History of the Parish
Holy Ghost Church was originally established as a German ethnic parish whose roots were the outgrowth of a German-speaking congregation on the North Side of Bethlehem. In 1885, in order to meet the needs of a growing German immigrant population on the South Side of the Lehigh River, permission was granted to build a new church in South Bethlehem.
On March 18, 1888, the new church was dedicated as St. Bernard. The building housed the first Catholic school in the city of Bethlehem on the first floor, and the church was located on the upper floor. Later, when this structure was replaced by the current larger church, it continued to serve parish needs as a gathering place for various parish social events and groups including the CYO. Bowling alleys were installed in the basement and the upper level was converted into a basketball court. For many years it was affectionately known as the “Casino.” Today the building is home to the Newman Center and serves as a religious, social and educational meeting place for Catholic students of Lehigh University.
By 1895, the old St. Bernard’s Church was no longer adequate to handle the increasing number of new parishioners and on June 21, 1895, ground was broken for the construction of the present church. Faith for this undertaking was placed in the Holy Spirit to whom the new Church was dedicated. Under the direction of a major benefactor, Benedict Birkel, the first stones were laid in July 1895. On Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1906, the cornerstone of the magnificent structure was laid. The church was completed and dedicated on September 25, 1910.
The stained glass windows and murals were completed and installed in 1918 and 1919. The entire church construction was initiated under the dynamic leadership of the Rev. Aloysius Fretz, who served as Pastor from June 4, 1891, until his retirement on June 8, 1931. The Romanesque style of the interior of the Church and its cruciform design reflects the rich heritage of these German immigrants and is typical of churches seen in Germany and Austria.
Through the years, the church grew and prospered. In 1988-89, a major restoration project was begun. At this time the sanctuary was extended and the baldachino was moved forward to its present location. Air conditioning was added, the sound system replaced, the interior repainted and lighting upgraded to highlight the church’s artwork.
On July 15, 2008, as part of the Diocesan consolidation of parishes, the Catholic Center of Lehigh University and the Newman Center made its home in the Former “Casino” Building and the parish is now the home to the Catholic Center of Lehigh University. As a parish family, we welcome the Catholic students of Lehigh University and all new parishioners, and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.