St. Bernard’s Church (and Gallows Hill)



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(Photo by Richard F. Hope)


St. Bernard’s Church (and Gallows Hill) (132 South Fifth Street)

In Colonial and Revolutionary War days, executions in Easton were held on “Gallows Hill”. According to one authority, the first person hanged there was Thomas McCormick in 1762.1 other authority states that the first person to be hanged in Easton, “Mulatto Bob”, was hanged there after he came across the Delaware River from New Jersey one evening and committed a murder in Easton while drunk.2



  • In 1779, General Sullivan had three American soldiers executed here for murdering a tavern-keeper near Stroudsburg, who had refused to serve them liquor.3

  • Quaker Ralph Morden was hung here in 1780 on charges of spying for the British and inciting Indian attacks. Morden claimed that he simply rendered service (in the Quaker manner) as a guide to passing wayfarers. Unfortunately, in his case the wayfarers were Pennsylvania Loyalist Captain Robert Land and his party, who were generally engaged in taking British military dispatches from New York City to Fort Niagara, and (in Land’s case) may have also been attempting to flee from his Patriot neighbors. Five men were tried with Morden – but only he got the death sentence, apparently in part to set an example for other Quakers unwilling to give exclusive support to the Patriot cause. Although Morden did not expect to be executed, there was no outcry from his neighbors.4 Indeed, the English-speaking preachers even avoided him (except for one visit); his religious solace had to be provided by the new German-speaking Lutheran minister in Easton, who ministered to him in the best English he could manage, and preached in both languages at his execution.5

The Easton Catholic congregation had originated with the baptism of Anna Mary Rose at a house near “Ostonia” in 1768, attended by only six people (including the child, her parents, her sponsors, and the priest who visited from Goshenhoppen).6 After 1808, Easton was served by Rev. John Fitzpatrick, who had to travel to town from Milton.7 In 1829, a separate parish at Easton was founded, and Rev. Henry Herzog was appointed pastor.8 The Catholic congregation of Easton was politically unpopular and low on funds.

  • The unpopularity of Roman Catholics in early Easton is illustrated generally by the case of Paul Miller, an upstanding citizen, who was rejected as a school trustee in 1754 because he was an “opened and professed Roman Catholic”.9 Another original Easton citizen, John Fricki, was denied a hotel license in 1753 upon petition from some town citizens, because he was a Roman Catholic – although Paul Miller (a personal friend of Easton founder William Parsons) ultimately had been granted such a license.10

Initially, the new parish held mass in a house rented on South 5th Street (that was later used for a rectory for some 10 years),11 In order to purchase land for a “Mother Church” in the Lehigh Valley, they had to buy the execution ground from Easton politician George Wolf in 1829 for $300. St. Bernard’s Church was completed on the property and dedicated seven years later, in 1836.12 Rev. James Maloney was assigned as the first resident pastor, whose territory covered as well Carbon, Bucks and much of Schuylkill Counties in Pennsylvania, and Phillipsburg, Belvidere and Lambertsville in New Jersey. The Easton church thus became the “Mother Church” for the entire Lehigh Valley – over 60 Catholic parishes now serve territory originally served by St. Bernard’s.13

St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Easton gave timely service to “a stream of Irish immigrants, attracted by the canals, mines and blast furnaces” at Easton.14 “[O]ther parishes were formed to care for the particular needs of various ethnic groups. Some of the German families of Saint Bernard left to start Saint Joseph in 1852 . . . . Saint Anthony for Italians was founded in 1909” and the Lithuanian congregation at Saint Michael was founded in 1916 after some 10 years of planning. In 1920, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a French parish, was formed.15

Meanwhile, at St. Bernard’s Church itself, Father Thomas Reardon (who became pastor in 1847) added a rectory next door, a choir loft, melodeon, and stained glass windows to the church interior, and a school in the basement.16 The church was expanded in the 1860s, but on 9 April 1867, while a steeple was being erected, a workman started a fire that destroyed the building. The present church structure was then built on the site, and dedicated in 1868.17 A pipe organ was built for the church by Henry Erben in 1883, during the brief pastorate of Father John Dillon.18 Father James McGeveran (pastor beginning in 1887) made “extensive alterations”, enlarging the church again, and adding the current stained glass windows and marble altars. Pews and the apse were installed in 1898.19 The “historic nature” of the church, including an exterior painting “to blend with historic Easton”, was undertaken by pastor Thomas J. Benestad beginning in 1980.20

In 1961, the coming trend of consolidation was foreshadowed when Rev. Joseph Gaudinskas was named pastor, coming from St. Michael’s church on Spring Garden Street. He became the administrator of both churches.21 In 2008, as part of a “massive restructuring, which closed 47 churches,” the parish of St. Bernard was consolidated into a new Our Lady of Mercy Parish headquartered in the former St. Joseph’s Church in South Easton. However, the old St. Bernard’s church continues to be used twice a day for weekday masses.22



(Photo 2009 by Richard F. Hope)




1 Mathew S. Henry, Manuscript History of Northampton County, PA 64 (1851)(located in Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia).

2 John Field Oldt, Colorful Local Names In Easton’s History 2 (typewritten, paper read before Northampton County Historical Society 18 Nov. 1949).

3 Ethan Allen Weaver, “The Forks of the Delaware” Illustrated xvi (Eschenbach Press 1900; Ronald W. Wynkoop, Sr., The Old Home Town 101 (self-published 1977); William Jacob Heller, I History of Northampton County (Pennsylvania) and the Grand Valley of the Lehigh 138 (American Historical Society 1920); Mathew S. Henry, Manuscript History of Northampton County, PA 64 (1851)(located in Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia); John Field oldt, Colorful Local names In Easton’s History 2 (typewritten, paper read before Northampton County Historical Society 18 Nov. 1949).

4 See John M. Coleman, “The Treason of Ralph Morden and Robert Land,” The Pennsylvania Magazine, Vol. LXXIX, at 439-51 (1955); James Elliott, If Ponies Rode Men: The Journeys of Robert Land, 1777 – 1781 29-32, 52 (Stoney Creek (Ontario) Historical Society 1999)(Author Elliott’s supposition (at 52) that the 1862 Easton jail was built on the Gallows Hill execution ground is incorrect). See also Heller, I History of Northampton County, supra at 139.

5 Edith von Zemenszky and Mary A. Redline, A Strasbourger In America, John Frederick Ernst Minister of the Gospel, Lutheran Denomination (1748-1805) 116-17 (Seaber Turner Associates 2007). Rev. Ernst‘s letter refers to the prisoner being Ralph “Martin”, but the date a circumstances make it clear that Ralph Morden was meant.

6 Parish Office, Saint Bernard’s – Mother Church of the Lehigh Valley, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

7 See Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008); Parish Office, Saint Bernard’s – Mother Church of the Lehigh Valley, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

8 Parish Office, Saint Bernard’s – Mother Church of the Lehigh Valley, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

9 Weaver, “The Forks of the Delaware” Illustrated, supra at xi; Heller, I History of Northampton County, supra at 363; Article, “Catholics Overcame Early Suppression, St. Bernards Established as First Church in 1829 After Years of Ministering by Missionaries”, Easton Express, Saturday, 12 June 1927, Jubilee Section B, p.5.

10 Heller, I History of Northampton County, supra at 262-64; Article, “Catholics Overcame Early Supression”, supra.

11 Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 23 Oct. 1969, p.32.

12 Scott Hill, A Self Guided Tour . . . Historic Forks of the Delaware 8 (Eagle Scout Project, 29 April 1992)(copies sold by Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society); Leonard S. Buscemi, Sr., Email Notes to Richard F. Hope on Historic Easton Draft #10 (15 June 2005)(in possession of Richard F. Hope); Marie & Frank Summa and Leonard Buscemi Sr., Images of America: Historic Easton 115 (Arcadia Publishing 2000); A Brief History & Architectural Tour of EASTON, PENNSYLVANIA, www.easton-pa.com/History/HistoricEaston.htm, “St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church” (accessed 2 Jan. 2005); Heller, I History of Northampton County, supra at 369-70; Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 27 Oct. 1969, p.32 (dedicated 21 Aug. 1836, purchase price of land was $300 to George Wolf).

13 See Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008); St. Bernard’s Parish Office, Saint Bernard’s – Mother Church of the Lehigh Valley, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

14 Article, “Catholics Overcame Early Suppression”, supra; accord, 1920 Census, Series T625, Roll 1609, p.193B (resident head Priest John E. McCann, his two assistants, the resident sister [nun], and one of the resident servants, were all from Irish-American families; the other servant was an Irish immigrant).

15 Parish Office, Saint Bernard’s – Mother Church of the Lehigh Valley, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

16 Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008); see also Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 27 Oct. 1969, p.32 (Father Reardon set up a school room in the basement of the church).

17 Scott Hill, A Self Guided Tour . . . Historic Forks of the Delaware 8 (Eagle Scout Project, 29 April 1992)(copies sold by Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society); Leonard S. Buscemi, Sr., Email Notes to Richard F. Hope on Historic Easton Draft #10 (15 June 2005)(in possession of Richard F. Hope); Marie & Frank Summa and Leonard Buscemi Sr., Images of America: Historic Easton 115 (Arcadia Publishing 2000); A Brief History & Architectural Tour of EASTON, PENNSYLVANIA, www.easton-pa.com/History/HistoricEaston.htm, “St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church” (accessed 2 Jan. 2005); Heller, I History of Northampton County, supra at 369-70; St. Bernard’s Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008)(workman’s torch, fire on 9 April 1867); Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 27 Oct. 1969, p.32 (tinsmith’s furnace upset during remodeling project, fire on 9 April 1867).

18 Parish Office, Father John Dillon – Priest, Pastor, Friend, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

19 Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008); Parish Office, The Cruxifiction, Saint Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008); see also Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 27 Oct. 1969, p.32 (“extensive alterations” by Rev. James McGeveran).

20 Parish Office, A Brief History of St. Bernard’s Church, www.sbandsm.com/sbhist1.htm (accessed 22 Feb. 2008).

21 Article, “Bishop M. Shea To Celebrate Mass Marking St. Bernard’s Anniversary”, Easton Express, Thurs., 27 Oct. 1969, p.32.

22 John A. Zukowski, “Merged Easton churches feel bond of faith, Combining three Catholic churches into one has been a spiritual success, pastor, parishioners say”, Express-Times, 14 Aug. 2008, p.C-7, cols.2-5.




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