DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS SS. Peter and Paul Church, rectory and social hall, Pine Street, SR309, Tamaqua.
A special service set for Sunday - open to the public - will celebrate 100 years since the founding of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Tamaqua.
The parish has a long, proud history in the Schuylkill County community.
Families of a Lithuanian settlement set up in Tamaqua in 1898 and formally organized the church in 1911. Prior to that, the settlement's worship services had been taking place through leadership of the Rev. M. Durickas and the Rev. V. Dargas, starting in 1910.
According to records, Father Durickas, Coaldale, held services at Seitzinger's Hall, Center Street, beginning January 3, 1911.
Just two weeks later, January 21, SS. Peter and Paul Society declared its intent to for a Lithuanian parish to serve the 106 Lithuanian families in the Tamaqua area.
Some of those families were drawn to the area when the No. 14 Colliery of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. began mining operations in 1906. Many of those early workers settled on Dutch Hill in Tamaqua.
On October 20, 1911, the Rev. Peter Gudaitis became pastor, a position held until the 1920s. Services were held in Seitzinger's Hall on Center Street prior to the building of the church. Interestingly, Gudaitis commuted from Coaldale to Tamaqua via trolley.
On December 3, 1912, the parish purchased the Weldy house, 307 Pine Street, and services were held for two years on the first floor of this brick mansion, taking place in front of a stately fireplace that now graces the present rectory. Gudaitis resided on the second floor, starting on Jan. 1, 1913.
On April 13, 1914, the Archbishop of Philadelphia dedicated the congregation's newly-built small frame church on the northeast corner of Pine and Union Streets, with diocese delegate Father J. Kaulakis on hand.
By 1917, there were 235 Lithuanian families served by the church. Sadly, Father Gudaitis died on March 1, 1926, succeeded by Father Casimir Klevence, until 1933, and then Father V. Mikaitis.
In 1927, a combination church and school building was erected and classes were taught for many years by a unit of the Order of Sisters of Jesus Crucified. It is noted, however, that the school's opening was delayed due to the Great Depression and related debt. Kindergarten classes began in 1941, and an elementary school opened in 1956. The parish school closed doors in 1972.
Father Joseph Shucavage assumed pastorship in 1936. The pastorate of Father Clarence Batutis began on May 10, 1946. During his tenure, a convent was purchased and renovations undertaken. It was during his pastorate that the school was established.
Assistant Pastor William Vezis succeeded Batutis on September 13, 1959. Vezis passed away on July 27, 1964.
When Father Stanely Luksys took over in 1964, he dreamed of a new church on Pine Street. That dream came to fruition when the old church hall and rectory were razed in 1975 and construction of a new church and rectory was completed in May, 1976. Dedication took place on Sept. 19 and the parish was free of debt, thanks to fundraising and the generosity of gracious donors.
The old building was remodeled into a social hall that housed the Senior Nutrition Center for a few years. Today, upstairs school rooms are rented to Child Development, Inc. for the Head Start Early Intervention Program as the social hall continues as an income-producing building. An adjacent Weldy-related property was purchased and turned into a parking lot.
Luksys also initiated a program of perpetual care for the parish cemetery in Owl Creek Valley and remained devoted to the senior choir, Holy Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, Corpus Christi procession and Ladies Auxiliary. After 40 years of service, Luksys retired in 1983. He was called home to the Heavenly Father on May 10, 1985.
Father William Linkchorst of Mahanoy City became pastor on Nov. 30, 1983, and continued the momentum. During his pastorate, major improvements have been accomplished: updating the heating system, a new roof on the church and school, remodeling restrooms and the kitchen of the social hall, plus installation of an alarm system.
Linkchorst served as honorary chairman of the parish's diamond jubilee in 1986. He will have the distinction of reprising that role for the upcoming centennial celebration, an attainment for which he is grateful.
"My parishioners' faith in God and their devotion to our parish has been a great inspiration to me," says Father Linkchorst. "I've been so blessed to have served as pastor for the past 28 years. I thank the Anniversary Committee and all my parishioners for the beautiful celebration of the 100th anniversary. Through the intercession of SS. Peter and Paul, may God continue to bless our parish and guide us as we begin another 100 years."
Linkchorst, 69, is a popular pastor, having endeared himself to to parish families and the community, as well. He says he has no intentions of slowing down.
"I enjoy what I'm doing," he says.
The church now serves 600 families, including not only those in greater Tamaqua, but also those of closed parishes in Coaldale - St. John the Baptist, St. Mary and SS. Cyril and Methodius; plus St. Bertha, Tuscarora and St. Bartholomew, Brockton.