Our Beloved Lebanon:
"Mithleek mab la'iy bi diny kilaa, ou mitil jamaleek ma khalak Allah!"
From 1880 to 1901, there were no official settlements of Kfarsghabiyi in America, so they attended Latin Rite churches wherever they lived.
From 1901 to 1916, they attended Mass at St. Bernard's, St. Joseph's, and St. Anthony's, which was a small chapel located above Gazzetta's garage on South Bank Street. It's priest, Father John Dario, was sent by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to administer to the Italian people and to build a church.
The Italians purchased 321 Lehigh Street, an old Jewish synagogue, and demolished it in 1915. With the help of the parishioners, the new St. Anthony's church was completed in 1916.
The Italians opened their church and their hearts to the Lebanese, including them in all church functions. Father Dario allowed them to hold devotions, novenas, and the Stations of the Cross in Arabic. The Immaculate Conception society was formed in 1925, with Anthony Sar as it's first president.
Father Dario also welcomed the Maronite priests: Father Korkemaz, the two Father Yazbecks and Msgr. Louis Zouwien, who made at least two visits a year to hear confessions.
In 12 short years, St. Anthony became too small for the growing Italian community, and plans for a new church, rectory and school were made. The site at 9th and Lehigh Streets was chosen and Father Haron invited the Lebanese to continue to be members of the church. Father George Zouwein administered to the Lebanese as a visiting priest.
In 1929 the Lebanese explored the possibility of purchasing the old St. Anthony's Church, 321 Lehigh Street.. A committee headed by John Boulous Sassine, John Jabour, Peter Shaheen, Jacob Yaoob Joseph, Joseph Francis Samia (Joe Sam), John Badway Karam, and Anthony Sar met with the Archbishop of Philadelphia. The price of the church was $18,000, a large sum of money during the depression; but with perseverance and patience, the Sassine committee visited Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Utica, Newark, Philadelphia, and Providence, R.I., and soon the down payment was realized.
While closing costs were in progress, the Archbishop sent Father Emmanuel El-Khoury, who stayed with us a short time. He performed the first marriage between Joseph Baurkot and Genevieve Baurkot on October 26, 1930.
On April 1, 1931, permission was received to open the church and rename it Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. Rev. Francis Lahood, our first Pastor, said the first Mass on April 1, 1931.
The first baptisms were twin girls, Elizabeth and Esther born to Msayheeya and John Karma Simon, on April 19, 1931. The first marriage, after the dedication of the church was between Joseph Peter Isaac and Catherine Elias Canone on September 4, 1931. The first confirmation was administered to Luke Shaheen on May 13, 1932 by Bishop O'Hara of Philadelphia, and the first funeral was Margaret Sar Young on April 2, 1931.
Our church would not be complete without the generosity of the late Susie Unis Lahood, who refurbished the hall; and to the late Minnette Abel for her gifts of the baptismal font, (which is still in use today), for the altar linens, the statues, and monetary gifts.
Father Lahood was instrumental in teaching the Arabic Mass, Hymns, and devotions to the newly formed choir. He remained with us until April 1933. He returned unofficially to build the two side altars, which he replaced with marble.
Father Lawrence Birgmanos, a Latin priest stayed with us until Father Hanna Nehme came in 1933.
Father Nehme continued to teach the Arabic singing of the Mass. In 1934, he formed the St. Theresa's Sodality with Geraldine Burkot Boulous as its first president. The Sodality has always been active in the church and the "right arm" of the priests who came later. The Immaculate Conception Society was dissolved in 1935. Father Nehme left in 1936.
Father Ignatius Sayegh came in 1936. He was a dedicated priest and served the parish well. He died in 1941.
Our next pastor was a Latin priest, Father William Magee. He adapted well to the Maronite customs; and the choir adapted well to the singing of the Latin Mass. Maronite priests visited frequently from Philadelphia, New York and Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Father approved Haflis and Mahrajans. He started May Processions with Dorothy Karam Mawad as the first May Queen. He burned the mortgage on the church. His comfort to all during the war years will always be remembered. Father placed American flags on the altar-one for each soldier; as each soldier came back safely, a special Mass of Thanksgiving was said, and a flag was removed from the altar. One flag will always remain there - the one for Airman Charles Laholdt, who died somewhere over Europe in 1944.
A testimonial dinner was given father Magee on May 30, 1952 by the parish and friends just before he was transferred.
In May 1952, Father Norman S. Peter, came to us from the Diocese of Buffalo. His parents were Maronite, and Father was ordained in the Latin rite. Father Peter was taught the Maronite mass in English phonetics by Rev. Joseph Solomon of Scranton, PA. Archbishop O'Hara of Philadelphia obtained permission from Rome for Father to also celebrate the Maronite Mass; thus he became the first American-born Lebanese priest of the Latin rite to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in two rites; Latin and Maronite. Merhej Sassine assisted father in the celebration of the Maronite Mass.
In the twenty years Father Peter served us, he made many innovations. The envelope system of collection was started; the choir was taught the Jinnazz and Bukhoor hymns; 323 Lehigh Street was purchased; the rectory was extended; a youth center was opened for the M.Y.O; a kitchen and bar were added to the church hall.
In the flood of 1955, the Blessed Sacrament was removed to St. Bernard's church for safekeeping. A Holy Name Society was formed; also a St. Theresa's Junior Sodality. Also, Father Peter celebrated his Silver Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood.
Changes to the liturgy were made at the Second Vatican council; the Maronite Mass was to be said in English as well as Arabic. On March 9, 1966, an Exarchate was formed in North America with his excellency Bishop Francis M. Zayek as its head. Our Lady of Lebanon then came under the jurisdiction of the Exarchate.
In 1966, the mortgage for 323 Lehigh street was burned.
In 1969, when the redevelopment authority demolished the church on Lehigh street, Our Lady of Lebanon was relocated to 4th and Ferry streets, and the rectory to 54 South 4th street.
On January 5, 1969 the first baptisms in the new church were twin boys, Thomas and Timothy, born to Rita Isaac and Gerald Colver. The first marriage was between Joseph Canone and Judith Briener on June 7, 1969. The first funeral was for Margaret Najeeb Herbert.
Father Peter died on March 15, 1972.
From March 15 to September 1972, three priests served the parish, Rev. George Webby, Msgr. Peter Eid, and Rev. Jerome Pavlik, a Franciscan priest.
On March 22, 1972 the exarchate became the diocese of St. Maron, New York, U.S.A.
In September 1972, Father Bernard Khachan became our pastor. He conducted an active youth program; and formed an Arabic school. Plans were formulated and funds set aside for the expansion and development of the church. In October 1974, Father Khachan was transferred to San Antonio, Texas.
His successor was Rev. Hares D. Zogheib. During the six years Father Zogheib was with us, the church hosted the 13th NAM convention in October 1978. The parking lot adjacent to the church was purchased. On September 14, 1975, Anthony Koury was ordained a Sub-Deacon of the church by the Most Rev. Francis M. Zayek, Bishop of St. Maron's Diocese. Lebanese Heritage Days were started in 1978. Father celebrated his Silver Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood.
Father Zogheib was transferred to New Castle, PA. in January 1980.
Reverend Sami Hayek, came to us from New Castle, Pa. in January of 1980. He had the Sisters of St. Joseph teach the CCD classes; a youth Choir which sings the Maronite Mass in English. Heritage Day 1981 proved to be a most unifying experience for the life of the Parish; also, the Cedarettes, a Lebanese Folk Dance Group, was formed. Father Hayek had an active Advisory Board. Plans are in the offing for the renovation of the Church and Hall. We are looking forward to Our Lady of Lebanon's Golden Jubilee and Kfarsghabiyi's Centenary to America.
Since October of 1987, many events have taken place. All of
them center on the pride that the parishioners take in the fact that
they have a church and hail that is truly theirs and reflects their
Maronite Antiochene traditions.