By Cheryl A. Kashuba
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The Times-Tribune, Scranton
On Easter day in 1905, worshippers entered St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and saw, for the first time, a new design by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany. The centerpiece was a new altar of white marble, backed by a stained-glass window depicting the ascension of Christ.
Mr. Tiffany’s design enhanced the interior of the English Gothic structure that was the work of another master: architect Richard Upjohn of New York City, the architect of Trinity Church on Wall Street.
Impressive though the structure is, St. Luke’s has always been far more than a building. This church grew up with the city in an era when the Social Gospel Movement fervently urged all Christians to live Christ’s teachings.
Perhaps no one embraced those principles more than the Rev. Rogers Israel. Rector of the church from 1892 to 1902, “his broad and sympathetic spirit reached out into the community, and where he found no agency responding to a specific need, he met it himself, by instantly creating something to answer the want.”
And there was want. Dangerous work and illness took the lives of many husbands and fathers. Starting in 1897, St. Luke’s provided a summer home for needy women and their children. It ran until 1921, when the Community Chest absorbed it.
In the same spirit, the Rev. Israel led a free kindergarten movement. In autumn of 1893, the South Side Kindergarten opened on Cedar Avenue. By Christmas, its pupils had doubled. A second free kindergarten opened on Scranton’s West Side, and a third operated in the Parish House. They later became part of the public school system.
Not all children could stay in school, of course. Girls went to work in the needle trades and silk mills. In 1911, the Rev. Israel founded the Girls’ Friendly Society and provided, in the Parish House, a “room of shelter” — a safe and respectable place for girls who came to the city alone to work.
The Rev. Israel saw boys as young as 7 and 8 employed in coal breakers. He also saw a way of life that pushed many of them into gangs and trouble. Gathering the names of “the most mischievous, intractable, and uncontrollable boys,” he sent them invitations to meet in the basement of the Parish House. They became the founding members of the Boys’ Industrial Association. Its purpose was “to keep them out of mischief, inspire them with self-respect, and to instruct them in morals and care of the body.”
One such boy, Joseph P. Murphy, left Scranton at 16 to work for the Lackawanna Iron & Coal Co. in Buffalo, N.Y.
But the time he spent as a BIA member inspired him to help other boys. He became the chief probation officer of Erie County.
St. Luke’s carried the Rev. Israel’s commitment to community into its future. In 1912, the Rev. Robert Kreitler arrived. He helped organize the Community Chest, devoted himself to charity drives and served as a founding member of the recreation commission. During these years, St. Luke’s became known as “the church in the heart of things.”
On Saturday [October 18], crowds will gather as St. Luke’s renews its ministry and installs a new rector. Part of the Rev. Peter D’Angio’s job is to look after this historic structure and its treasures. Part of it is to guard the church’s legacy of commitment to community.
Inspired by the same impulses that inspired the Rev. Israel, the Rev. D’Angio guides his congregation to respond to our era and its wants. “It’s not enough for churches to come together and worship on Sundays,” he says. “People need to carry that with them anywhere people are hurting.”
As he sees it, St. Luke’s must continue to play a role in the community, a role very much like the one it played in the 19th century.
CHERYL A. KASHUBA writes on behalf of the Lackawanna Historical Society. She is co-author of the book “Scranton.”
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