Book Excerpts


Pocono Catholic Missions, Cresco, Pennsylvania

Published by: RoseDog Books

A study of the map of the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania reveals that this part of the Scranton Diocese, southwest and southeast of the city of Scranton, is dotted with resort towns and rural villages. Names such as Mount Pocono, Canadensis, Pocono Pines, Pocono Summit, South Sterling, Blakeslee Corners, Tannersville, Promised Land, Brodheadsville, and Cresco are familiar to travelers today. Yet in 1909, St. Mary of the Mount in Mount Pocono was the only Catholic Church in the area, with missions to many of the above towns. St. Ann's Parish in Canadensis was formed in 1913; Our Lady of the Lake, Pocono Pines in 1920; St. Joan of Arc, Pocono Summit in 1921 and St. Mary Magdalen, South Sterling in 1922. Reverend Patrick J. Boland, first pastor at Mount Pocono said the first Mass at each of these newly founded parishes. Christ the King Parish, Blakeslee Corner was founded in 1938; Our Lady of Victory, Tannersville, 1948; Our Lady of Fatima, Promised Land, 1951; and Our Lady Queen of Peace, Brodheadsville, 1954. (123)

With all these Catholic communities established, it was a natural sequence that planning for a Catholic school would follow. Right Reverend Monsignor Connell A. McHugh, pastor of St. Mary of the Mount Church since 1926, initiated the dialogue with Mother M. Kathleen Hart, IHM, in 1958, inviting her and members of the IHM Council to visit the proposed site of a new elementary/secondary school in Cresco, three miles southeast of Mt. Pocono. After her visit, Mother Kathleen wrote to Monsignor McHugh on September 30, 1958, praising his foresight and expressing appreciation for the tour they had received. (124) It is obvious from her enthusiasm that she would find a way to send IHM Sisters to staff this new school.

A year later on September 27, 1959, construction began on the 40-acre site selected by Monsignor McHugh. The convent plans called for twenty private rooms, chapel, two music instruction rooms, two parlors, community room, dining room, kitchen, recreational lounge and library. The school building was designed to accommodate both elementary and secondary grades by placing the facilities to be shared in the center. These included the chapel, library, administrative area, principal's office, guidance department, priests' office, and medical-dental suite.

The elementary school consisted of ten classrooms, book storage, and lavatories. The primary classes were especially designed with their own entrances, exits, and lavatories.

The high school consisted of four homerooms, an elevated lecture room, science, business, home economics, and art departments. There were separate and fully equipped laboratories for each of the sciences, as well as a photography laboratory with processing equipment. There was a complete television system with projection studio and outlets in every room to utilize closed and regular circuit television instruction. The auditorium/gymnasium, cafeteria, kitchen, faculty dining room, music instruction area, athletic department, snack bar, and shower-locker rooms were separated from the classroom section by a concourse approach. (125)

One can image the stir and curiosity aroused by the construction of this enormous 1.5 million dollar project in the serene Pocono countryside. The laying of the cornerstone on May 29, 1960, brought out representatives from the Diocese of Scranton, from the public schools of the area, and many IHM Sisters.

Meanwhile, Monsignor McHugh was making certain that upon completion of the buildings, there would be students in every classroom and IHM Sisters to teach them. He was in frequent communication with the pastors of the six parishes from which he expected students. His letter to Mother Kathleen on April 22, 1961, spoke enthusiastically of the pre-registration numbers for the nine grades that would open in September. Already in April, there were 366 registered for the nine grades representing St. Matthew's, Stroudsburg, St. Ann's, Tobyhanna, St. Bernadette's, Canadensis, Our Lady of Victory, Tannersville, St. Rita's, Gouldsboro, and, of course, the home parish of St. Mary of the Mount, Mt. Pocono. (126)

On August 26, 1961, eight IHM Sisters left Marywood to open the new convent adjacent to Pocono Catholic Mission School in Cresco, Pennsylvania. They included Sisters Annette Corcoran, principal and superior, Joseph Gabriel Welsh, Marthine Culhane, Louise Pellow, Immaculate Severino, St. Genevieve (Joanne) Pickard, Michael Marie Hartman, and Ancilla Maloney. The total newness and size of the entire plant brought many exclamations of excitement and joy from the sisters.

August 27, 1961, the day after arrival, dawned quickly and busily for the sisters as they anticipated the influx of visitors for the blessing of the convent, chapel and school oratory that included Mother Kathleen, Sister Beata, Sister Brendan, Sister St. Mary, members of the council; sisters from Stroudsburg and Tobyhanna; Mr. and Mrs. John Martens, donors of the convent chapel in memory of their daughter; and Honorable and Mrs. Henry L. Ughetta, donor of the school oratory in memory of their son. Monsignor McHugh presided at these blessings. Reverend Harold Durkin, pastor of St. Matthew's, East Stroudsburg, addressed the visitors, and Benediction was offered by Reverend George Jordan, pastor of St. Ann's Tobyhanna. The first Mass offered in the convent chapel was held on August 28, 1961, by Monsignor McHugh. On August 29, he also offered the first Mass in the school oratory. (127)

Five days later, on September 3, 1961, the solemn dedication and blessing of the Pocono Catholic Missions School took place with Bishop Jerome D. Hannan officiating. An elaborate program, preceded by open house from noon to 3:30 p.m., gave two thousand visitors an outstanding opportunity to hear and see the meaningful support given to this new Catholic education endeavor. Participating in the program were Bishops Henry T. Klonowski, Assistant Bishop of Scranton and Patrick O'Boyle of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC; Bishops George L. Leech and Lawrence Schott of Harrisburg; and Monsignor William J. McDonald, PhD, Rector of the Catholic University of America. Letters of praise were read from John F. Kennedy, President of the United States and Governor David Lawrence of Pennsylvania. Mother Kathleen was unable to attend because of illness, but all the members of her council were present. A catered dinner followed the dedication program.

With this full week of whirlwind activity completed, it was probably providential that unfinished construction in the school building delayed the opening until September 18, 1961. But on that date, five parish school buses and many private cars delivered 402 pupils in nine grades to the new school. In addition to the eight IHM Sisters, the following personnel were on hand: Reverend Robert Galligan, school coordinator, Reverend John Walsh, teacher of religion in the elementary school, Reverend William Cusick, cafeteria director, Mr. Philip Walsh, coach and teacher of mathematics and history, Mrs. Jean Burke, fourth grade teacher, and Mrs. Mary Rush, secretary. The first school year was successfully begun.

A month later, on October 21, 1961, open house was held for all religious of the area. Some two hundred religious of various communities were given tours of the convent and school from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. A buffet luncheon was served during the afternoon. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the school oratory completed the day.

Living in the country had its advantages, such as beautiful scenery and grazing deer in the back yard, but transportation for an eight-person community to catechetical instructions at various sites, to congregation functions whether in Scranton, Stroudsburg, or elsewhere, proved to have its challenges. It was a happy community, therefore, when on November 18, 1961, the pastor, Monsignor Connell McHugh, presented the sisters with a new station wagon.

The sadness experienced by the entire IHM Congregation at Mother Kathleen's death on January 31, 1962, enveloped the Cresco community as well. Additional sorrows came with the death of Sharon Moran, an eighth grade student, in February, and of David Ortoski, a freshman, in June.

The close of the first year found the sisters well established in their new convent home and in their school ministry. Seeing the possibilities in the facilities in Cresco, the Congregation sought Monsignor McHugh's approval for utilization of the spacious convent and school as a summer school setting for the education of sisters. With his approval, sixteen sisters completing their bachelor's degrees spent from June 25 through August 3, 1962, at Cresco, studying English Literature under the instruction of Sister Bonaventure McCloskey, IHM. (128)

Thus began a summer tradition which over the years would see Sister Regina Barrett offering a refresher course for teachers in Language Arts; Sister Samuel McKeown teaching "Methods in Modern Math" for 7 th and 8 th grade teachers; Sister Mary Peter Doran, "New Math"; and classes in "Typing/Office Practice" with Sister Mary Andrew Earley.

Use of the Cresco facilities was not limited to summers as numerous groups sought the beauty and convenience of conducting events there. The Knights of Columbus, for example, held their picnic for the sisters of the Scranton area at this site in June 1963; the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, a group of 700 women, spent a full day on April 11, 1964; Sister Clotilde Cullen, IHM, director of IHM Junior Professed Sisters brought forty young IHMs on Ascension Thursday, May 11, 1964; a custom developed of having a group of Marian Convent retired IHMs enjoy the fall foliage in the mountains and visit the Cresco convent for dinner; on October 20, 1978, it was the site of the superiors/principals institute for the IHM Congregation. All of these contacts, in addition to the many individual visitors, gave great visibility to the new Cresco convent and school, and undoubtedly added to the labors of the local community. (129)

By the fourth year of the school's existence, the enrollment had reached 567 pupils in grades 1-12. Accreditation by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges had been attained on May 5, 1965, and the first graduating class of twenty-four seniors received their diplomas. On June 12, 1965, the commencement Mass was held at St. Mary of the Mount Church, Mt. Pocono, with the assistant pastor, Reverend Girard Mulherin celebrant. Monsignor Joseph Quinn, pastor, St. Ann's, Tobyhanna, gave the baccalaureate address. A tradition began as the sophomore class gave a breakfast to the seniors after the Mass.

The following day, June 13, 1965, was graduation day. Bishop Jerome D. Hannan gave out the diplomas, acknowledging each graduate individually. Parents, friends, and all the pastors of the parishes of the graduates were in attendance, as well as representatives from the public school system. The speaker for this occasion was Mr. James Norris, assistant director of Catholic Relief Services in Washington, DC.

A justifiable pride swelled in the hearts of the sisters as they witnessed the fruit of their labors in these graduates, and they were keenly aware of the significant role played by Monsignor Connell A. McHugh. They wrote:

We looked forward with happy anticipation to this month and year when our first graduating class would receive their diplomas from Pocono Catholic Missions School—a monument to the vision and deep faith of our beloved pastor, Right Reverend C.A. McHugh, PS, VF. (130)That the school was blessed with vibrancy and growth is evident in the fact that its graduates nearly doubled to forty-five in the very next year, 1965-1966.

Sister Annette Corcoran's term as principal and superior ended in June 1967. The school's size by this time warranted separate principals for the grade and high schools. Sister Laurentia Mayan was appointed coordinator of the elementary faculty of six IHMs and two lay teachers. Sister Mary Joan Kelleher, principal of the secondary school, was fortunate in having four IHMs as homeroom teachers who also were instructors in home economics, music, business subjects, languages and mathematics. (131)

In 1971, the beloved founder and pastor, Monsignor Connell A. McHugh died. Bishop McCormick renamed the elementary school "Monsignor McHugh Elementary School" in his memory. (132)

Sister Virginia Mary Schaefer became principal of the high school in September 1971, with the office of superior being held by Sister Marya Foley. Sister Laurentia Mayan continued as elementary principal.

By 1974-1975, the high point of nineteen IHM Sisters in residence in the Cresco convent was reached with fourteen of that number in the school. Sister Christella Duggan, education consultant for the congregation, Sister Mary Howard Krotzer, CCD coordinator for St. Ann's Parish, Tobyhanna, and Sister Brigida Strome, instructor of private music pupils, were in residence. The high school faculty's labors during this year to attain reaccreditation by the Middle States Association bore fruit in May 1976, when approval was again obtained. (133)

It is difficult to imagine the changes that would occur in the next twelve-year period leading to the closing of the high school and the presence of only four IHM Sisters in the elementary school and convent in 1988-1989. But changing demographics, changes in the economy of the region, and the competitive presence of Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in nearby Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, all had their impact.

On May 19, 1987, Reverend John Jordan, Scranton Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, announced to the parents of the Pocono Central Catholic High School students that the high school was no longer viable with its declining enrollment. Students were encouraged to transfer to Notre Dame High School or to other schools in the area. Pastors of feeder parishes were urged to expand the elementary school that remained strong. (134) Father Jordan met again on June 15, 1981, with the parents, but in light of data provided, closure of the school was a foregone conclusion. With a year's notice, the shock experienced by faculty, parents and students was gradually absorbed. The principal, Sister Rose de Fluri and four IHMs on the high school faculty would be assigned elsewhere; the librarian, Sister Angelisse Boyce, was transferred to Notre Dame, East Stroudsburg.

Thus Monsignor McHugh Elementary School became a K-8 school with 259 students in 1988. Four IHM Sisters remained, namely, Sisters Kathleen Kelly, principal; Leon McConnell, junior high; Raymond Mary McIntyre, intermediate; Rita Mary Naughton, fourth grade. Promise of a healthy enrollment future was seen in the double tracks needed for two kindergartens and two first grades. (135)

The following year, 1989, Sister Ann Marie Lynott became principal. There were three kindergartens, with grades one through three on double track. The total enrollment was 315. There were only three IHMs in the school.

The annals reflect the concerns these remaining sisters had over the unutilized space in the convent. So it was not surprising that on September 6, 1989, the sector superior, Sister Janet Jeffers, met with the sisters to discuss a proposal for future use of the convent as a spiritual renewal center for the congregation, in tandem with continuance of the elementary school ministry.

At this time the congregation administration was considering closing the existing retreat center at Verona, New Jersey, to make a more accessible site at Cresco. Throughout 1989-1990, discussions continued with the sisters and with the Pocono pastors regarding the terms of utilization of the convent for this additional purpose.

In February 1990, discussions were held by the sisters of the Verona community with the Cresco sisters. Sisters Patricia Tippen, Eleanor Mary Marconi, and Janet Jeffers from the IHM administration were present. As the annals report, "Much brainstorming occurred as the future of the Center began to take shape. What a magnificent experience of collaboration!" (136)

The convent was in need of much renovation, so at the urging of the IHM Congregation, agreements were reached with the pastors that before the Spiritual Renewal Center would be initiated a total refurbishing should take place, with the congregation and diocese sharing expenses. This being accomplished, a further long-term agreement was made which provided that the diocese be responsible for major problems, such as heating, plumbing, and roofing, and the IHM Congregation for the ongoing upkeep of the convent. There was no term limit for the agreement as ownership continues in the Diocese of Scranton, and utilization at the Bishop's discretion. (137)

By June 12, 1990, the furnishing and household appliances were moved from Verona, New Jersey, to Cresco. As it happened that date was also the busy day of the closing of the school year. Work on the convent continued into September, but the community of eight IHMs managed in spite of obstacles like green water, no laundry facilities, and other inconveniences. Summing up the situation, the annals state, "These prelude days were exciting, exhausting, and also evoking all the faith we could muster." (138)

The core group of sisters for the Spiritual Renewal Center included Sisters Beatrice Caulson, director, Mary Peter Doran, Catherine Ann Gilvary, and St. Mel Wright, local assembly coordinator. Faculty for Monsignor McHugh Elementary School included Sisters Ann Marie Lynott, principal; Ann Grayeski, junior high; Thomas Aquinas Kielceski, junior high; Raymond Mary McIntyre, intermediate.

School opened on schedule on September 7, 1990, and, as a good omen of things to come for the Spiritual Renewal Center, the first retreatant, Sister Aileen, CP, a Passionist Sister from the monastery in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, arrived. From that date on a steady flow of priests, religious and laity sought the serenity of this site for retreats, in directed, private, and group settings. Bible study was initiated for the laity on a weekly basis. The center received sister jubilarians, sisters in formation, those in prayer ministry in the congregation, and local assemblies of sisters seeking assistance in goal setting for their communities. (139)

The annals are replete with descriptions of the activities of both the school and spiritual renewal personnel. The members of the community participated together in such activities as the 125 th anniversaries of Catholic education in the Scranton Diocese and of the Catholic Church of Monroe County. As always, the sisters were involved in parish activities and IHM Congregation meetings, in addition to their other ministry. There were catechetical instructions followed by First Communions and Confirmations in five different parishes. There were jubilees of pastors, preparations for art festivals, spring concerts, Christmas plays, and sports contests. There were convent activities such as retreats and visitors added to the "regular" spiritual life and schedule of the sisters.

But a well-balanced community will find time for recreation, and so invitations to attend dinners at outstanding Pocono restaurants or to attend shows at the famous Pocono Playhouse were accepted gratefully.

Between 1993-1998, there would be three changes of principals in the school. Due to ill health, Sister Audrey McHale, appointed in 1993, would be unable to continue after one year. She was replaced by Sister Rosemarie Mozzachio who served until 1998 when she was appointed as congregation vocation director. Kathleen Serafin become principal in 1998 and continues as of this writing. In 1998-1999, there were four IHMs in the school, namely, Sisters Thomas Aquinas Kielceski, Michael Marie Hartman, Patricia Stack, and Kathryn Rolley. Sister Michael Marie was also teaching Spanish each week at Marywood College and reaching out to the Hispanic people of St. Ann's, Tobyhanna.

With Sister Patricia Tippen's appointment as formation director, Sister Katherine Sugrue was added to the core group and Sister Jeanne Tubach as a support staff member for the Spiritual Renewal Center. (140)

A significant sadness for the sisters at Cresco and for the entire congregation was the shocking death of Sister Katherine Sugrue on July 10, 1999. An apparent heart attack caused her to lose control of the car she was driving. She was killed when the car lunged into a tree. With this loss and with Sister Michael Marie's appointment as director of Hispanic ministry for the Pocono parishes, both the school IHM faculty and the Spiritual Renewal Center were reduced to three members.

In spite of these reverses, the twentieth anniversary of the IHM Spiritual Renewal Center was celebrated on September 11, 1999. Reverend Hugh Brogan offered the Mass in the convent chapel. Sister Anne Munley, congregation president, and all IHMs once stationed at Verona and Cresco were present for the occasion. (141)

Under the principalship of Kathleen Serafin, the school continued in 2001-2002 to enroll record numbers, necessitating double tracks in the kindergarten and five other grades. Although only one IHM, Sister Patricia Stack, continued in the school, there were seven IHMs in the local community, three of whom were in the Spiritual Renewal Center; two, Sisters Regina Burns and Joel Marie Sheehe in Hispanic ministry in St. Matthew's, East Stroudsburg and St. Ann's, Tobyhanna, respectively; Sister Estelle Gavel in family ministry.

The Spiritual Renewal Center continues its success story with the added attraction of two hermitages on the convent grounds. During 1999-2001, these were used by 84 different people for a total of 393 days. (142)

Monsignor McHugh Elementary School continues to be supported by five parishes: St. Mary of the Mount, Mt. Pocono; St. Ann, Tobyhanna; St. Bernadette, Canadensis; Our Lady of Victory, Tannersville; St. Rita, Gouldsboro. The Board of Pastors has described the school as a Christian community, stating their mission, in part, as follows:

Since students lives are directed by their values, we strive to lead them to develop their spiritual, scholastic and cultural values in accordance with right reason and the teachings of the Church. Through these efforts to develop sound values, we hope to influence their families, our community and our nation. In a word, we endeavor to create an educational environment that is conducive to the development of Christian living, intellectual growth and emotional maturity. (143)