown; Rev. Charles J Bornemann, rector of the Wyomissing parish; Father Wachter, of Pottstown; Rev. George P. Degnan, rector of St. Joseph’s, Reading, and Rev. John C. Daniels, of St. Paul's, Reading. Each side of the edifice on the exterior was blessed by Archbishop Dougherty.

Following the dedication a solemn high Mass was celebrated. Rev. J. Fuecher, of St. Michael’s, Hyde Park, was the celebrant; Father Wachter, deacon; Rev. Daniels, sub-deacon, and Rev. C. J. Bornemann, master of ceremonies. Archbishop Dougherty presided. Others seated in the sanctuary were Revs. G. P. Degnan, Adalbert Malusecki, of St. Mary’s Church; Rev. Anthony Landolfi, chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital; Rt. Rev. Mgr. George Bornemann of St. Paul’s; Rt. Rev. Mgr. Masson. Several other students from the same institution were acolytes.

A brief and interesting sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Joseph Corrigan, professor at St. Charles’ Seminary, Overbrook. In his opening remarks he complimented the rector of the new parish and those who were instrumental in its erection. He related how the membership of the parish grew from some 30 to more than 200 members. Father Corrigan asserted that with the erection of the Wyomissing Church another branch has been added to the tree of Catholicity. He declared that the Catholic Church was not faltering in her work but continuing to teach her gospel. After the mass benediction was pronounced by Father Wachter.

Splendid music was rendered by an augmented choir from the Wyo¬missing parish and St. Joseph's Church, of Reading. The soloists sang during the various parts of the mass. Raymond Wenger, choirmaster, directed the singers. Robert C Hencke, organist of St. Joseph's Church, presided at the organ.

The interior of the edifice was decorated appropriately for the occasion. The altars were exquisite. Huge palms rested in the rear of the main altar while beautiful rosebuds and carnations were arranged about the altar fixtures. Vases of roses reposed at the foot of the statues. The ceremonies closed with the rendition of two verses of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” by the entire audience.

Following the benediction 20 children of the parish were confirmed. Archbishop Dougherty delivered a brief address to the confirmants pro tem telling them it was essential to know what the sacrament of confirmation teaches. Twenty small boys and girls of the pariah were confirmed by the archbishop. He was assisted in the ceremony by Rev. Daniels and Rev. Bornemann, of the parish. The latter priest reminded the children of their confirmation names as the prelate blessed them with the sign of the cross. The boys wore blue suits while the girls were attired in pretty white dresses. The sponsors for the children stood in back of them with their hand on the right shoulder of the child, kneeling at the attar.

The Catholic population of the parish at this time was 180 souls.

The church and school building was used for both school and religious purposes. The church occupied the first floor, and a two-room school was on the second floor. To the rear of the classrooms, a small apartment provided living quarters for two Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first sessions of the school were held early in September of 1919 with an enrollment of approximately 100 pupils.

Since 1919, Sacred Heart has twice outgrown itself despite being subdivided on two occasions.

Around 1925, a dwelling was purchased at 106 South 7th Ave., West Reading as a convent for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to leave an apartment they occupied at the rear of the second-floor class-rooms on Hill Avenue.

In 1926, Father Bornemann initiated steps to secure a new site for the parish, due to the increasing industrial growth in the immediate area of the church - school building.

In June of 1928, the late Father John N. Wachter was appointed to succeed Father Bornemann as pastor of Sacred Heart.

On July 21, 1929 operations started on the erection of a two-story combination church and school building on Franklin Street between Seventh Avenue and Lake View drive, in West Reading.

The first Mass in the new building was celebrated on Palm Sunday, April 30, 1930.

On Sunday May 4, 1930 dedication services were held at the newly built combination church and school. The dedication ceremonies were presided over by Rt. Rev. Bishop Gerald P. O'Hara, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Philadelphia. The ceremonies were witnessed by a large number of laity as well as visiting clergy.

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Church - School Combination (1930)

The bishop arrived in Reading shortly after 10 o'clock and proceeded to the rectory at 917 Franklin Street, Wyomissing, where he was greeted by school children, who presented him with a basket of flowers and welcomed him to the city. It was his first official visit to Reading since his consecration on May 20. 1929. The children who presented the flowers were Misses Helen Boone, Virginia Gery and Isabella Buckley.

Following the blessing of the new two-story structure, the bishop presided at a solemn high mass. The celebrant was Rev. William A. Wachter, rector of St. Aloysius Church, Pottstown; Rev. John N. P. Fries, rector of St. Joseph's, Limeport deacon; Rev. Francis J. Karl, acting rector of St John's, Pottsville was sub-deacon. Rev. John N. Wachter, the rector, was master of ceremonies.

Rev. William Hammeke, rector of St. Paul's, and Rev. Thomas J. Harron, rector of St. Joseph's, were assistants to the bishop. Present in the sanctuary, not previously mentioned, was Rev. John W. Tunner, rector of St Mary's, Kutztown.

Bishop O'Hara delivered an instructive sermon in which he lauded the efforts of the pastor and the congregation in building the school. He stressed the need of a Catholic education for children. He also brought out that Catholics are not opposed to public schools, and have a high regard for the well-equipped schools and teachers, but feel that it is most important to keep the idea of God before the eyes and minds of children and for that reason schools are erected and conducted, sometimes at a great sacrifice.

Music for the mass was rendered by the choir, under the direction of Raymond J. Wenger. Miss Angela Haage presided at the organ. Wiegand's “Mass in Honor of St. Peter" was sung. The soloists during the mass were Joseph Swoboda and George D. Haage. At the offertory Carroll J. Buckley sang "Jesu Dulcis."

The new edifice was built at a cost of $175,000. The building was erected by the Wyomissing Development Company. It was built of native stone trimmed with Indiana limestone. The building had a chapel, five classrooms, library, kitchen and auditorium.

The building was designed in modernistic architecture, with old Tudor style running through it. Native stone formed the major portion of the exterior walls. The trim was of carved Indiana lime-stone.

Immediately to the rear of the spacious entrance was an auditorium, which had been transformed into a chapel to serve as such until the time a church was erected. The corridors were floored with terrazzo and had a salt glazed brick wainscoting. The auditorium and social hall had maple floors.

The school opened in the Fall of with an enrollment of 102 pupils.

The old two-story church and school in Wyomissing was purchased by the Wyomissing Development Company, together with the large plot of ground adjoining it. In return for the land and building, Rev. William A. Wachter, rector, received $50,000 and a half-square block of land.

In 1942, a building at 101-103 South Seventh Avenue in West Reading was purchased to serve as a rectory and the original rectory at 917 Franklin Street in Wyomissing was sold. Thus in the period of 25 years the parish founded in Wyomissing, was completely moved across Eighth Avenue into West Reading.

During this same year, a building at 104 South Seventh Avenue was purchased to enlarge the original convent at 106 South Seventh Avenue.

On September 15, 1943, Father Theodore C. Wagner was appointed as the third pastor of Sacred Heart parish, when Father Wachter was named administrator of St. Paul's in Reading.

Wagner, as ordained July 15, 1928, in Rome at the age of 23. Because he was not a year older, his ordination required a special dispensation.

Born in Treverton, Northumberland County, a son of the late Theodore A. and Mary (Beshel) Wagner, he attended public school in Treverton. He completed grammar schooling at All Saints parochial school in Bridesburg and then entered St. Joseph's College High School, Philadelphia. Wagner received the degree of doctor of sacred theol¬ogy in 1929 while in Rome and then returned to the United States where his first assignment was as an assistant pastor in St. Mary's parish, Manayunk. Three months later he was assigned as the first pastor of St. Elizabeth's parish in Pen Argyl with missions in St. Hoch's, West Bangor and St. Joseph's in Wind Gap.

By 1945, Wagner saw the parish grow to 632 families. In 1948, Sacred Heart was split for the first time with the formation of St. John Baptist de la Sale in Shillington. The loss of parishioners and school children was temporary. The 1950s provided the greatest expansion of parish history.

By 1953, school enrollment forced conversion of the auditorium into three additional classrooms. Three years later, there were 3,000 parishioners and 460 elementary school pupils.

In 1957, Wagner and his parishioners built a four-classroom wing, making Sacred Heart the largest parochial school in Berks County with 12 classrooms, staffed by eight nuns and four lay teachers.

On December 8, 1959, Rev. Msgr. Theodore C. Wagner was officially elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Monsignor.

The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Theodore C. Wagner received the rank during a ceremony conducted by Bishop Joseph Yuen, exiled Chinese prelate, before 600 persons.

The Pope made Msgr. Wagner a domestic prelate Oct. 26 and the Pope's proclamation was read at the ceremony by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph P. O'Donnell, rector of St. Peter's Church, 322 S. 5th St.

The vestments of the office were presented to Msgr. Wagner by Bishop Yuen before a, procession of priests, altar boys and the Knights of Columbus. The bishop recited the prayers of installation.

Immediately after the installation, Msgr. Wagner celebrated a Solemn High Mass. Assisting him were the Rev. Charles L. Allwein, rector of Most Blessed Sacrament Church, Bally, as deacon; the Rev. Reginald S. Billinger, a native of Reading and assistant rector of Holy Ghost Church, Bethlehem, as sub-deacon, and the Rev. Robert Coll, assistant rector of Sacred Heart Church, as master of ceremonies.

On July 24, 1960, ground was broken for the present church that now stands at Lakeview Drive and Franklin Street, West Reading. On Sunday May 13, 1962, a corner-stone laying ceremony was held for the new Church. The ceremony was conducted by the Most Rev. Lawrence F. Schott, auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg. Bishop Schott and other church officials then were accompanied by nearly 800 persons into the church for the dedication service and a Solemn Pontifical High Mass.

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Church (1962)

A parchment scroll, documenting the date of construction of the $750,000 edifice and containing the names of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities, was placed in the stone vault.

A century old liturgy giving the church episcopal blessing and authorization for its use for all liturgical functions was used in the dedication service.

Before the dedication on May 13, 1962, Sacred Heart became a part of the newly formed Allentown Diocese. That would not be the only change.

In June of 1965, a third of the parish - 475 families - would become members of the fledgling St. Ignatius of Loyola in Whitfield. Both parishes survived the additional debt incurred.

On April 23, 1978, Monsignor Theodore C. Wagner, celebrated his Golden Jubilee in the priesthood.

A jubilee Concelebrated Mass was held at the church, with Bishop Joseph McShea of the Allentown Diocese presiding.

The Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated by Wagner and two of his former classmates, Monsignor Reginald Billinger, pastor of Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church in Bethlehem, and Monsignor Thomas Kelly, retired pastor of St. Callistus Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia.

Both were classmates of Wagner at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook and at the North American College in Rome.

The homilist was the Rev. David Soderlund, pastor of St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church, Morgantown.

Bishop McShea, after communion, praised Wagner in his address to the congregation. He thanked Wagner for his years of service and his dedication to the priesthood and to the people. The Mass was attended by more than 900 persons.

In August 1978, Wagner was one of six priests chosen from the diocese to concelebrate a memorial Mass for Pope Paul VI in Allentown.

On June 20, 1979, Monsignor Theodore C. Wagner, 74, passed to his eternal reward. He died on the same date as his father who succumbed in 1908.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held on June 25 in Sacred Heart Church.

Rev. Alfred R. Ott was appointed as the fourth pastor of Sacred Heart parish.

A native of Philadelphia, Ott studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Merlon. He was ordained in 1960 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.

Ott served as assistant pastor at St. Paul Church Church, Reading, from 1960 to 1964. While there, he was associate chaplain for the Catholic Scouts of Berks County.

He served as assistant pastor at St. Anne Church, Bethlehem, from 1964 to 1971. Ott was administrator at St. Ambrose Church, Schuylkill Haven, from 1971 to 1973, and pastor there from 1973 to 1979.

In 1989 Rev. Alfred R. Ott was appointed pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. He was installed by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh at an 11:15 a.m. Mass on Sunday, June 11.

Rev. Alfred R. Ott’s tenure was highlighted by the construction of a Parish Center in 1983. The Parish Center serves as the rectory and its meeting rooms are named after the three pastors – Bornemann, Wachter and Wagner - whose early leadership is credited for the strength of today's parish.

Rev. Alfred R. Ott was succeeded by Rev. James J. Reichert, former pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, Whitehall. Reichert was an assistant at Sacred Heart from April 1971 to June 1973. Reichert, a native of Allentown, was a graduate of Allentown Central Catholic High School. He studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained in 1971.

On November 22, 1992 Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church celebrated its 75th anniversary at a solemn Pontifical High Mass. Bishop Thomas J. Welsh of the Allentown Diocese was the principal celebrant.

Joining Welsh was the Rev. James J. Reichert, and his assistants, the Revs. Edward S. Zemanik and Floyd Caesar. Reichert praised his parishioners for a legacy of faith commitment.

“Sacred Heart is known to be a parish people of faith, with a great commitment to education and youth,” he said. "Now with the celebration of its diamond jubilee, Sacred Heart parish has passed another milestone in the fulfillment of Christ's work.”

"Our parishioners can indeed look back with pride on what has been accomplished, and forward with enthusiasm at that which is yet to come, for God has indeed been good to us."

In 1994 the school underwent $1.75 million in renovations. Renovations included a computer room with 25 terminals; a fully equipped science laboratory; a new library; a language laboratory; and remodeled classrooms.

In 1997 Rev. James J. Reichert was elevated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the privilege to wear the purple and with the title of Monsignor.

In 2003 the Rev. Joseph A. DeSantis, former pastor of St. Vincent de Paul's, Minersville, came to Sacred Heart to replace Monsignor James J. Reichert, who was transferred to St. Rocco's, Martins Creek, Northampton County.

DeSantis was raised in Tower City, Schuylkill County. He prepared for the priesthood at both St. Charles and Mary Immaculate Seminary, Northampton. He was ordained in 1975.

DeSantis served at Holy Rosary, Reading, from 1975 to 1978. After two years at St. Anthony's, Easton, he taught at Non Dame High School, near Easton, for nine years. He then became vice principal of Pius X High School, Roseto, from 1989-98.

His first position as pastor was in Frackville and Maizeville, Schuylkill County, 1998 - 2001. He then moved to Minersville. He has served on several diocesan committees and was vicar forane for the South Schuylkill Deanery this past year.

In 2005 Pope John Paul II named Father DeSantis a Chaplain to His Holiness, with the title of Monsignor on March 10, 2005; he received papal honors on September 11, 2005 by His Excellency, Bishop Edward P. Cullen in the Cathedral Church of Saint Catharine of Siena.

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