Two Tamaqua houses of worship with a combined total of 284 years of service to the community will merge on July 1 into a new church known as St. John XXIII Parish.

Parishioners learned Saturday that SS. Peter and Paul Church and the Church of St. Jerome will be consolidated under one clergyman.

The Rev. William Linkchorst, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul's, advised parishioners Saturday he will retire. Linkchorst made the announcement during regular service.

"I'll be going back to my family home in Mahanoy City," Linkchorst said. "The people of Tamaqua are great. I enjoyed being here for 30 years."

Linkchorst became pastor in Tamaqua on Nov. 30, 1983. The Rev. John A. Frink serves as pastoral administrator at nearby St. Jerome's, arriving about two years ago.

Both buildings are expected to remain open. However, it's unclear if the two-building configuration will continue in the long term.

The Diocese of Allentown released a statement at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, saying "the time has come" for consolidation.

John XXIII was an Italian pope whose papacy ended in May 1963, with his death from peritonitis resulting from stomach cancer.

On July 5, 2013, Pope Francis approved Pope John XXIII for canonization, along with Pope John Paul II, without the traditional second miracle required. Pope John XXIII is expected to be canonized on April 27, Divine Mercy Sunday.

The two churches have been the only Catholic houses of worship within borough limits throughout the history of Tamaqua, which was founded 1799.

SS. Peter and Paul's traditionally served those of eastern European heritage, while the congregation of St. Jerome's traditionally comsisted of Irish, Italian and other ethnicities.

St. Jerome's

The Church of St. Jerome has served the Tamaqua area for 181 years.

The Rev. Arthur Wainwright founded the parish in 1833, erecting Tamaqua's first church building in 1834 on a site bordering Mahanoy and Nescopec streets near Church Alley (now High Street). It established only the second parish in Schuylkill County.

The original parish included areas from Tamaqua to Mauch Chunk, Hazleton, Middleport, Weatherly and Jeanesville. Research indicates the church was torn down in 1855 and the timbers used to build a house in Girardville, which stills stands.

According to "Iron Steps Illustrated History of Tamaqua, Pa.," construction of the present church at 266 West Broad St. was begun in 1856 by the Rev. James Morris and completed in 1861.

Under the Rev. Henry Baker, a 1921 school was erected, a four-story brick building costing $100,000 and staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

It was dedicated by His Eminence Dennis Cardinal Dougherty of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Shortly after, a large house next to the school was purchased and converted to a convent.

The first graduating class of St. Jerome's High School consisted of 13 students in June of 1927. However, Baker didn't live to witness the event.

He died on May 8, just a month before the ceremony. He was buried on the terrace in front of the church.

St. Jerome's grew to become the second-largest parish in Schuylkill County.

The high school closed after the graduation of the Class of 1954.

On June 30, 2005, the final two nuns were reassigned, the convent was closed, and the school relied solely on lay staff, today serving grades K-8.

SS. Peter & Paul's

SS. Peter and Paul's Lithuanian Catholic Church has served the Tamaqua area for 103 years, and was founded on Jan. 21, 1911.

The first priests to serve the Lithuanians of Tamaqua were the Revs. Victor Dargis and Michael Durickas, but the Rev. Peter Gudaitis was actually the first full-time pastor.

The parish purchased the Weldy property at 307 Pine St., on Dec. 3, 1912, and the home served as a temporary house of worship and rectory.

Mass was held in front of a fireplace, which still exists.

The first building project began in 1913 when a wood frame church was erected at a cost of $4,700.

A new wave of European immigration was changing the face of local communities. By 1917, reports showed there were 235 Lithuanian families in Tamaqua.

In 1927, a combination church-school building was constructed, but the opening was delayed due to the Depression. A kindergarten class was started in 1941, and in 1956 a grade school was opened.

The parish school closed in 1972. However, the building has not remained idle.

The school building has been used for many years by Child Development Inc. Tamaqua.