Development of the Catholic Faith in Berks County
History of St. Paul's Church, 1860 - 2017
On Sunday, May 24th, 1846, dedication services were held at the newly built Saint Peter's church. The congregation of the new church increased rapidly so that in 1854, there were said to be about 3,000 souls composed of about equal number of Irish, and Germans.
Racial difficulties began to appear and continued misunderstandings were in evidence between the Irish and the German congregation. The suggestion was offered to Bishop Neumann that a new church be built to accommodate the German speaking people.
In the beginning of May, 1860, Rev. Charles J. Schrader, a nephew of the Bishop of Hildesheim, Germany, was sent to Reading with instructions to build a new church there.
Rev. Charles J. Schrader
Father Schrader remained as assistant at St. Peter's to Rev. Francis O'Connor for a while, collecting his salary ($50 a month) from the German people. As soon as was practical, Father Schrader formulated plans for the new church which was to take care of the German speaking people. A suitable lot was offered by Anthony Felix, Sr., situated at Ninth and Walnut Streets. The Right Reverend Bishop Wood, successor to Bishop Neumann who died in the beginning of the year 1860, came to St. Peter's on Trinity Sunday of the year 1860, and asked the entire congregation to unite in helping form this new church. Just as the Irish and the German people had united in building St. Peter's Church, so in peace and harmony they were asked to unite in building the new church, which was to become Saint Paul's.
The beginning was made by Mr. Felix, who offered and gave the ground free. He himself collected a building fund and even helped in the process of digging the foundation August 8, 1860. The walls were put up so quickly that on September 6th of the same year, the cornerstone was placed.
Bishop Wood laid the cornerstone with the assistance of the Right Rev. John Henry Lauers, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne. The church was dedicated in 1861 by Bishop Wood.
The following is a copy of the first membership rule of St. Paul’s Parish made by its first pastor, Father Charles J. Schrader, April 25, 1864:
“Members of St. Paul’s Congregation in Reading are those who fulfill the following conditions:
They ought to have contributed towards the erection of St. Paul’s Church according to their means. No pew will be rented to those who have not contributed towards the church.
They ought to be pew-holders in said church, or if not, they have to contribute towards the expenses of the church, as it will be arranged by the Right Rev. Bishop of the Diocese himself or by the pastor.
Those who are really poor are free from contribution, but they have to give their names to the books of the church.
Those who are members under the conditions mentioned are authorized to ask the priest for his services; all others are excluded, if the priest does not choose to serve by his own free will.”
St. Paul's Parish before extensive renovation between 1919 and 1921 changed the face of the church. Among other changes, the high steeple was pulled down on Dec. 23, 1916. The rectory, since enlarged, is to the left of church. The school can be seen in rear. The small home on corner once was the residence of the church officer or employee who took care of the church property.
Interior of Original Church
Father Schrader served until his death in 1865, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Gerhard Wallmeyer. The Rev. Gerhard Wallmeyer served as rector long enough to establish a boys’ school in the church basement. In 1867 Father Wallmeyer died in an outbreak of typhoid fever. The vacancy, thus created, was filled by the appointment of the Rev. George Bornemann, who came to Reading February, 1867.
In 1869, Father Bornemann began the erection of a new school, which was completed in 1870. Meanwhile the parish had increased greatly, numbering about three thousand souls; and the school was opened with almost four hundred pupils. Father Bornemann was fortunate to secure, as teachers, the Sisters of Christian Charity who had come to America from Germany and established themselves at Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Original St. Paul's School
In 1869 the church was enlarged from sixty by one hundred feet to sixty by one hundred and sixty-two feet; and a steeple was erected to a height of about two hundred feet.
St. Paul's Church - May Day 1878
In 1872 Right Rev. Monsignor Bornemann, who in his fatherly sympathy had ever been most eager to relieve the wants of poor suffering humanity, purchased a suitable site for a hospital, a two-story brick building, surrounded by a vineyard and fruit trees known as the Vollmer Estate (formerly located on Walnut Street above Twelfth Street) at a cost of $10,000. The site was ideal, located on the mountain for breezes, with its own vineyard, fruit orchard, and spring.
In 1873 he founded St. Joseph’s Hospital, the first institution of its kind in Reading. Upon his request and with the consent of Most Rev. A. Wood, D.D., the Sisters of St. Francis assumed charge of this institution. The hospital accommodated six female and six male patients, with men on the first floor, and women on the second, and was dedicated to St. Joseph.
Original St. Joseph's Hospital - Twelfth and Walnut Streets - 1873
In 1882 Father Bornemann had a convent erected for the sisters of the parochial school.
During the years the parish had grown beyond the accommodations of the church; and the building was entirely reconstructed. It was dedicated by Archbishop Ryan, taking place in May, 1885.
Monsignor Bornemann enters St. Paul’s Church to celebrate its 25th Silver Anniversary - 1885
In 1889 Father Bornemann purchased several properties adjacent to the church along Ninth Street. He founded an orphanage for the boys and placed the institution in charge of the Sisters of Charity. Later it was found necessary to relieve the Sisters of the burden of the orphanage and Msgr. Bornemann introduced from Germany the Sacred Heart Sisters who were given charge and who later established their Motherhouse at Hyde Park, Reading, PA.
St. Paul's Convent and Boys Orphanage - Site of Present Day Parish Center and 1961 School
On June 22, 1890 Father Bornemann celebrated his Silver Jubilee in the priesthood at a Solemn Pontifical Mass and in the evening a reception was tendered him.
Interior of St. Paul’s during the Silver Jubilee of Monsignor Bornemann, June 22, 1890
A view of the Sanctuary of St. Paul's decorated for Monsignor Bornemann’s Silver Jubilee - June 22, 1890
In the following years Msgr. Bornemann accomplished many noteworthy deeds. He assisted in building the novitiate and orphanage for the Bernardine Sisters. In 1904 he purchased a church building at Schuylkill Avenue and Green St. and turned it over to the Holy Rosary Church. In 1913 at an individual cost of twenty thousand dollars he bought and renovated a former public school building at Third and Franklin Streets and also turned it over to the Holy Rosary Church.
Saint Michael's Seminary, Hyde Park, which was founded in 1894, as a boarding school for girls, under the provisions of the will of Henry Felix having sometime later been abandoned, was taken over by Father Bornemann in the interest of a further fight against the White Plague, and at a cost of thirty thousand dollars (furnished wholly by himself), he changed it into an admirable sanitorium for Tubercular members of religious orders. Later this building was turned over to the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
In 1895 Father Bornemann purchased a farm of fifty-two acres located in Muhlenburg Township. This he developed and improved, blessed the new ground as a burial place and gave it the name of Gethsemane Cemetery. At a cost of about twelve thousand dollars this burial place was made beautiful with many improvements. An elaborate gate marked the entrance; trees and shrubbery were added to make this last resting place of our beloved one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Reading.
Gethsemane Cemetery - 1915
As Gethsemane Cemetery was to become the burial place for practically all the Catholic parishes of Reading, Father Bornemann in his foresighted wisdom, procured additional farms surrounding the cemetery at a cost of about twenty-five thousand dollars. In his wisdom he knew that extensive ground would be needed in the future if it was to serve its purpose as a general burial place.
In 1910, upon the recommendation of Archbishop Ryan, Father Bornemann was elevated by His Holiness Pope Pius X, to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the privilege to wear the purple and with the title of Monsignor.
On Sunday, June 20, 1915, Msgr. Bornemann celebrated his Golden Jubilee in the priesthood, at which time Most Rev. E.F. Prendergast, Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, presided at the Solemn Mass of the Right Rev. Jubilarian.
Monsignor George Bornemann
Following the high mass, Msgr. Bornemann, with the assistant priests of St. Paul’s Church, were the hosts at a great dinner at the Hotel Berkshire, where, in the large ballroom, 200 guests, including a number of relatives of the Rev. Jubilarian, the priests, seminarians and leading members of St. Paul’s were entertained.
St. Paul’s Church - Rectory - Convent - Orphanage - Circa 1907 (200-foot bell tower and spire was struck by lightning and removed in July of 1916)
In 1916 the erection of a two-story brick annex to the parochial school building of St. Paul's Catholic Church was completed. The annex adjoined the school and was located in the rear of the church, facing Moss Street, between Washington and Walnut streets. The building was erected specifically for entertainment purposes. It contained two spacious halls on both floors with large platforms to be used for the meetings of the various Catholic societies, church entertainments and other special occasions.
The year 1917 marked the 50th anniversary of Msgr. Bornemann's rectorship of St. Paul's Church. Plans were made to fittingly commemorate the notable event. A meeting of the men of the parish was called. It was decided at this meeting to try to obtain, by free will offerings, a thousand dollars for each year that Msgr. Bornemann had labored in the parish. With this total of fifty thousand dollars it was the intention of the committee to suggest to Monsignor to place an entire new stone front on the church.
Msgr. Bornemann was delighted with the suggestion and said he had long ago planned to remodel the front of the church but had been unable to finance such a major undertaking. He spoke of putting a brick front on instead of stone because stone would so easily become dark with age while brick could always be painted. Monsignor further mentioned that on one of his recent visits to Germany he had seen, in a little village there, a church front that he would like to have for St. Paul's.
In 1919 work began on remodeling the front of St. Paul's Catholic Church. The old edifice was removed and replaced with a new brick edifice. The large and massive front, a tribute to Rt. Rev. Monsignor George Bornemannn was completed in 1921.
On March 3, 1924, Msgr. Bornemann, who was the beloved rector of St. Paul's for fifty-six years, was called to his eternal reward at the age of eighty-five. His death, attributed to ailments incidental to advanced age, came after a confining illness of several months. His death brought sorrow to the members of the parish and to all the City of Reading.
Msgr. Bornemann was buried March 8th, with a Solemn Requiem Mass at which Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, presided. Right Rev. Msgr. Peter Masson of Allentown spoke briefly after the Mass saying it was the wish of the departed that there be no sermon, but he urged the people to remember their late beloved Rector in their prayers. A wonderful tribute was paid to the late rector of St. Paul’s by the very large number of clergy and laity who attended the funeral. Thus closed the life of one who had “spent himself” in the interest of humanity, who had labored incessantly in the vineyard of the Lord. All that is mortal of Monsignor Bornemann rests today in beautiful Gethsemane Cemetery.
Rev. Theodore Hammeke was sent to Reading to succeed Msgr. Bornemann. Leaving St. Ignatius Parish, Philadelphia, where he labored for over twenty-five years, Father Hammeke assumed his pastoral duties at St. Paul's Parish, April 24, 1924. His first task was to take a complete census of the parish to ascertain the number of souls entrusted to his care. This census was completed the following year.
On September 15, 1924, celebrating the golden jubilee of their arrival in this country, the Sisters of Christian Charity, attached to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, assisted at a solemn high mass recited in their honor. Rev. Theodore Hammeke recited the mass and 500 children, students under instructions from the Sisters of the school partook of Holy Communion in their honor. Coincident with the local celebration, the diamond jubilee of the founding of the order in Europe was observed.
Towards the close of his life Msgr. Bornemann had intended to rebuild the orphanage, but due to his declining health, he had been unable to fulfill this desire. Accordingly, he left in his will for this purpose, approximately seventy thousand dollars. It was definitely stated in the will, however, that if it was seen fit to discontinue the orphanage, the money was to be used instead to build a memorial chapel in Gethsemane Cemetery.
Father Theodore Hammeke, after coming to St. Paul's continued to keep up the orphanage, but after a time it became apparent that the institution, which had been intended for the orphans of St. Paul's, was being crowded by the children of outside parishes. As a matter of fact, only a very small minority were from St. Paul's. Furthermore, children were being placed in the orphanage who were not legitimate subjects due to the separation of their parents. Thus, it was becoming an institution of convenience for children who were no orphans at all, but only the unfortunate off-spring of parents who wished to be relieved of the burden of their up-bringing. Father Hammeke was advised to discontinue the orphanage and arrange for the legitimate orphans to be placed in diocesan institutions. Thus, it was that the orphanage was closed and the buildings used for other activities of the parish.
Shortly after coming to St. Paul's, Father Theodore Hammeke saw the need of entirely reconstructing the rectory. At a considerable cost the entire interior was altered and modern plumbing installed. The front steps which led to the first floor were removed, and the flooring of the interior of the building changed so that the ground floor became the first floor and the upper stories remodeled accordingly. A central heating plant was built adjoining the school, to provide for the needs of the entire group of parochial buildings, the church, rectory, convent and the school.
It had been quite a few years since any improvement had been made to the church. Accordingly, on November 15, 1927, an Advisory Committee was formed to consider plans for the necessary improvements and alterations. Due to the fact that St. Paul's, by reason of its location in the business district, was becoming the central parish of Reading, it was found necessary to extensively remodel the entire structure to accommodate the increasing numbers attending divine services. Architect Freeman was asked to draw plans and Mr. Irvin Impink was placed in charge of the remodeling. Father Theodore Hammeke insisted that the complete project should not exceed the cost of one hundred thousand dollars. The loan for this work was obtained from the Reading National Bank.
On January 15, 1928, Mr. Impink began making the school hall ready for use as a temporary chapel, during the remodeling of the church. The pews, removed from the church, were placed in the hall, and in the evening volunteers of the men of the parish took St. Joseph’s altar to the hall to serve as the main altar there. A small motor-driven organ was procured by Mr. Honsberger and installed for use in the chapel. The Way of the Cross with the usual prayers recited at each station was canonically erected, the sanctuary prepared, and other things added so that on January 19, the Blessed Sacrament was carried to the temporary chapel, where all divine services were to be held during the alterations to the church. The Masses in church on Sunday had been at 6, 7:30, 9 and 10:30, but at the temporary chapel, they were changed to 6, 7:30, 8:15, 9:45 and 10:30, the extra Mass being necessary because of the smallness of the chapel.
Work now progressed rapidly in the church, but as so often happens in the remodeling of an old building, great defects and weak supports were discovered in the structure, which only became apparent during the course of alterations. Weakness was discovered in the roof truss and the floor supports. After consultation with the engineering experts, it was found necessary to strengthen the roof by iron girders. In order to save expense, it had been intended to put a new floor over the old one and to repair the tiling wherever necessary. But after close inspection, it was found that many of the floor joists were in such bad shape that they had to be replaced. Thus an entire new floor was laid.
When according to plans the organ gallery was shortened to provide full light from the windows of the church, it was found unsafe and the whole gallery had to be taken down. In November of the year 1927, under the direction of Mr. George Haage and upon the recommendation of the pastor’s Advisory Committee, the comparatively new organ of the Arcadia Theater was purchased for the church. After obtaining the organ, there arose the necessity of providing an appropriate place for it. The removal of the old organ had required the tearing down of the second story part of the old tower into which it had been built. The new organ was placed above this. The old cornerstone of 1860 was removed because it would have been entirely covered by the new addition. This proved a difficult task because it served as a basis for a pillar. The contents of the cornerstone were found to consist of a statement of its laying and some newspaper clippings which were moldy and hardly legible.
The original cornerstone now rests in the basement of the church approximately under the main altar.
On February 14, 1928, under the direction of Frank Walter, concrete foundations were laid for the new cloisters, which were built along the north and south sides of the church proper. Adjoining the northern cloister, modern lavatories were built as a convenience for the people. The Loeper Brothers began constructing the pews during the latter part of the month.
During the reconstruction of the church, Father Theodore Hammeke was continually supervising and inspecting the work and unfortunately, due to exposure and fatigue under the strenuous and tremendous undertaking, contracted pneumonia. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital where it became apparent that his earthly toil would soon be over. He lingered in illness for several days, until Sunday morning, May 13, 1928, when the sad news was given that he had passed to his eternal reward.
Rev. William Hammeke was buried May 18th, with a Solemn Requiem Mass presided over by Cardinal Dennis Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Two of Father Hammeke’s brothers, Rev. Father William Hammeke, of Mahanoy City and. Rev. Father Hubert Hammeke, of Philadelphia, were celebrant and deacon at the mass. A nephew, Rev. Father Aloysius Hammeke, of Minersville, was sub-deacon. Still another nephew, Rev, Father William Hammeke, of Washington, was master of ceremonies.
Rev. William Hammeke was sent to Reading to succeed his brother, Rev. Theodore Hammeke and to complete the extensive work that had begun. Father William Hammeke applied himself assiduously to the work that lay before him. He took it upon himself the burden of completing the remodeling of the church, and also made several valuable additions in refurbishing the interior. But the main burden that evolved upon him was the carrying of the immense loan which had been necessary for the work.
Before Father Theodore Hammeke’s death, it had already become apparent, that with all the unexpected additions and alterations, the entire construction work could not be kept within the one hundred thousand dollar limit. It had been planned to provide for the loan, which was obtained from the Reading National Bank, by popular subscription and under the leadership of a professional organization for providing funds. Meetings were held monthly in the hall, at which time members of the parish pledged themselves to subscribe various amounts for their part of paying the church debt. Unfortunately many of these pledges were not kept, and only about one half of the amount was realized, so that Father William Hammeke found himself facing the responsibility of carrying the huge loan. How Father Hammeke, with the help of the parish workers, reduced the debt is known to all the present members of the parish.
Work of alteration rapidly neared completion so that by November 1928 the newly remodeled church was again able to be used for divine services. Although the sanctuary was not quite completed, Sunday Masses were again celebrated in the, church, and fittingly Father William Hammeke offered the first Mass there for his late brother, Father Theodore Hammeke who had affected this beautiful change in the church structure.
The temporary chapel at Moss and Walnut Streets was vacated January 13th, 1929, and all the services thereafter were held in the new and beautiful church of St. Paul’s.
Sunday February 17, 1929 marked the official reopening of the newly renovated church and on this day. Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, blessed the new church and presided at the first Solemn Mass.
The task that now confronting Rev. William Hammeke was the repair and upkeep of the various parish buildings. For the past few years the remodeling of the church was such a tremendous undertaking, that neither time nor money could be devoted to other parish buildings. Thus the following year, Father William Hammeke began a systematic survey of all the parish properties and found practically all the buildings to be in need of immediate repair.
The first to claim his attention was the school building. Father Hammeke found that many improvements were necessary to make the classrooms modern and all new school benches were installed at a considerable cost. Throughout the entire building, new lavatories had to be built at a cost of about four thousand dollars. Shortly after, the entire interior of building was repainted, and the hall which had been used as the temporary chapel during the remodeling of the church, was refinished and redecorated, and new curtains and drapes added to the stage. The brick building was repointed and also the same year the exterior of the newly remodeled church repainted.
During the following years, improvements were made to the rectory, the convent and old orphanage. The rectory was repainted by the Heffner Mechanical Painting Co., and the old orphanage was turned into modern apartments to provide an income for defraying the high taxes on the property.
The Monsignor Bornemann Mausoleum in Gethsemane Cemetery was completed in 1930. A Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated by Father William Hammeke for the late Monsignor Bornemann, in whose memory the beautiful mausoleum had been erected. The bodies of Msgr. Bornemann and Father Theodore Hammeke, which had been buried in the cemetery, were transferred to the mausoleum where they now rest.
Bornemann Memorial Mausoleum in Gethsemane Cemetery, Laureldale, PA
In 1930, a corner section of the cemetery along the old Kutztown Road was acquired by Father Lanshe for the establishment of a new parish. The present Holy Guardian Angels Church is the development of that parish which provides for the spiritual care of the souls in and about Laureldale and Temple.
In the will of the late Mary Schmidt, a sum of money was bequeathed to the parish of St. Paul’s for the erection of Stations of the Cross in the Bornemann Memorial Chapel, in memory of the Leopold Schmidt family. These beautiful solid bronze stations were erected in the year 1932.
During this time Father William J. Hammeke saw the need of making further improvements to the already beautiful Gethsemane Cemetery. He placed, with the Wyomissing Development Co., a contract to grade the front section of the cemetery and to build modern roads throughout. Thus the open field, which had been undeveloped, was leveled off and marked into graves: New trees and shrubberies were added and the entire section made into a beautiful landscape.
The “Agony Group” was placed into the extreme northern portion of the development and made beautiful as a permanent shrine there. This tremendous work, occupying several years, necessitated the expenditure of over twenty-five thousand dollars, but we are proud that Gethsemane Cemetery is now a beautiful resting place for our departed loved ones.
On Monday, September 7th, 1936, the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of St. Paul’s parish was held with solemn services befitting this momentous occasion. As the church bells rang out joyously announcing the beginning of this solemn festival a procession emerged from the rectory. School children, in festive array headed the procession. Then came our altar boys in colorful cassocks and white surplices. Following closely were the priests from the surrounding parishes together with all the former assistants who had served at St. Paul’s parish. Immediately after came the priests who were native vocations from the parish and finally the ministers for the Solemn Mass with His Eminence Dennis Cardinal Dougherty and his chaplains.
As the procession entered the church, crowded with faithful members of the parish who were happy to take part in this memorable celebration, the “Ecce Sacerdos” was beautifully sung by the male choir of thirty-five voices under the direction of choir-master Mr. Raymond Wummer. Mr. Anthony Krug presided at the organ.
After passing up the center aisle the clergy assembled in and about the sanctuary where the Solemn Mass was celebrated. The sanctuary presented a beautiful picture with its altars banked high with flowers and adorned with many candles. On the Gospel side of the sanctuary a throne was erected at which His Eminence presided during the Solemn Mass.
Reverend William Hammeke, the present rector of St. Paul’s, was the celebrant of the Mass. Reverend Joseph I. Schade, S. T. L. was deacon, and the Reverend Scott A. Fasig was sub-deacon. Both Fathers Schade and Fasig are native sons of the parish whose vocations have been fostered in St. Paul’s. The Rev. Theo. C. Wagner, D.D. was Master of Ceremonies for the Mass. His Eminence, presiding on the throne, was attended by Right Rev. Monsignor Leo G. Fink and Right Rev. Monsignor Thomas S. McCarthy as chaplains. The Rev. Agustus Ganster, also a native vocation from the parish, was assistant priest at the Mass. Rev. Edward A. Devine was Master of Ceremonies to the Cardinal.
At the offertory of the Mass His Eminence, the Cardinal, addressed the people reviewing for them the wonderful history of St. Paul’s parish, and paid loving tribute to the priests and parishioners who had made possible this remarkable record. He spoke at length about the vast amount of good Monsignor Bornemann had accomplished, not only for the parish of St. Paul’s, but for many other parishes and institutions of the city. His Eminence praised the work of his successor Rev. Theodore Hammeke who had labored faithfully for the souls of the parish and whose short life at St. Paul’s had accomplished so much. The Cardinal then congratulated Father William Hammeke, the present rector, and complimented him upon the remarkable work he had done by practically removing the enormous debt which burdened the parish when he took charge. In conclusion His Eminence thanked the clergy and laity alike for the beautiful ceremony in which they were taking part to mark the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the parish.
Right Rev. Monsignor Leo G. Fink delivered the sermon for the occasion and spoke in detail of the excellent work that had been accomplished at St. Paul’s since its foundation seventy-five years ago. His address in both German and English was an eloquent tribute to the parish., and he said their’s was a record of which both priests and people could feel justly proud, and upon which God showered His choicest blessings.
At the last Gospel Father William Hammeke reviewed for the assembly a comprehensive summary of all the spiritual work accomplished. He mentioned the number of baptisms, weddings and funerals found recorded on the parish books, and also spoke of other parish activities. Father Hammeke thanked his Eminence the Cardinal for honoring St. Paul’s with his presence upon this occasion. He extended his heart-felt appreciation to the clergy who had gathered to do honor to the parish upon this memorable celebration, and then he extended his thanks to all the members of his flock for their many sacrifices in the interests of the parish of St. Paul’s. In conclusion he praised all those whose efforts had made so successful the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee.
St. Paul's Church - 1938
On Thursday, August 10, 1939, the Rev. William Hammeke celebrated his Golden Jubilee in the priesthood at a Solemn High Mass, with Father Hammeke as the celebrant. Two nephews assisted at the Mass. The Rev. Aloysius Hammeke, rector of the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Minersville, was the deacon, and the Rev. William Hammeke (nephew), of Manayunk, was the sub-deacon. The Rev. Charles L. Allwein, assistant rector of St. Paul's, was the master of ceremonies. More than 50 priests from various parts of the Philadelphia diocese attended the celebration.
During the same year, after a culmination of many years' effort, the Rev. William Hammeke, purchased the former "Bon Air" mansion of William H. Luden, at Hill road and Clymer street, and transformed the former home into a central high school. The name selected for the new high school was Bornemann Catholic High, in honor of the late Monsignor George Bornemann, who served as rector at St. Paul's for many years and was noted for his philanthropies to Catholics and Protestants alike. Prior to the opening of Bornemann Catholic High, the high school had been occupying quarters in the school building at St. Paul's Church, Moss and Walnut streets, of which the Rev. Charles A. Allwein was principal.
On September, 3, 1940, Bornemann Catholic High opened, with freshmen reporting for classes 8.30 o'clock, and the upper classmen reporting on Wednesday at the same time. Four courses were offered to students. They are the domestic science, general, academic and commercial courses.
On May 16, 1941, the cornerstone was laid for an addition of a $75,000 gymnasium for Bornemann Catholic High, in the presence of the student body of 180 children. The new addition also contained a cafeteria, locker and shower rooms and nine classrooms. Assembling after the noon lunch period, the students watched while the Rev. William Hammeke, rector of St. Paul's Catholic Church, blessed the stone with holy water.
On September 15, 1943, Father William J. Hammeke, in failing health, relinquished his active duties of directing the parish. Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, appointed Rev. John Wachter as administrator of the parish affairs. Fr. Hammeke received permission to set up a small chapel in a large room of his new residence at 1017 Elm St. so that he could celebrate Holy Mass.
On May 20, 1949, Father William J. Hammeke, at the age of 86, the oldest priest in point of age and service in the diocese, passed away from complications due to his advancing years, at his home, 1017 Elm St. His last public appearance was participation in the dedication of a new athletic field and stadium of the Central Catholic High School at St. Lawrence in May, 1948.
Rev. John N. Wachter, who was acting administrator of St. Paul's Catholic Church for the years between 1943 and 1949, was appointed irremovable rector to succeed the late Rev. William Hammeke. The appointment was made by Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese. The post of administrator was abolished. In addition to directing the affairs of the parish of 1,300 families comprising 4,000 persons, Father Wachter was placed in charge of supervision over Central Catholic High School, where 635 students were then attending classes, and St. Paul's Parochial School, which had almost 400 pupils. It was the second largest parish in Reading and Berks County at that time.
In 1952, Father Wachter was elevated to Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Rev. Monsignor. In 1954 Monsignor Wachter was named Secretary for the Diocesan Commission of Vigilance for the Faith.
On September 24, 1955 at the age of 67 Msgr. Wachter died suddenly. So well was he loved by both religious and laity that 25 Monsignors, 220 priests and 200 Nuns attended his Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass and over 10,000 persons viewed his remains lying in state in St. Paul's Church. It was said of him that, "Man's life can be divided into three parts; the past, the present and eternity.
In November of 1955, His Excellency Archbishop O'Hara appointed the Rev. Henry J. Huesman as permanent rector. On Sunday, June 15, 1958, in observance of his 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, the Rev. Henry J. Huesman, offered a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving. The Mass was celebrated at 10:30 a.m. in the parish church. The Rev. William A. Koenig was deacon and the Rev. Raphael C O'Brien, sub‑deacon. The sermon was given by the Rev. Anthony L Ostheimer, editor of the Catholic Standard and Times. Father Huesman was honored at a parish reception at 6 p.m. the same day in Rajah Temple.
In April 1961, Father Huesman was appointed the first superintendent of schools of the newly created Diocese of Allentown, comprising five counties and numbering 40,000 parochial school children and 1,200 teachers. He held that position until May 1970.
St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church observed its Centennial anniversary starting Sunday, Nov. 19, 1961, with cornerstone laying for a new parochial school, followed by a nine-day period of special religious services. The Most Rev. Joseph M. McShea, bishop of the newly created Allentown Diocese, who participated in the Nov. 19 cornerstone laying, celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass afterwards in the church and in the evening speak at a parish banquet in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel.
In preparation for the cornerstone laying for the new school, the cornerstone from the former 92 year-old school building was opened by Father Huesman. Three newspapers, two in the German language, were uncovered in a glass preserving jar. The papers, dated July 24, 1869, along with copies of the Reading Eagle, the Reading Times, the Catholic Standard and Times, a history of St. Paul's and a statement endorsed by the parish priests were replaced in the cornerstone of the new school on Sunday, Nov. 19, 1961. The former school building was demolished and the land used for a paved parking lot.
Cornerstone Laying for the New School - 1961
Father Huesman said the Centennial marks not only "100 years of service to God, but also, we feel, that it's been 100 years of service to the community. The parish has prepared thousands of school children for good citizenship."
Centennial Celebration Mass - 1961
School Building Fund Campaign - 1961
On March 17, 1963 the rank of monsignor was conferred on Father Huesman through Pope John XXIII. On June 24, 1973 Monsignor Huesman celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination into the priesthood. Nearly 350 persons attended a dinner-dance in the late afternoon at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. This followed a concelebrated Mass in St. Paul's Church, 151 N. 9th St. Msgr. Huesman was the celebrant and the concelebrants were the Rev. John George Pasura and the Rev. James Ward, both assistant pastors at the church. The Rev. Alfred R. Ott, pastor of St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church, Schuylkill Haven, was homolist, and the Rev. Mr. Joseph Shelonis Jr., of St. Paul's, the deacon.
On April 27, 1975 a concelebrated Mass was held to mark the 200th anniversary of the arrival in Reading of the Sisters of Christian Charity to be teachers in St. Paul’s parochial school.
On July 21, 1975 Monsignor Huesman, who suffered from coronary ills since 1970, was stricken while en route to his vacation home at Porter’s Lake in the Poconos. He was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital, Allentown and died later that day. He was 66 years old. A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on July 25, 1975 in St. Paul's Church for the Rev. Msgr. Henry J. Huesman. The Most Rev. Joseph McShea, bishop of the Allentown Roman Catholic Diocese, was the principal celebrant at the Mass. Bishop McShea said: “So often, Msgr. Huesman would ask. ‘What did you do for God today?’ He himself each day answered that by his zealous work as a priest - he did everything for God.”
Monsignor Huesman - ‘What did you do for God today?
On August 19, 1975, the Rev. Francis J. Fromholzer, a native of Chester, was named pastor at St. Paul’s.
On June 16, 1977, St. Paul's School, in existence for more than 100 years, closed its doors. "Low enrollment" was the reason given by the Rev. Francis J. Fromholzer, pastor. The school, grades one to eight, had only 89 pupils the year it closed. The building had ten classrooms, a parish hall (auditorium) and an office for the principal. The last eighth grade class graduated at 9 a.m. June 16.
On April 6, 1977, Rev. Francis J. Fromholzer was replaced by Rev. William E. Handges as pastor of St. Paul’s Church.
In 1981 the adjoining school building, no longer in use, was later leased to Prospectus, a rehabilitation and training center for adults with disabilities.
In 1983 the convent was replaced by a new parish center and chapel.
Chapel and Parish Center
In June 1985, Rev. William Handges was replaced by Rev. John P. Seitzinger as pastor of St. Paul’s Church. Rev. Seitzinger previously was secretary to Bishop Joseph McShea for 16 years.
In the 1990’s a sizable Southeast Asian Colony settled in northeast Reading, and nearing the year 2000 a large group of Hispanics/Latinos began attending church.
In 1997, Reverend Andrew Ulincy was named pastor.
In 2007, the vacated school building was leased to the B.C.I.U. (Berks County Intermediate Unit). In 2008, the entire interior of St. Paul’s was painted, redecorated, added air-conditioning and a central-axis golden tabernacle was installed. The project was financed by a parishioner who wished to remain anonymous. Another benefactor also financed the restoration and activation of nine bronze bells in the bell tower. The bells were retrofitted with electronic controlled mechanical striking mechanisms.
St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church observed its 150th anniversary with a Solemn High Mass on Sunday, July 11, 2010. Reverend Monsignor Alfred A. Schlert, Vicar General of the Diocese of Allentown, was the celebrant of the Mass. Afterwards a celebration banquet was held at Stokesay Castle.
150th Anniversary Celebration - Vietnamese Flower Girls
150th Anniversary Mass - 2010
In September 2010, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. DeSantis, was appointed Administrator of St. Paul’s Church. In June, 2011, Rev. Msgr. William T. Baker was named pastor. On June 9, 2012, the Rev. William T. Baker was replaced by Rev. George R. Winne as pastor of St. Paul’s Church. Rev. Winne was also serving as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Reading, PA. According to a diocesan spokesman, this was the first time parishes have shared a pastor.
In June, 2014 the Rev. Msgr. John J. Grabish was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Church and St. Paul’s Church. Before his appointment as pastor at St. Joseph's he was pastor of Sacred Heart in Allentown. Father Grabish was raised in the coal region town of St. Clair, a small “patch” neighborhood known as “Arnott’s Division.” Although his family was Catholic, he attended public grade schools in St. Clair. He attended Nativity B.V.M. High School, Pottsville (9th to 11th grades), and studied at St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook. He served his deacon internship at Kennedy House, Reading. Father Grabish, who is fluent in Spanish, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Joseph McShea, then the Bishop of Allentown, on Saturday, March 18, at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena, 18th and Turner streets, Allentown.
Description of Saint Paul's
The church of St. Paul, of Romanesque architectural design, is constructed of red brick with buttressed walls reinforced with steel throughout. The vestibule of the church is very large and extends the full width of the building. Concealed radiation, enclosed in marble casements, is an attractive, as well as practical feature. Three massive double oak doors give entrance directly from Ninth Street. At each end of the spacious vestibule, wide easy stairways lead to the gallery or choir loft, where pews are installed for additional worshipers who are unable to gain access to the church proper.
In the oak paneled gallery is located the organ which furnishes the music for divine services. An oak front casement screens the organ and louvers that control the tone volume (now removed). The large mission crucifix, formerly in the old church, is affixed to the center of the panel screening. Between the console and the organ, there is a large space which the choir occupies at High Mass.
From the vestibule, four marble steps lead directly into the main auditorium of the church. Immediately upon entrance, one is struck with the devotional atmosphere that prevails in the well lighted and beautiful church. The nave of the auditorium is fifty-five by one hundred and twelve feet, with high vaulted ceiling into which is constructed a gravity system of ventilation. The interior of the building is in high Renaissance, based on Pompeian. It belongs to the sixteenth century and typical prototypes of this style ornamentation are found in the Villa Madam outside Rome, by Raphael and Julio Romano. Also the Loggia, as well as several of the other rooms of the Vatican are also done in this design.
The aisles of the church are of generous width and are paved with flagstones of random size. Before the altar rail, the central aisle widens for a space of about six pews. This important feature allows the priest at the time of funeral Masses, to pass freely around the casket which is placed there. Its wide approach also permits free access to the altar when the people are approaching for Holy Communion. On both sides of the church emergency exits are provided, leading directly from individual vestibules into the convent and school yards respectively. The lighting facilities consist of bronze polychrome group fixtures.
The north and south sides of the auditorium are flanked with cloisters or alcoves, in which are located the various shrines and devotional groups. These cloisters are ten by sixty-five feet. At the extreme ends of both cloisters, handsome confessionals are built which permits the penitents to prepare and approach the Sacred Tribunal without disturbing the worshipers in the church proper.
The windows in the chapels and cloisters were made in the J.M. Kase studios, of New York City and Reading, and are beautiful in design and workmanship. The Chapels are well lighted by natural sunlight which is admitted by the attractive stained glass windows. An interesting feature is that the windows are on the level of the eye and are of an intimate type in contradistinction to the other windows in the nave of the church, which are a more imposing type. In the chapel on the Blessed Virgin’s side, the windows represent a few of the saintly women, who have contributed to church history through the ages. There are four main groups of windows, each group consisting of three separate casement windows. In a central panel of each window is a fairly large portrayal of a saint who dominated a certain era of church history. On either side of the central design is a slightly smaller figure of a saint who is usually associated with the central figure. We have the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven with St. Agatha and St. Ursula completing the group. Next comes St. Catherine of Sienna with St. Lucia and St. Margaret. The next central figure is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, accompanied by St. Agnes and St. Barbara. Coming down to recent times, we have the newest addition to the ranks of the saints, St. Theresa of the Little Flower with St. Cecilia and St. Catherine. In the vestibule, adjoining the chapel, are shown the two famous sisters St. Martha and St. Mary.
On St. Joseph’s side of the church, the male saints are represented. The central figures represent the four Evangelists, flanked on one, side by the four major Prophets, and on the other by the four Doctors of the Church. Thus each Evangelist is associated with a prophet who foretold many of his writings in the time of Our Lord, and on the other hand, he is also associated with one of the great Doctors of the Church who expounded the doctrines during the early period of Christianity. In the adjoining vestibule are represented the greatest of the Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul.
In addition to the figure subjects, there are many interesting features of symbolism generally recognized by Iconographers as being associated with that particular saint. In the windows occurring in the confessionals, the symbols of the Passion of Our Lord are used as being appropriate in connection with the sacrament of Penance. Thus, we have the lantern that was carried by the soldiers at the time of the betrayal by Judas, the Scourge, the Crown of Thorns, the Cross and the Ladder and the Lance and Sponge.
The windows of the church auditorium were made in Germany, around 1860. In the remodeling of the church, it was decided to use these windows, since they were memorial placed there by many old families of the church, and therefore bore historical significance in connection with the early days of the parish. Since stained glass, although fragile, is a material of surprising longevity, it was found that the glass was in good condition. Whenever any important pieces, such as faces or garments were found to be shattered, the old pieces were reproduced identically on new glass. The subjects of the windows are as follows: Epistle side- The Visitation, St. Paul preaching in Athens, The Presentation in the Temple, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Crowning with Thorns, The Crucifixion, The Ascension. The last window on this side contains two subjects: St. Dominic and Our Lord blessing the children.
Gospel Side- Annunciation, Pharaoh’s dream, The Nativity, Christ preaching to the doctors, The Scourging, Christ carrying the cross, The Resurrection. The last window on this side contains two subjects: The Apparition to St. Margaret Mary and the Holy Family at Nazareth. On the choir gallery are two very attractive windows representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Mary.
The nave is separated from the sanctuary by a Carrara Biancho Puro marble Communion rail, supported by columns of genuine Italian Brecia Viollette marble. The sanctuary floor and steps of approach are of Batticiano marble constructed in large rectangular blocks.
There are three altars in the spacious sanctuary, the main or high altar, the Blessed Virgin’s altar and St. Joseph’s altar. All plain marble parts of the altars are of Carrara Puro marble with carvings in bold relief. The supporting massive columns of the high altar are of the same genuine Italian Brecia Violette marble found in the columns of the altar rail. The statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph adorning the side altars are of first quality selected grade Bianco Puro marble. An interesting feature of the side altars is that they receive full natural light from overhead windows which are located directly above the altars. The sacristies are located directly behind the side altars, easily reached by an ambulatory which communicates one with the other, thus allowing free pass-age without entrance into the sanctuary. The oak wood work in the sanctuary conforms to the simple style of Romanesque architecture used throughout the church. The high sanctuary paneling forms the veredos of the imposing marble altar. Concealed doors framed in the panels give access to the sacristy. In the center above the high altar is a beautiful Venetian glass mosaic depicting Christ crucified. The balustrated tracing of the architecture and windows in the arched sanctuary ceiling are in light soft wood.
The sanctuary contains a very interesting group of windows. There are two large double windows in the Renaissance style with large cartouches bearing the symbols of the four Evangelists, In the circles of the tracery of these windows are represented the Papal Coat of Arms and the Diocesan Coat of Arms. There are also two circular windows in the sanctuary in which are found symbolic representatives of the Lamb of God and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, the latter being represented by seven doves.
St. Paul's Church Sanctuary - 1956
St. Paul's Church Auditorium - 2010
St. Paul's Church - 2010
St. Paul's Church Sanctuary - 2010
St. Paul's Church - 2010
St. Paul's Rectory - 2010
St. Paul's Rectory - 2016