History of St. John the Evangelist Parish
The first Catholic settlers arrived in Wayne County around 1826 drawn by the activities of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Missionary priests, first from New York and then from Philadelphia, served the area traveling great distances on horseback and on foot.
The expansion of the canal and its supporting industries in the 1840s created the need for a more permanent arrangement. In 1842, Carbondale was established as the center for the area. Resident pastor Rev. Henry Fitzsimmons traveled to Honesdale once a month. He built the first Catholic church here at a site adjacent to the present St. John the Evangelist Church. In 1845, Honesdale became a separate parish, St. John the Evangelist, with responsibilities including Hawley and northern missionary districts from Deposit to Port Jervis.
In 1847, the famine in Ireland created a great influx of immigrants to the area. Church records attest to the growth of the region. In 1851 alone, 293 baptisms were recorded. During this time, the Honesdale church was enlarged. In 1850, a church was built in Hawley.
By 1855, Rock Lake and Hawley had become separate parishes from Honesdale. The cornerstone of the present St. John the Evangelist Church was laid in 1876. The impressive Gothic structure is built of native bluestone and has undergone many renovations throughout the years, including the addition of a tower in 1953.
In 1853, Rt. Rev. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia, sent Rev. Caspar Meuller to Honesdale to establish St. Mary Magdalen Parish to serve the German families of the area. Mass was said in parishioners’ homes until 1854 when the parish purchased the old Grace Episcopal Church and moved it to a lot on 8th and Court Streets. April 13, 1856, marks the first visit of Rt. Rev. John Neumann to St. Mary Magdalen to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation.
Catholic education began in this part of Pennsylvania around 1858 when St. Mary Magdalen Parish established a school. Classes were held in a small one-room addition at the rear of the church. In 1859, St. Mary Magdalen Church, rectory, and school were destroyed by fire. The present church was built in 1860 and is thought to be one of the oldest stone Catholic churches in this part of the state. Classes were held in the basement of the church until a school was built on Church Street. It was run by the Sisters of Christian Charity until 1914 and was reopened in 1917 when the Sisters of Mercy came from Wilkes-Barre. The present Catholic Family Community Center (formerly St. Vincent’s School, and previously Honesdale Catholic School) building was dedicated in 1961.
St. Joseph Church was built in 1871 as a mission to the Rock Lake parish. During its early years, no regular Mass was scheduled. Upon arrival of the pastor from Rock Lake, parish youths set out on foot to spread the word that there would be a Mass the next day. Parishioners journeyed to church by wagon and by foot to spend the day at Mass and Confession. In 1944, St. Joseph was turned over to St. Mary Magdalen Parish and in 1947 the church became part of St. John the Evangelist Parish.
In 1968, with the impending retirement of two long-serving pastors and with the approval of the congregations, St. John the Evangelist Parish and St. Mary Magdalen Parish merged. St. John the Evangelist remains the parish church, St. Mary Magdalen is the chapel of convenience, and St. Joseph is the mission church.
St. Bernard’s Church was once part of the St. Philomena’s (now Queen of Peace) in Hawley, as a mission church since 1878. We know very little about an actual building in those early years. A wooden frame church, believed to be a catalog purchased structure was erected in 1924 at the site of the present church building.
For many years Beach Lake was a “destination vacation” area, with many resorts and boarding houses filled during the summer months with families from the cities. During these years, up until the early 1960’s, Beach Lake bustled and St. Bernard’s pews were filled, with three scheduled Sunday Masses each week during those summer months.
In 1968, St. Bernard’s and the former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church of White Mills formed a new parish, separate from Queen of Peace. The wooden church was raised and the building was constructed in 1978; part of the building rests on the former foundation. The foyer/entrance was upgraded in 2000.