History of the Diocese
The first official and ongoing presence of the Catholic Church in what would become the diocese occurred about 1828 when the Bishop of Philadelphia appointed Fr Jeremiah Francis O'Flynn, a retired missioner living at Silver Lake, Susquehanna County, as his pastoral representative in northeast Pennsylvania. 1 , 2 In the succeeding 175 years, the Catholic Church's presence in NEPA has grown from small groups hearing mass in their homes when a priest traveled through the area, to hundreds of churches of both Latin and Eastern Rites, and innumerable institutions throughout the region.
Prior to the US experience, Church administration had been primarily territorial, with parishes formed on geographic lines, and location determining one's parish, traditions and practices. By the early 1800s the Vatican had already realized that the ethnic and nationalistic differences of the United States required different sensitivities. 3 Irish Catholics, the overall majority, had different expectations and needs, particularly linguistic, than did Germans, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and the assorted other minority groups that eventually made their way to the US. In response, the Vatican directed American Bishops to allow for national or ethnic parishes that cut across territorial lines where needed and possible. The Diocese of Scranton took this directive to heart, and by the 1930s and '40s national parishes outnumbered territorial in both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
Eventually it was determined that Eastern Rite parishes had such significant differences from the Latin majority (and were so often misunderstood or even mistreated) that they were taken out of local Diocesan control altogether and given into the keeping of their respective Patriarchs.
Additionally NEPA is the birthplace of both the Polish National Catholic Church and the former Lithuanian National Catholic Church, two movements which each began as nationalistic schisms within the Diocese of Scranton and have since merged. Their presence in the area may have bearing for those of Polish or Lithuanian heritage.
Civil histories, as well as newspaper microfilm for the Scranton Republican , Scranton Times , and Scranton Tribune , are all available in the Pennsylvania State Library, in Harrisburg. I accessed early Catholic Directories through the kindness of the staff at the Shanahan Archives of the Diocese of Harrisburg. The Archives is named in honor of the Bishops Shanahan, who were the first and third bishops of Harrisburg. They were also brothers who were born in what would become the Diocese of Scranton.