The Parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Allentown began as a mission of Sacred Heart Parish from 1927 to 1928. Mass was celebrated over the then Levan’s Garage, a few blocks further down Washington Street from the current site. It was officially established as a parish in October 1928 by Cardinal Doughtery. Father Francis Walters was appointed the First Pastor & Founder. For the first year of the parish’s existence as its own entity, Fr. Walters lived in the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish. Mass was celebrated at Levan’s Garage and, after Christmas in 1928, the New Allen Theatre at New & Allen Sts. Mass was said every Sunday in the theater, free of charge, until building for the parish was built.
The current lot of land was purchased in the fall of 1928. The residence at 761 N. 11th St., across the street from the current rectory building, was purchased in the spring of 1929. This is where Fr. Walters moved into residence. He continued to live there until the church-school building was built in 1930. That building was dedicated in May 1931 by Bishop Gerald O’Hara, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.
The new church-school building became the home not only for the celebration of Mass and teaching the local children who first attended it, but also Fr. Walter’s residence. The new school started with just four classrooms. The Franciscan Sisters of Glen Riddle moved into the building on Washington St, where Fr. Walters had previously lived. For the next ten years, Fr. Walters lived in different parts of the church-school building until the present rectory was built in 1938. The present convent was built in 1948.
In 1955 a Parish Campaign was formally introduced to raise funds to build a larger church. Permission was granted in 1960 by Cardinal O’Hara. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the groundbreaking of our current church building was delayed until March 1962. The church building was built over the course of the next year. On Sunday, August 4, 1963, Bishop Joseph McShea, the first Bishop ofAllentown, came to our current church building to dedicate it for use as a Catholic Church in the Diocese of Allentown. Once our current church building was erected and dedicated, the church-school building was used as only our parish’s school.
In 1970, after the retirement of Fr. Walters, Monsignor (then Fr) David Morrison was appointed the 2nd pastor of our Parish. He was appointed as a Prelate of His Holiness with the title of Reverend Monsignor in 1971. St. Francis continued to grow throughout the years. In 1987, Monsignor Dennis Rigney was appointed the 3rd pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. That same year, the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel was dedicated on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Four years later in October, Bishop Thomas Welsh approved that our Parish’s chapel be a location of the Solemn Exposition and Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Unfortunately, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, who had resided at our parish since the 30s were reassigned as our convent had to close. The former convent was converted to the Parish Center in 1993.
By 1996, we began the first phase our Faith in Our Future fundraising campaign for the erection of an addition to the church building, which would ultimately be the current Parish Center Office. 1997 proved to be a year of growth for the parish, as it saw the excavation begin for the new parish addition, the purchase of the Hess Garage/Warehouse at 11th & Cedar Streets, which was demolished for a future parking lot, and the Tree of Life, which hangs on the North wall of the main vestibule of the new addition, was delivered. The following June, an open house of the new parish addition was held. In August of 1998, Bishop Welsh celebrated a Sunday Mass and dedicated and blessed the new addition.
Since the new addition, all the offices for the Parish staff have been moved to the current Parish Center. In 2002, Msgr. Rigney resigned as pastor due to health reasons and Monsignor Thomas Benestad was appointed as our 4th pastor. He oversaw the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Francis of Assisi parish. In 2005, Father Martin Kern was appointed pastor. In his time as pastor, he had a Daily Mass Chapel created from a meeting room between the rectory and sacristy, and had ornamental organ pipes put in place in the sanctuary on either side of the St. Francis mosaic. In 2009, Monsignor David James became the pastor of St. Francis Parish. Previously in residence at the parish, he was familiar with the parish and its people, and was able to remain our pastor until 2011. In that short time, he had much work to oversee – the fixing of the steam pipe for the heating system of the school building and the merging of our school with St. Paul’s and St. Catherine’s.
In June of 2011, our current pastor, Monsignor Victor Finelli, came back to our parish for the third time. (He was here as a seminarian and as an assistant.) Since he began, he has done many aesthetic changes to the parish, has pushed for a beautification of the church grounds, and continues to aim for growth and advancement in all things regarding parish life. He had new murals of our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, painted and installed on the two front walls of the sanctuary, had the entire church repainted, obtained new stations of the cross, a new tabernacle, and many other items that enhanced the beauty of our Church. He also started and finished a Capital Campaign for the renovation of our Church Hall. The renovation was concluded in March 2017, with approval by the parish and the Diocese of Allentown. He also saw the 50th anniversary celebration of the dedication of the current church building and has even celebrated his 25th Priestly Jubilee with the parish.
The rest is history, as they say. We continue to look toward the future, as a parish, as the Body of Christ, as one community of faithful. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)