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Historical Markers
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Goshenhoppen Historical Marker
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Name:
Goshenhoppen

Region:
Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region

County:
Berks

Marker Location:
263 SW of Jamison

Dedication Date:
November 7, 1947

Behind the Marker

EXTERIOR
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Mennonite Meeting House, Chester, PA, as it appeared in 1880.
The dramatic development of a Catholic parochial system of education is usually associated with large urban centers, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. And it is often presented as a result of nineteenth-century immigration and the rapid development of the so-called "immigrant church" in America. The story of German Jesuit missionaries and the foothold they established in rural Goshenhoppen serves as a useful correction, or at least a reminder of earlier efforts to create a stable parish school long before the American Revolution. Unwilling to cede religious enthusiasm to their Protestant counterparts, the Catholic experience in Goshenhoppen is a significant preamble to the larger story that unfolded a century later.

Located south of Allentown along Rt. 100, in eastern Berks County, Goshenhoppen, now called Bally, has a distinguished place in early Pennsylvania history. Some say that its name comes from an American Indian expression for "meeting place." Others trace "Goshenhoppen" to German roots. The Land of Goshen, of course, refers to the Egyptian region in the Bible where the Israelites lived for four centuries before Moses.

The community dates from German Pietist settlers who came into the region as part of the great European migration of the early eighteenth century. By 1731, Ulrich Beidler had erected a Mennonite Meeting House where Anabaptist agriculturalists gathered for worship and fellowship. Educational instruction, such as it was, was conducted in the home and the church.

Exterior
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The Old Goshenhoppen Church, Bally, PA, circa 1886.
A decade later, Catholic missionaries traveled the area as part of a circuit that included western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. In 1741, Father Theodore Schneider, a German Jesuit from Philadelphia's Old St. Joseph's Church, established a mission church in Goshenhoppen on land purchased from his Anabaptist neighbors. Within two years he had built St. Paul's Chapel, a frontier outpost for Roman Catholicism in the largely Reformed Protestant area. A parish school soon followed.

At Goshenhoppen, Protestants and Catholics lived in harmony, and the former seemed to offer a welcoming spirit that ran against the deep religious divisions that sometimes flared up in the British colonies. This spirit of ecumenism and mutuality would characterize the community for generations to come.

In 1743, Fr. Schneider established St. Aloysius Academy, a fledgling educational institution that marked the beginnings of Catholic primary education in Pennsylvania. Now known as St. Francis Academy, the school is reportedly the oldest continuously operated Catholic school in Pennsylvania, and one of the three oldest in the original thirteen colonies.

St. Aloysius Academy was a more modest country school than its name suggests. True to the Jesuit mission in education, the school offered instruction for the "whole person" in a curriculum that promoted the faith and the traditional features of classical learning. From its early days, too, both Catholic and non-Catholic students enrolled in the school, one indication of the common cultural value placed on religion and religion and enlightenment in colonial Pennsylvania.

Exterior, front facade, with a view of three entrances. Students are standing in the second entrance on the steps that lead to the door.
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St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church and School, Ambridge, PA, circa 1910.
In 1827 the parish name was changed to the present-day Most Blessed Sacrament. Ten years later another remarkable Jesuit, Father Augustin Bally, was appointed pastor. He served the parish and the school for almost a half-century until 1882. Local residents held such affection and esteem for Fr. Bally that when a new post office opened in 1883, they changed the town's name to Bally, Pennsylvania.

At the height of nativist anti-Catholic protests elsewhere in the 1840s, and with the financial support of local officials, Fr. Bally in 1850 erected a new brick school building. Despite continued regional tensions between Catholics and Protestants, the Catholic academy continued to function as both a parochial and a local public school for decades to come. This example of interfaith educational cooperation was remarkable in its time.

In 1884 a new religious order of teaching nuns arrived to offer instruction to the students. In many respects the Sisters of St. Francis were typical of the communities of religious women who staffed Catholic parochial schools in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their lives and their teaching revolved around their faith, a sensibility they passed on to students with an equal measure of firmness and devotion. In this sense, the institution was little different from other parochial schools in the newly created Diocese of Allentown.

The Sisters managed St. Aloysius and taught there for 109 years, until 1993, when the Allentown Diocese hired the school's first lay administrator. In honor of their service the Diocese also changed the school's name to St. Francis Academy. Today, St. Francis is a vibrant parochial school whose slogan is "teaching God's children since 1743," a reminder of the long history of continuous educational service to Catholic and other children in the community.
 
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