This country’s oldest surviving Catholic baptismal record bears the name of Albertina Kohl of St John’s, Haycock. She was baptized in 1741, just two years before the recording of the official parish community of St John the Baptist. Albertina’s baptismal record is in Goshenhoppen (now the town of Bally, PA) where records were kept at the time. Albertina’s parents, George and Barbara, immigrated to this area from Germany, fleeing their war-ridden homeland.
Before the Kohl’s arrived however, other settlers were already sharing their Catholic faith. Individuals in search of religious freedom found it in Penn’s Woods. The McCarty family was among the first to arrive at the foothills of Haycock Mountain in the late 1730’s. They had fled Ireland where Catholics were being persecuted by the English. Like many others, they sought refuge with the Quakers, who, as they had heard, were granting religious freedom in the Colonies. In the same year as the famous Walking Purchase of 1737, the McCartys warranted land from the sons of William Penn. who in turn deeded it to the McCartys two years later. Edward McCarty and a friend, John Gardner, took turns opening their homes to the local Catholics to congregate when a visiting “horseback” priest rode into the area to offer Mass.
Albertina’s prominence in terms of church life did not end at Baptism. In adult life she married Nicholas McCarty, son of the original McCartys who fled Ireland, Together Nicholas and Albertina built what was called the “Mass House” on land belonging to the McCarty family, thus solidifying the Irish-German heritage of the parish. The “Mass House”, originally built about the same time that America declared its independence in 1776, still stands on Church Lane at the base of Haycock Mountain. Recently it was renovated and expanded by its current owner.
The Next 250 Years
St. John the Baptist parish community, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1743. It was the first Catholic parish in Bucks County; today there are 34 other parishes in the County. In the Philadelphia ,Archdiocese, of which St. John’s is a part, it is the third oldest mission parish; today there are 275 other parishes in the Archdiocese.
Originally St. John’s, like all other parishes, belonged to the Baltimore Diocese until the Philadelphia Diocese was formed in 1808 by Pope Pius VII. Since 1912 the parish has been administered by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart whose religious order is based in Aurora, Illinois.
The first permanent church of St John the Baptist was built in 1798 but was destroyed by a fire in 1853. Parishioners immediately began rebuilding and the second church was completed in 1855. St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia, noted in his personal diary. “New church built by Rev. Fr. George. Cornerstone blessed by me 14 May 1854. Church blessed by me 19 Aug. 1855.” His diary also notes that he administered confirmation to many children of the parish. The simple white church building of 1855, located at the base of Haycock Mountain and now known as Old St. John’s, stands to this day as a beacon of calm and serenity in the midst of an historical cemetery dating back to 1745 when the earliest settlers were buried.
During the pastorate of Rev. Henry Stommel, from 1871 to 1875, several mission churches connected to St. John the Baptist were constructed: St Lawrence mission in Durham, dedicated in September, 1872; st. Joseph mission in Marienstein, December, 1872, and St. Rose of Lima Chapel Uhlerstown, December, 1873.
In 1920 Sf. Rose was shut and the building eventually demolished. In 1958 a new St Lawrence church was constructed in Riegelsville and became a separate parish in 1974. In 2000 St Joseph church was closed and the building sold.
Education of children in the early years was done in private homes. In the late 1700’s a small schoolhouse was located on the McCarty property near the church. A parish school is mentioned in records of 1828 and it is known that the original church building had an attached schoolroom. In 1925 Rev. John Schillo, MSC, had a two-room elementary school built across the road from the church. Two more classrooms were added in the 1940″s. This school, along with classes held in the parish rectory, served the purpose of the parish until 1959 when the present school was built on the south end of Route 412.
St. John the Baptist covers the largest area of any parish in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, over 240 square miles. Within Bucks County’s borders, the parish serves Catholics from parts or all of seven townships: Bedminster, Bridgeton, Haycock, Nockamixon, Plumstead, Springfield and Tinicum. Because Bucks County is one of the fastest growing areas of Pennsylvania, the parish too has increased in membership, reflecting the pattern of influx and development in the area. Under the direction of Rev. Joseph Tobias, MSC, pastor from 1991 to 2005, a capital campaign was begun and a new and larger church building erected next to the school on Route 412. The dedication of the church took place on May 18, 2003.
Today St. John the Baptist parish owns and operates the newly-built St. John the Baptist church, the Old St. John’s church located at the base of Haycock Mountain, the cemetery surrounding Old St. John’s, the St. John the Baptist parish elementary school for children from pre-school to grade eight, the parish rectory, and a parish “Center”, formerly a convent.
The emphasis of the past ten years has been on building community. The number of active parishioners and laity involved in the parish programs and activities reveals the “calling” of members to participate in the spiritual growth of the Church. St. John’s is not only a place to worship, but also a place to contribute time and talent in such a way that the entire parish community benefits. In the truest sense of the word, we are “stewards” of the faith when we come together to pray, worship, share fellowship, play, study and perform corporal works of mercy. We are a community of members celebrating God’s works, Christ’s life and the Spirit’s love.