Development of the Catholic Faith in Berks County
St. Mary's Church, Hamburg
One of fifty-eight churches founded by Saint John Neumann, then Bishop of Philadelphia, St. Mary traces its existence back to June 19, 1853, when Rev. Peter Carbon joined Bishop Neumann in the laying of the cornerstone for the 75 x 40 foot red brick and stone church. Prior to that, Catholics in Northern Berks county were served by "circuit rider" priests who traversed the area on horseback, usually coming from Bally or Reading.
At the time, the parish was officially known as Rosary B. V. M. No priest was assigned to the new church and, for the first several years, priests from St. Peter in Reading served St. Mary as a mission church.
In 1886, records indicate that "difficulties" (of an unknown nature) forced the closing of the church until it was rededicated on August 29, 1915 with the Right Reverend Monsignor Scott A. Fasig as Pastor.
The Right Reverend Monsignor George Bornemann, Pastor of St. Paul in Reading, engaged the services of the architect Fred Muhlenberg to place the original structure in "proper good condition." According to published reports at the time, Monsignor Bornemann paid for all expenses of the restoration, utilizing personal funds to do so.
In 1928, property was purchased at 508 Island Street in Hamburg to serve as the rectory for priests assigned to the parish. Prior to having a rectory, priests roomed in local hotels or later resided in a tenant house on State Street.
The 1940 edition of the Catholic Directory of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia described the boundaries of the parish which today make it one of the largest territorial parishes in the Allentown Diocese.
In the early fifties, Reverend Aloysius Schmid was named Administrator of St. Mary and during his tenure, the parish embarked on a series of projects that would literally transform its identity in the community. In 1955 land was purchased at the corner of State and North Fifth Street and plans were formulated to erect a parish hall. A sacristy and new exit were added on the east side of the church the same year. Bishop Joseph McShea, D. D., first Bishop of Allentown, officiated at the dedication of the hall on August 4, 1963.
In 1969 the parish consolidated its holdings by selling the present rectory and land and purchased a 5.1 acre property on East State Street. It was hoped the property could serve as a site for a new church. A stone house existed on the site and was used as rectory for priests assigned to the parish.
With continued growth of the parish and the emphasis on programs to meet the changing needs of the parishioners, it became clear this land was not sufficient to support the parish. On November 27, 1999, ground was broken for a new church on a 10 acre site on Walnut Rd. in Tilden Township. Edward P. Cullen, 3rd Bishop of Allentown, presided at the dedication of the new St. Mary Church on December 8, 2000, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A new rectory was constructed in the Fall of 2003 on the current Church grounds and blessed by Thomas Welsh, retired bishop or Allentown, on December 8, 2003. On that same day Bishop Welsh also officially opened the 150th jubilee year of the parish. A great milestone for the parish was realized in 2008. The parish campus now contains all parish facilities at one convenient location. On the feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th, our new religious education center was blessed and dedicated. The religious education center includes nine classrooms, a director's office, and a conference room. The new facility is connected to the church and serves as a bridge wing which leads to the new Ave Maria Social Hall. The Ave Maria Social Hall was blessed and first opened for public use on September 6th. The blessing was included as part of the introduction of the PREP students to the new education center and their first class. Following Mass, students and teachers processed from church to their new classrooms for their first session. After introductory activities in their new classrooms, the students joined their families and parishioners for refreshments and an open house of the entire new facility. The social hall is a full-sized facility with basketball and volleyball courts. It includes a stage, full-sized kitchen, bleachers, spacious lobby and rest rooms.