The History of the St. George Allentown Parish
In 1916, the Syrian community of Allentown consisted of 15 families. At that time, this small colony felt that their number had increased to the size which demanded the facilities of a church building. Early in the spring of that year, ground was broken on a lot in the 1000 block of Catasauqua Avenue. Construction continued throughout the summer and the men of the parish, with the aid of horse drawn buggies, did much of the actual labor such as digging and hauling. The estimated cost of this building was five thousand dollars. By autumn of that year, the completion of the building manifested a dream of a people who were small in number but whose heritage had made them great in faith.
The building served the people sufficiently until the 1950′s. In 1956, Father John Chromiak and the Board of Trustees foresaw that the size of the church was inadequate to sufficiently serve the growing parish. At the St. George Banquet of the same year, His Eminence Metropolitan ANTONY Bashir began to call for pledges. The people responded. This wonderful response marked the beginning of the new church building fund. During the next six years, sacrifice, hard work and unwaning faith brought a new dream closer to reality.
By autumn of 1961, the building fund had grown to sufficient size and the community began to consider the possibility for breaking ground in the spring of 1962. And so it was decided that the church was to be built in the Byzantine style, as were the churches of old, exhibiting one large circular ribbed dome. The blue roof capped by a huge gold cross has become a landmark of interest in the Allentown area. The church proper reaches a peak of 50 feet and conveys the feeling of soaring into space. Its circular shape symbolizes a continuation of faith having no beginning and no end. Beneath the church is an auditorium capable of seating over 500 people with complete kitchen facilities and Sunday school classrooms.
In September of 1963, Sayidna ANTONY presided over the first liturgy held in the new church facility. On September 29, 1973, His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP presided over the festivities celebrating the burning of the mortgage for the new church facility.
From 1963 through 1970, the parish of St. George was served by the Very Reverend Father Nicholas Habib. From 1970 through 1977, the Reverend Basil Sadaka served as Pastor. From October of 1977 through August 1978, the then Very Reverend Father Antoun Khouri was appointed as Pastor of St. George. He was eventually succeeded by the then Very Reverend Father Demetri Khoury. Both Father Antoun and Father Demetri were elevated to the positions of Auxiliary Bishops within the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. In July 1983, the Very Reverend Father Anthony Sabbagh was assigned the Pastorship of St. George in Allentown and he remains as its spiritual leader until the present time.
The parish of St. George in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is also responsible for producing three current members of the clergy within the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The Very Reverend Father Joseph Allen (St. Anthony’s-Bergenfield), the Very Reverend Father Joseph Shahda (St. George- Houston) and the Very reverend Father Alexander Atty (St. Michael’s-Louisville) were parishioners of St. George-Allentown prior to entering the clergy.
In April 1990, during a weekend visit by His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, plans for a new church, Sunday school and social hall were unveiled and Sayidna PHILIP officially broke ground by personally blessing and placing a gold-plated shovel into the hallowed ground where the first church was built in 1916. These plans were further evaluated and formalized during Sayidna PHILIP���s visit to our parish in June 1994, at which time he celebrated the 25th anniversary of Father Anthony’s entering the priesthood.
Father Anthony, the Parish Council and the Building Committee of St. George-Allentown have initiated the first phase of the building project. Currently, an architect has been retained and architectural plans are being developed for the building of a Sunday school, library, daycare and learning center, with construction set to begin in the coming years.