On October 4, 1948, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, established St. John Baptist de La Salle Parish from two already existing parishes – Sacred Heart in West Reading and St. Peter in Reading. At the time, we were part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia until February of 1961 when the Diocese of Allentown was established.
The parish included all of Brecknock Township and part of Cumru and Spring townships. Within the original boarders were: Shillington, Mohnton, Lincoln Park, Oakbrook, Millmont, Fairview and South Fairview, Kenhorst, Ridge Park, Lynoak, Montrose and the following areas… Allendale Speedway Park, Beverly Hills, Pennwyn, Gouglersville, Fritztown, Montello, Vinemont and Indiandale, Freedman, Ridgewood, Angelica, Knauers, Alleghenyville, Hummel’s Store, Orrton and part of Adamstown.
The Rev. John Hasson was appointed the first pastor of the parish and he served from 1948 till 1950, stepping down because of ill health. In his tenure, Fr.Hasson purchased a private residence at 332 E. Walnut St. in Shillington and converted it into a chapel, seating 110 people, and it also housed the rectory.
Rev. Henry D. McPeak became the second pastor of St. Johns in 1950 and served till 1962. At this time, the parish comprised 300 families. In 1952, Fr. McPeak purchased a two-story factory building at he corner of W. Walnut and N. Wyomissing in Shillington and turned it into a church / school complex that would serve the parish as a church for the next 19 years, and as a school for the next 27 years. The Merion Sisters of Mercy staffed the school, and in the later 1950’s children from St. Benedict’s Parish joined the ranks of St. John’s students.
The rectory was moved from E. Walnut St. to 39 E. Lancaster Ave. and then moved again to 218 N. Sterley St. to be closer to the church. The priests continued to live at this address until the building of the present rectory at 400 Holland St. in 1970.
Under the guidance of our third pastor – Rev. John R. Lyons, who was appointed in 1962, there came much change, not only in buildings and structures, but also in ritual and theology that was sparked with the convening of Vatican Council II.
By 1966, the time was ripe for parish expansion, with 900 families in the parish, it outgrew the “factory.” In May of 1968, Fr. Lyons purchased the last peace of property within the limits of Shillington for $56,000 on the corner of Kerrick and Mitti in West Hills. The convent was built in 1969 (now parish offices) and the church and rectory were built in 1970. The church seats 750, with no pews farther than 13 rows from the sanctuary. It was opened in July of 1970 and dedicated on March 21, 1971 by Bishop Joseph McShea.
In June of 1987, Fr. Thomas Birch was named the fourth pastor of our parish. The most pressing need at the time was to build a new school. In May of 1988, a capital campaign was initiated by the now three parishes that feed our regional school – St. John Baptist de La Salle, St. Benedict and St. Anthony. What resulted was a beautiful $2.3 million dollar school that continues to carry on the great and rich traditions of Catholic education. The official dedication of La Salle Academy and Parish Center was held on November 4, 1989, just 369 days after groundbreaking, making the final component of the parish complex. In August of 1989 the former church / school building was sold.
Other building projects that were undertaken in the late 1980’s and early 90’s by the now Monsignor Birch, were the construction of the Fr. Lyon’s Meeting Room, new stained glass windows and doors in the church along with dry-walling, carpet and renovations to the sanctuary.
Because of ill health, Msgr. Birch in 1996 stepped down as acting pastor and became Pastor Emeritus. It was Fr. David Gillis who then became the fifth pastor of St. Johns. In his nine years of service to our parish, there became a need to enlarge the school building due to rising student numbers and changing academic necessities, such as an art and music facility, state-of-the-art science labs and computer technology labs. The addition of a new wing with four classrooms was completed in 2002.
In June of 2005, Fr. Richard Clement was named St. John’s sixth pastor. The much needed improvement made to the church sanctuary under Msgr. Birch, were intended to be temporary with wood paneling and fabric banners covering up what was originally just painted cinder blocks. The time had come to make the sanctuary permanent and up-dated to present day liturgical norms. Field stone was placed on the sanctuary walls, with a twelve foot crucifix dominating the space. The baptismal font was positioned in the sanctuary, and a new pulpit was made to match the altar. The carpeted floors were replaced with marble tiles, and a new sound and lighting system was installed along with a new organ.
On the last Sunday in June of 2015, because of the decline of parishioners, the lack of priests, along with failing finances, the Parish of St. Anthony of Padua in the Millmont section of Reading, was closed and merged with St. Johns. The church, rectory and school were sold to the Nativity BVM Ukrainian Catholic Church. The convent and parking lot was sold to the Catholic Social Agency.