Johnstown, PA
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Johnstown, PA
CHURCH OF THE VISITATION OF THE BVM

In the early 1920s many new homes were being built and the population of the Osborne and Roxbury sections (Eighth Ward) of the City of Johnstown was growing rapidly. Many of these new residents were Catholic and thus members of St. Patrick Parish in Moxham which also included the Eighth Ward.

As the number of Catholics in the area continued to grow, it was evident that a new parish was needed to serve this section of town.

Therefore, in 1926 a self-appointed group of Catholic laymen carried a petition to the Most Reverent John J. McCort, Bishop of Altoona, requesting his consideration, cooperation, and support in this ambitious project. The result of this effort was the establishment of the Visitation Parish.

On January 10th, 1927, Bishop McCort separated a section from St. Patrick and founded a new parish. He placed it under the patronage of our Blessed Mother by naming it "The Church of The Visitation of The Blessed Virgin Mary" and he named as the first pastor Reverend Father James B. Hebron, S.T.B.

The first Mass of the newly founded parish was celebrated in the basement of the Catholic High School on Osborne Street on Sunday, January 26th, 1927. Weekday Masses were celebrated in the parish house at 1136 Edson Avenue. This house was rented from Mr. Ralph Cooper to provide a residence for Father Hebron, and one of the rooms was consecrated by Bishop McCort for use as a chapel.

Immediately, Father Hebron set about organizing his parish and building his church. Within the first few weeks, the property at the upper end of McKinley Avenue was purchased for $25,000.oo and plans were immediately made for erection of the church building and rectory. The foundations were laid in early spring of 1927 and work progressed rapidly during the summer. The new frame church was consecrated by Bishop McCort on October 16th, 1927 and shortly thereafter the rectory was also completed. The approximate cost of construction for both buildings was $40,000.00

For the next eleven years, the parish proceeded to reduce its debt and it became a way of community life under the fond pastorship of Father Hebron. Then, in 1938, Father Hebron had architect Raymond M. Marlier of Pittsburgh design a major remodeling of the church building. Work proceeded the same year and the building was encased in brick and two small wings were added on each side at a cost of about $13,000.00 The next year, the brick bell tower was added and paid for by special collection and fund drive.

In October, 1943, the last payment was made on the parish debt. In only sixteen years, through some of the worst years of the depression, a new parish was established, built, and paid for.

In 1946, the house at 1099 McKinley Avenue was acquired for use as a convent and later used as a parish activities building.

On Friday morning, January 15th, 1951, Father James Hebron met an untimely death in an auto accident. He was sixty-three years old and was on his way to attend the funeral of his friend Father James A. Tolan in Tyrone, PA when God called him.

Bishop Guilfoyle appointed Father Thomas T. Cawley to take over the duties as pastor, after an intern period of about two months during which Father Faber Malloy served as administrator. At the time of his appointment, Father Cawley was principal of Johnstown Catholic High School, a post which he had held for more than twenty-eight years.

In December, 1953, ground was broken for construction of the Visitation Grade School and was completed and furnished in 12954 at a cost of more than $220,000.00

In 1965, construction began on the auditorium, gymnasium, and cafeteria addition to the school and was completed and furnished the following year at a cost of more than $175,000.00

On January 12th, 1968, a catastrophic fire consumed the church. It was a total loss and a major disaster. However, by the grace of God, the new addition to the school was available and it became the temporary church.

Immediately after the fire, Msgr. Cawley began planning a new church. He appointed a building committee of men with experience in construction. This committee interviewed several architects and contracted the firm of Alfred D. Reid and Associates of Pittsburgh to design a new church. After many hundreds of hours of meetings and reviewing six completely different proposed plans, the church as you see it today was decided upon.

However, in order to build this church, it was necessary to utilize more land than the destroyed fire had taken. So, a major renovating project was undertaken on the six unit apartment building owned by the parish at 1127 McKinley Avenue. The building was converted into a modern rectory - administration building and administration offices and consultation rooms, living quarters for four priests, and separate housekeeper's quarters, and basement meeting rooms. The project included completely new plumbing, heating, and electrical systems at a total cost of less than $40,000.00

After everything was moved into the new quarters, the old rectory was demolished and land was made available to begin construction of the new church. Ground was broken on June 17th, 1969 and on June 21st, 1970 the new Church was being dedicated and consecrated by the Most Reverend James J. Hogan, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown. The new edifice was built at a cost of about $550,000.00.

For the next ten years Msgr. Cawley served as pastor for the church and on January 30th, 1980 died at the age of .

On March 6th, 1980 Reverend A.J. Bechtold was named third pastor of Visitation where he served until illness forced him to resign in November of 1987. During the interim period, Fr. Michael Becker served as administrator until the appointment of Reverend Martin D. McCamley as the fourth pastor, which took effect on June 9th, 1988.

An extensive parish plant improvement program was begun which included the re-roofing and painting of all buildings, updating and installing of air conditioning in all buildings, extensive landscaping, outside lighting of the entire plant, replacement of concrete stairs and walks. In the Church, improvements were the refurbishing of bronze doors and entrances, installation of gas heat, improvements to the lighting system, PA system, and organ, repair of the three bell system, installation of a new Carillon, sealing of brick and stone work, repairs to windows, and cleaning and restoration of the Sanctuary Mural.

The vacant and mostly unused school building was converted to a Parish Activities Center: new outside doors, new lighting, heating system updated, Terrazo floored auditorium/gym, new kitchen equipment supplying dining hall, new telephone system, new emergency lighting system and new generator and emergency lighting system installed. This building included the Visitation Preschool, which was started in September, 1990, a ministries room, music room, and card room

The corner property adjacent to the Rectory was purchased and developed into a parking plaza. The activities center court yard was developed into the Good Shepherd Prayer Plaza with landscaping, paving stone walkways, benches, and lighting.

Summer 1926 A group of Catholic laymen petitioned Bishop John H. McCort to establish a new parish in the Eighth Ward, Roxbury area
December, 1926 Father James B. Hebron officially appointed Pastor of the new parish in a letter from Bishop McCort.
January 10, 1927 Father Hebron took up residence in the parish.
January 16, 1927 First Sunday Mass celebrated in the basement of Catholic High School.
January 16, 1927 First Baptism in Parish - Eugene McGreehan - in St. John Gualbert Church, where all infants were baptized before October 16, 1927.
February, 1927 First funeral of a parishioner - Gerald Soner - held in St. John Gualbert Church.
June, 1927 Construction of the Church was started.
June 14, 1927 First marriage - Isaac E. Ripple & Helen Finnerty - Ceremony took place in St. Patricks.
October 16, 1927 Church was dedicated by Bishop John J. McCort.
October 16, 1927 First Baptism in original church building - William Higgins.
March 9, 1928 Stations of the Cross blessed by Bishop McCort.
October 22, 1928 Bishop McCort administered the Sacrament of Confirmation for the first time in the parish.
November 8, 1928 Father Hebron moved into the rectory that was built next to the church - previously resided in the Ralph Cooper home on Edson Avenue.
August, 1938 Original church encase in brick and renovated, tower erected and bell installed.
October 30, 1938 Solemn blessing of remodeled church by Bishop Guilfoyle.
July, 1946 The house at 1099 McKinley Avenue was acquired for use as a convent.
January 11, 1951 Father Hebron was injured in an automobile accident while on his way to the funeral of Father James Tolan, Tyrone - died next day in Mercy Hospital, Altoona.
January 16, 1951 Bishop Richard T. Guilfoyle offered a Pontifical Funeral Mass for Father Hebron.
January 18, 1951 Father Faber Malloy appointed Administrator.
February 1, 1951 Father Thomas Cawley appointed as the second pastor.
February 6, 1951 Father Cawley reported for duty.
December 10, 1953 Ground was broken for new grade school. First step towards a new school. Joe Gorman and the late Bill O'Brien (his wife, Mae, was first President of the M other Seton Guild) approached Father Cawley and asked him to petition Bishop Guilfoyle. Builder - Crown Construction Company, Architect - Hunter, Campbell and Rae.
August 30, 1954 First classes convened. Taught by the Sisters of Charity.
May 17, 1956 School was officially blessed by Msgr. Richard Mullane, V.G.
April 5, 1958 George Griffith residence purchased for new convent.
July 13, 1965 Construction began on the auditorium-gymnasium and cafeteria addiction to the school. Builder - Gorman Construction Company.
November 25, 1967 Last wedding in old church building - Joseph T. Bischof & Carol Ann Stephens.
January 11, 1968 Last funeral in old church building - Elizabeth Hershey.
January 12, 1968 Original church destroyed by fire. For several months after this, Baptisms, weddings, and funerals were conferred in various neighboring churches until the late Hugh Curran donated a temporary baptismal font (value $750.00), which was used in the school hall until the new church was ready for occupancy.
January 14, 1968 First mass held in school hall, Father Richard Conti (Saint Gregory) furnished us with a portable altar.
October 24, 1968 Torr Construction Company starts remodeling apartment building for new rectory.
April 22, 1969 Moved into new rectory at 1127 McKinley Avenue.
May 16, 1969 Demolotion of old rectory started.
June 18, 1969 Ground officially broken for new church.
April 19, 1970 Laying of cornerstone for new church building - Msgr Cawley officiated.
June 21, 1970 Church dedicated by Bishop James J. Hogan.
January 30, 1980 Msgr. Cawley's death.
March 6, 1980 Reverend A.J. Bechtold appointed as the third pastor.
June, 1985 Total debt of $133,000.00 paid off.
September, 1986 Consolidation formed with St. Clements school to service children of Visitation.
March 29, 1987 Parish celebrated 60th anniversary.
November, 1987 Reverend A.J. Bechtold resigned due to an illness. Father Michael Becker served as administrator.
June 9, 1988 Reverend Martin D. McCamley appointed as the fourth pastor.
July 9, 1995 Reverend Martin Cingle appointed as the fifth pastor.
July 9, 2000 Reverend Richard Clark appointed as the sixth pastor.
July 14, 2004 Reverend Barry J. Baroni appointed as the seventh pastor.


December, 1926 Father James B. Hebron appointed first pastor
January 18, 1951 Father Faber Malloy appointed administrator.
February 1, 1951 Father Thomas Cawley appointed as the second pastor.
March 6, 1980 Reverend A.J. Bechtold appointed as the third pastor.
November, 1987 Father Michael Becker appointed administrator.
June 9, 1988 Reverend Martin D. McCamley appointed as the fourth pastor.
July 9, 1995 Reverend Martin Cingle appointed as the fifth pastor.
July 9, 2000 Reverend Richard Clark appointed as the sixth pastor.
July 14, 2004 Reverend Barry J. Baroni appointed as the seventh pastor.