Churches of South Bethlehem

Churches of South Bethlehem, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (D)

Between 1880 and 1920, manufacturing companies in Bethlehem created an unprecedented demand for labor. Immigrant workers from Europe, Eastern Europe and Mexico changed the landscape of South Bethlehem with their housing, stores and churches. Every ethnic group founded a place for religious observance. This guide will usher you toward the discovery of these lovely churches of South Bethlehem.
Image Courtesy of Karen Samuels.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Churches of South Bethlehem
Guide Location: USA » Bethlehem
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Attractions: 18
Author: Karen M. Samuels
Author Bio: Karen M. Samuels is the author of four books on Pennsylvania history, a weekly history newspaper column and several history blogs. She earned an advanced degree in Local History from Oxford University. As a retired guidance counselor and art teacher, she believes travel should be educational as well as entertaining. Karen crafts her tours to be unique, surprising and fun.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Grace Evangelical and Reformed Church
  • Our Lady of Pompeii Church
  • St. Joseph's Chapel
  • St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • Holy Infancy Church
  • First Reformed Church
  • St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church
  • St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
  • St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • Packer Memorial Chapel
  • Saints Cyril and Methodius Church
  • Fritz Memorial United Methodist Church
  • University Parish of Holy Ghost
  • St. John Capistrano Roman Catholic Church
  • St. Stanislaus Polish Church
  • St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church
  • Cathedral Church of the Nativity
Grace Evangelical and Reformed Church

1) Grace Evangelical and Reformed Church

In 1908 a group of Fountain Hill citizens met in the basement of the old Electric Laundry building, located at Bishopthorpe and Cherokee Streets, to organize a new Evangelical and Reformed church. This would be the third church to organize in Fountain Hill. With the help of the Tohickon Reformed Church of Bucks County, the group was able to build their church within the year. In 1925, the congregation expanded the church, which is the building as we see it today. The congregation was renamed Grace Community United Church of Christ in 1965. The congregation closed the church in 2003 due to dwindling membership.

The Portuguese Evangelical Church purchased the property in 2006. The group, comprised of immigrants from Brazil and Portugal, had been renting spaces for twenty years previously. This group has spruced up the once vacant property to look beautiful, once again.
Our Lady of Pompeii Church

2) Our Lady of Pompeii Church

In the years leading up to World War I, Italians immigrated to the United States because of the high taxes and inflation in Italy. The new immigrants arrived in South Bethlehem for employment in masonry-related construction and building trades. They were the second largest immigrant group and entirely of the Roman Catholic faith. Subsequently they formed the first Italian Roman Catholic church, placing a cornerstone at Fourth and Hayes Streets in 1902. This first church was of modest size, built of brick with belfry, spire and cross. The builder was Benedict H. Birkel, the dominant church builder in South Bethlehem.

After the Diocese of Allentown closed the church in 2008 it was sold to the First Hispanic Baptist Church of Bethlehem in 2011. Although the new Baptist church found the stain glass windows and pews removed, they have made good use of the large space and parking lot. The new congregation is thrilled with this beautiful church filled with marble work.
St. Joseph's Chapel

3) St. Joseph's Chapel

Joseph and Anna Wharton, both Philadelphia Quakers founded the St. Joseph's Chapel in 1884 for the German immigrants working in the Lehigh Zinc Works.

At the time Saint Joseph's was built, its location was far from the center of town. Saint Joseph's Chapel was an Episcopal Mission built by J. S. Allam of South Bethlehem. It was completed by the winter of 1884. Ownership was transferred to the Church of Nativity in 1892. An addition to the building was added in 1897.

Greek immigrants, arriving in South Bethlehem in the early 1900s, sought to establish an Orthodox church. In December of 1917 this group purchased the building from Church of the Nativity. The Holy Bethel Pentecostal Church purchased the church in 1967. They continue as an active church that offers day and evening Sunday worship, Bible study groups and Sunday school.
St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church

4) St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church

In 1888, a small group of Evangelical Lutherans desired a church were sermons were given in English. Their current church, St. Peter's, only offered sermons in German. The next year the group built a small frame chapel on west Fourth Street and began holding services. A permanent building was designed in the Gothic style by A. W. Leh and built in 1895. The first chapel was moved to the rear of the lot and used for a Sunday school. The church was built of buff colored sandstone. An annex was added in 1927. With the church members moving to the north of the city in the 1950s, the congregation purchased a lot on William Penn Highway. A new church was built there in 1972 and services were discontinued at the Fourth Street church. The First Hispanic Evangelical Baptist Church formed in 1988 and purchased the building from St. Mark's. They in turn sold it to University Bible Fellowship Lehigh Chapter in 2011.
Holy Infancy Church

5) Holy Infancy Church

The Holy Infancy parish, formed in 1861, initially called themselves the Church of Nativity. They changed their name to Holy Infancy when the Episcopal Church of the Nativity was started in 1862. Holy Infancy was established as South Bethlehem’s first Roman Catholic church. When the building of the church was completed in November of 1864, it stood on the eastern edge of South Bethlehem, bordering undeveloped land. The church was built during the Civil War which may have influenced its unassuming appearance.

A much larger church was needed so the building of one was begun in 1882. It was a Gothic Revival design by the great ecclesiastical architect, Edwin Forrest Durang, who also designed the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Durang visited the construction site several times. The walls went up around the old church until it was time to demolish the older structure to continue building the new one. The church was built of Trenton sandstone and measured 147’ X 67’. The 196 feet tall steeple dominated the landscape. Above the alter, three paintings were installed, the center one, a 19' X 8' image of the crucifixion by renown fresco artist, Fillippo Costaginni. The other two by Philadelphia painter, F. Beraldi. The bell in the belfry was donated by the Moravians. This is an active church today.
First Reformed Church

6) First Reformed Church

German immigrants in South Bethlehem organized the First Reformed Church in 1867. Services were in German. It wasn't until 1871 when the small congregation opened their first church, a simple brick chapel. Soon they needed a larger building, as large numbers of German immigrants flocked to the Lehigh Valley. A new church was built in 1896 and designed by A. W. Leh. The once simple chapel now sported double towers with battlements, elaborate arch work, and topped with a whimsical display of spires and finials. The facade over the brick structure was in a Romanesque Revival, textured with projecting masonry and highlighted by a wheel window and opalescent stained glass. The cost of the new church was $20,000 or a half of a million in today's prices.

In 1958, the church merged with Grace Reformed Church of Fountain Hill and became known as First United Church of Christ. As former church members moved away from South Bethlehem a new population of immigrants moved in. In 2003, the congregation hired their first Latino pastor to accommodate their Spanish-speaking members.
St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church

7) St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church

Slovenian Catholics who came from the Prekmurje area of their country established St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in South Bethlehem in 1913. The church was built in 1914 for $80,000. It was known as "Windish Catholic Church" and the only such church in the United States. The church also served the Croatians and Slovenians bringing a total of 1500 members by the 1920s. Franciscan Priests led religious services in this church. The cornerstone was blessed in 1914 and the church was dedicated in 1917.

Since the 1950s the church has experienced a drop in membership due to parishioners moving away. In 2008, the Diocese of Allentown closed St. Joseph's parish. Their final mass was on July 13, 2008. Parishioners appealed their church’s closing to the Vatican and won a partial victory in 2011 that required the church be available for sacred purposes. However the rumors persist that the property has been sold to Lehigh University and is about to be turned into a parking lot for their students. Roman Kirn, the Slovenian ambassador to the United States, has been a guest at this church.
St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

8) St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

After the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, large numbers of blacks emigrated north from southern plantations. The blacks that came to Bethlehem found employment in the service industry. As early as the 1880s, black citizens met in private homes to worship. The first church to be organized by people of color, in the Lehigh Valley, was the St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The church incorporated in Northampton County in 1894 as Saint John's African Methodist Episcopal. The group worshiped in Laufer’s Hall at Third and New Streets and at the police station in the old market house, at Third and Adam Streets. Their first pastor, Rev. C.H. Brown directed the purchase of a property on Pawnee Street in 1901. He supervised the building of the small, sturdy stone structure, still in use today, for the sum of 600 dollars. A parsonage was built as an addition in 1922. Over the years twenty-eight pastors have served the congregation. Reverend Gracher L. Selby is the current pastor.
St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church

9) St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church

The St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in the spring of 1863 when Reverend A. T. Geissenhainer and a group of twenty German Lutherans worshipped in the private home of Philip and Catherine Maulburg. German was the primary language used in services well into the twentieth century. St. Peter’s was the first church built in South Bethlehem, in 1863-64. The growth of the membership of St. Peter’s corresponded with the rise in population of South Bethlehem. The zinc and iron companies, the railroad and other industries attracted new residents seeking jobs. By the 1870s, the membership had grown to 400 and the need for a larger facility became paramount. The 42 graves in the cemetery located behind the church were moved to the Fountain Hill Cemetery. The men of the congregation hand dug the basement, which today serves as a three quarter basketball court. The cornerstone for the new building was laid, next to the first church, on June 22, 1873. The new church, 42 X 71 feet and two stories high, was completed on May 4, 1879. St. Peter’s Church continues its commitment to the Southside community in a long list of programs such as the Meal Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Southside Ministries, and for the past eighty-five years the Campus Ministry with students from Lehigh University.
Packer Memorial Chapel

10) Packer Memorial Chapel

Packer Memorial Chapel was designed by Quaker architect Addison Hutton, in memory of the founder of Lehigh University, Asa Packer. His daughter, Mary Packer Cummings commissioned the building of the chapel in 1884. At the time the chapel was associated with the Church of the Nativity in South Bethlehem. The college dropped its association in 1896 when it sought state funds. It was considered one of the most beautiful college chapels in America. The style of the building is Victorian Gothic and was built using a local quartzite. It was trimmed with tan sandstone (Olive Dorchesterstone) imported from Nova Scotia. The windows were fitted with highly ornate stained glass. The roof was covered with Vermont red slate. The bell-tower was topped with an octagonal stone spire reaching 185 feet. Gargoyles and flying buttresses accentuated the tower structure. Lehigh University students, faculty, and staff helped to build the chapel, which was completed in 1886.

In 1911, the Alumni Association placed a statue of Packer in the chapel. A grave is also there, in the south wall, belonging to Joseph William Richards (1864 - 1921), a professor of engineering, and his wife Arna-Marie. Since 1911, during the first two weekends of May, thousands of Bach lovers from across the country arrive at the Packer Memorial Chapel to hear the Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Church

11) Saints Cyril and Methodius Church

In the late 1800s, the large influx of Catholic Slovaks to Bethlehem led to the organization of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. Architect A. W. Leh designed two churches for the congregation in 1891 and 1906. Both churches were located on a lot purchased from Lehigh University, along Thomas Street. Although the first church was small and simple in design, over 2,500 Eastern European Catholics attended the dedication of the cornerstone. This church was the first Slovak parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Within a decade a second church was needed due to the steady arrival of Slavic immigrants in Bethlehem. The men of the parish pledged $25,00 each and an additional $1 .00 per month was withdrawn from their paychecks at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to pay for construction. The men also dug the foundation of the new church. In 1906, the church was completed with a tall Gothic Revival facade and spire. The famous D’Ascenzo studios in Philadelphia crafted the stained glass. The first church was converted into a school.

In 2008, the Allentown Diocese closed the five churches of Our Lady of Pompeii, St. John Capistrano, St. Joseph, St. Stanislaus, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, and merged them to form Incarnation of Our Lord Church. The new congregation worships in the Ss. Cyril and Methodius building. The Diocese is selling the other four buildings.
Fritz Memorial United Methodist Church

12) Fritz Memorial United Methodist Church

Although there was a Methodist church on the north side of Bethlehem, Methodists living in South Bethlehem longed for a church closer to home. In 1891, John Fritz, the superintendent of the Bethlehem Iron Works, offered funds to the group to build a church at the corner of Packer and Montclair Avenues. His donation covered the entire cost of the church and served to honor his parents, George and Mary Fritz. Architect A. W. Leh was hired to design their church in Gothic Revival style and to include an auditorium, the only church of its kind in South Bethlehem. The church's floor plan utilized an auditorium as its center, to allow the space to be used as a lecture hall. Leh included an open bell turret and pointed arch work. An addition to the church was added during the 1950's.
University Parish of Holy Ghost

13) University Parish of Holy Ghost

The first European settlers of Bethlehem, founded in 1741, were of German extraction and were primarily Protestant. The German immigrants arriving in the second half of the nineteenth century were of the Catholic faith. Both groups fled from Germany to escape religious persecution. The German Catholics residing in South Bethlehem were dedicated to building a church close to home. The group purchased a lot on Carlton Avenue and erected a 20' x 80' brick chapel in 1886, initially known as St. Bernard. Saint Bernard was designed by L. S. Jacoby of Allentown and built by J. S. Allam of South Bethlehem. The first parochial school in South Bethlehem was established in the church. Less than ten years later the congregation outgrew the church and plans were made for a second larger church. However those plans were delayed to build a larger school in 1900, designed by architect A. W. Leh, which still stands today next to the church. In 1906, the cornerstone of the second church, also designed by A. W. Leh, was laid and was completed and dedicated in 1910. The interior of the church centered on a cruciform design in Romanesque style. The exterior, with its double towered facade and round arch work was a direct link to churches built in Germany, at the time. The stained glass windows were imported from Munich and installed in 1918 and 1919. In 2008, as part of the Diocesan consolidation of parishes, the parish is now referred to as the University Parish of Holy Ghost.
St. John Capistrano Roman Catholic Church

14) St. John Capistrano Roman Catholic Church

Twenty Hungarian Catholics in the South Bethlehem were interested in establishing their own church, in 1903. They purchased property at the southeast corner of Fourth and Hayes Streets and built a stone basement structure. The church was named St. John Capistrano. The growth of the parish was rapid with a membership reaching 2,000 in 1904. A new expanded church was built in 1910 with services held in the basement and a school and convent built above. A delegation of the Austria-Hungary consulate witnessed the consecration of this church. The celebration of the consecration was described in The Globe newspaper as "an exuberant ethno-religious celebration with sermons conducted in six languages."

Architect Joseph B. Jackson of New York City designed the second church with the central tower topped with an ogee shaped spire. This beautiful church displayed central European church architecture that would be familiar to the parishioners. The interior of the church is bright and airy. The dedication took place in 1922. The rectory was built in the same year. The Rev. Edward Bolez was the eighth and final pastor of St. John Capistrano church when it closed in July 2008 by order of the Allentown Diocese. Church parishioners lost their appeal to the Vatican to reopen their church in 2011. The church was sold in 2012 to Lehigh Valley Community Health Center.
St. Stanislaus Polish Church

15) St. Stanislaus Polish Church

By the 1880s there was a small Polish community established in South Bethlehem. By the end of the century, many more Poles arrived to work at Bethlehem Steel and other area mills. In 1905, 85 members of the St. Stanislaus Society, including Lithuanians and Greek Catholic Ruthenium members, purchased a lot on Hayes Street. It took three years to finish building the church. St. Stanislaus Polish Church is a moderate size brick building. The stone stairway, which was built in 1942, displays the gold painted statue of St. Stanislaus. Stanislaus (1030-1079) was one of the earliest native Polish bishops and the first native Polish saint. When the church was consecrated in 1909, there was a great parade through the streets of South Bethlehem. Representatives from each of the ethnic parishes joined the parade as it progressed past their church. Everyone wore the official dress of their parish and a mounted guard of seventeen lancers with decorated headgear led the elaborate procession. In 2008, the Allentown Diocese closed the church and sold it to a developer in 2012. The developer plans to build affordable housing in the church structure.
St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church

16) St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church

In 1910, immigrants from Slovenia, the Prekmurje region of Upper Hungary, organized a Lutheran church in South Bethlehem. Benedict Berkel , a local contractor, assisted the group in providing land and reasonable costs in building their church. The church was dedicated in 1916 with a great celebration. Services were given in the Windish language. The group initially worshipped in the completed basement on this site until the upper church was completed in March of 1916. The church strongly resembled the Lutheran churches of their homeland. The interior with its towering center pulpit and the exterior with its splayed spire and clock tower can be found in the old churches of modern day Slovenia. This is an active church today.
St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church

17) St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church

In 1911, a small group of Slovak Lutheran immigrants gathered to plan a church near their homes in South Bethlehem. Their efforts resulted in the founding of St. John the Baptist Evangelical Slovak Lutheran Church, now known as Concordia Lutheran Church. The group purchased a lot at Fourth and Duncan Streets and broke ground on August 6, 1911. The ministry was conducted in the Slovak language for the first 50 years. Initially the congregation worshipped in the basement of the unfinished church, which was dedicated on October 5, 1919. A great celebration took place upon the dedication of the new church with marching, music and ethnic attire. The day closed with a banquet where a collection was taken up for the Slovaks in Slovakia who then were suffering greatly during World War I.

The upper structure of the church was completed in 1930, with the formal dedication ceremony occurring on October 5, 1930. In 1971, the name of the church was changed to Concordia Lutheran Church. The name Concordia comes from the 16th- century Lutheran statement of faith, also known as The Book of Concord. The congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.
Cathedral Church of the Nativity

18) Cathedral Church of the Nativity

In June of 1863, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Pennsylvania recognized the efforts of a small group of Episcopalians to form a parish in South Bethlehem. As far back as 1854, visiting Episcopalian ministers came to preach to an eager handful of believers, in local hotel parlors of Bethlehem. William H. Sayre, Jr., provided the funds to rent the second floor of the Temperance Hall near Broad and New Streets for Episcopal Services, during the summer of 1855. Finally on May 6, 1862, in a meeting at Robert H. Sayre’s home, eight people decided it was the right time to start a parish and build a church. They selected an administrative committee to organize the church and the Church of the Nativity was born.

The corner stone for the church was laid on August 6, 1863. The church was erected 1864-65, but in use by the congregation by December of 1864. It was consecrated on the day of President Lincoln’s funeral, April 19, 1865. In May of 1876, the Church of the Nativity was elaborately painted in colors to emphasize its architectural details. The church was enlarged in 1888 and the parish house added in 1897. The bell tower, which stands approximately 85' tall, was added in 1899. At night, the illuminated Church of the Nativity makes a beautiful impression as one crosses the Hill-to Hill Bridge to Bethlehem.

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