Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

“There can be no reason to persecute any man in this world about anything that belongs to the next.” – William Penn


To describe Pennsylvania’s re­ligious diversity is to present the history of its religious develop­ment. Although many other states be­came religiously heterogeneous during the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania was pluralistic even as a colony within the British Empire.

Many early settlers and visitors to Pennsylvania commented on its diver­sity. Francis Daniel Pastorius, agent of the Frankfurt Land Company and founder of Germantown, observed that Pennsylvania’s colonists adhered to so many different religions that they must have come over on Noah’s Ark. The Moravian missionary Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg described the colony as a veritable tower of Babel. Governor George Thomas claimed that the Ger­man colonists were especially divided, for “they imported with them au of the religious whimsies of their own country.” George Whitefield, noted English evangelist, counted fifteen distinctive religious groups in German­town alone.

Such extensive religious diversity was unusual in 1681 when Pennsylvania was founded. Almost all European nations, including England and most of her American colonies, had churches that were established by law. Some countries permitted dissent but kept the number of dissenters low. Political leaders believed that religious uniformity was necessary for the preservation of national unity and the social order. Churchmen were one with their princes on this issue. They insisted that it was the ruler’s duty to support “true religion” and to punish nonconformists with whatever penalties were necessary, including imprisonment, banishment, mutilation and death.

That the colony of Pennsylvania was different was due to the vision of William Penn who believed in religious freedom. He and his brethren in the Religious Society of the Friends of God had experi­enced governmental suppression. He in­sisted, however, that religion was a spiritual matter with which the secular state should have nothing to do. “Christ’s … kingdom,” Penn wrote, “is a spiritual kingdom, and none but spiritual weapons are to be used to reclaim those who are ignorant or disobedient.” He insisted that “There can be no reason to perse­cute any man in this world about any­thing that belongs to the next.”

Religious freedom was a basic compo­nent in Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” as he called his. colony, and he wrote the concept into every frame of government that he compiled for it. At his request, members of the first Pennsylvania legis­lature meeting at Upland (now Chester) included in their “Great Law ” that “no person … shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for his or her Conscien­tious persuasion or practise. Nor shall he or she be compelled to maintain anie religious worship, place or ministry whatever.”

Such conditions attracted large num­bers of Friends who dominated immi­gration during the colony’s first three decades. Many had lived in the English cities of London and Bristol, while others came from the north and west of England. Friends came from other lands as well. Welsh Friends, with few excep­tions, settled as a group in the “so-called Welsh Tract northwest of Philadelphia.” The Irish provinces of Munster and Leinster sent many Friends whose back­grounds were English. Some English Friends who had settled in the West In­dies left their island homes and came to Pennsylvania. A few of the early Friends were of Dutch background who had learned to know Penn on his evangelistic visits to the Continent and were im­pressed by his religious sincerity. So many Friends settled in and around Phil­adelphia that in 1684 they organized the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that claimed leadership over not only Pennsylvania’s Friends but over all of “American Quakerism.”

With the large number of Friends came small groups of English and Welsh Baptists. By 1700, they had formed sev­eral congregations, including ones in Philadelphia, Lower Dublin, Cold Spring and Brandywine. Although they did not increase rapidly in number and size, they were sufficiently numerous to form in 1707 the Philadelphia Baptist Associa­tion, the first Baptist administrative body in America.

German sectarians who had sepa­rated from established churches in their homeland also found Penn’s offer of religious freedom appealing. Begin­ning slowly during the late seventeenth century, they arrived in larger numbers in the early 1700s. Some, such as the Mennonites and Amish, were of Ana­baptist origins. Mennonites made their initial settlements in 1709 west of Phila­delphia in the Conestoga region which two decades later became Lancaster County. Later arrivals augmented these communities and established others in Philadelphia County and elsewhere. The Amish first settled northwest of Phila­delphia at the foot of the Blue Moun­tains but later established communities in Chester and Lancaster counties. Ger­man Baptists, often called Dunkards or Brethren, began to immigrate in 1719 and promptly formed congregations in Philadelphia, Chester and Lancaster counties. From the Dunkards emerged the Seventh Day Baptists, led by the con­troversial Conrad Beissel, who formed in the early I 730s the Ephrata Cloisters on the banks of the Cocalico Creek in Lancaster County. Almost all of the Schwenkfelders arrived in 1734 and set­tled in Philadelphia County. Simultane­ously, Moravian missionaries appeared in the province. Sent by the pietistic Ger­man nobleman Ludwig von Zinzendorf, they organized their major communal settlement at Bethlehem, on the Lehigh River, and from there dispersed evangel­ists to the colony’s European as well as Indian inhabitants.

Although the Friends and other sec­tarians were numerically dominant in early Pennsylvania, church people quickly gained prominence. Indeed, the charter that King Charles II granted to William Penn guaranteed the organiza­tion of a parish of the Church of Eng­land as soon as 200 residents petitioned for one, which occurred in 1695. During the middle decades of the eighteenth century, Philadelphia’s Anglicans con­structed the large and fashionable Christ Church, now a national landmark. Nevertheless, members of England’s es­tablished church did not emigrate to Pennsylvania in large numbers. By the late colonial period, Philadelphia had only three Anglican churches. Interior settlements contained even fewer Angli­cans. Only subsidies from the English Society for the Propagation of the Gos­pel sustained the church’s clergymen at locations such as Lancaster and Carlisle. The Anglican John Wesley made a greater impact by sending Methodist missionaries beginning in the 1760s.

Other British churchmen, however, did flock to Pennsylvania. Scottish Pres­byterians, many of whom came to the Province by way of Ireland, were wor­shipping in Philadelphia as early as 1695. Pennsylvania rapidly emerged as the center of colonial American Presby­terianism with the organization of the Presbytery and Synod of Philadelphia in 1706 and 1717 respectively. As conditions in Ireland became more difficult for its Presbyterian residents, many emi­grated to Pennsylvania’s frontier where they promptly established new congrega­tions in the Susquehanna, Juniata, Cone­maugh and Ohio River valleys.

Unlike the Scots who were almost unanimous in their Presbyterianism, German churchmen were divided into three groups: the Lutheran, Reformed and Roman Catholic. Requiring edu­cated and ordained clergymen, adherents of all three groups suffered throughout much of the colonial period from a lack of competent professional leaders. Early German Lutheran immigrants resolved the difficulty by worshipping with their Swedish coreligionists who had come to the Delaware Valley when Sweden con­trolled it in the 1630s and ’40s. When German immigration increased during the first half of the eighteenth century, German Lutherans established strong congregations of their own at Philadel­phia, Germantown, New Hanover, Lan­caster and elsewhere in the interior. Leaders of the pietistic Lutheran Halle Missionary Society of Germany pro­vided invaluable assistance by sending to Pennsylvania in 1742 the newly-ordained pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Al­though he had no official administrative responsibilities, he guided Lutherans in Pennsylvania and surrounding colonies with unsurpassed effectiveness for more than a quarter of a century.

Arriving simultaneously with Luth­erans were members of the German Re­formed Church. Many of the early Re­formed settlers came from the Rhenish Palatinate which invading armies had devastated repeatedly during the numer­ous wars of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Like the German Lutherans, German Reformed settlers had correligionists, the Dutch Reformed, who assisted them in many ways. As the number of German Reformed colonists increased, John Philip Boehm, a former schoolmaster whom Dutch churchmen in New York ordained, provided pas­toral services throughout the area be­tween the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers from 1725 until his death in 1749.

Later in the eighteenth century, some pietistic Lutheran and Reformed settlers formed the Church of the United Breth­ren in Christ and the Evangelical Asso­ciation. There were so few German Catholics in the Province during its early years that not until the early 1740s did they have their own clergymen who served parishes at Philadelphia, Bally, Lancaster and Conewago.

Even smaller in number during the colonial period were Pennsylvanians of the Jewish faith. Although Jews from Germany settled in Philadelphia in the early eighteenth century, they did not formally establish the congregation of Mikveh Israel or build a synagogue until 1782 when they received the help of Jew­ish refugees from the British-occupied cities of New York, Charleston and Savannah. Jews settled also in the inte­rior towns of Easton, Northampton (now Allentown), Lancaster, Reading, York, Harris’ Ferry (now Harrisburg) and were buying land near Fort Au­gusta, soon to be Sunbury. Only at Easton and Lancaster, however, did they worship together with any degree of regularity.

By the end of the colonial period of Pennsylvania’s history, the western world’s three major religious faiths­Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism -were represented. Protestant settlers of Scots-Irish Presbyterian and German Lutheran background were almost equally numerous and included nearly one-half of the colony’s population of almost 300,000. The German Reformed were approximately one-half as numer­ous as the Lutherans. German sectarians were relatively small in number. Al­though Anglicans and Friends were still prominent, their influence was far out of proportion to their numerical strength. Jews and Catholics were so small in number that together they constituted scarcely more than one percent of the people of Pennsylvania; however, their numbers and proportion increased tre­mendously during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when their im­migration diversified religious patterns in other states as well.

This was especially true concerning Roman Catholics. While German Catho­lics continued to come to Pennsylvania, Irish Catholics, who were present but not numerous among the eighteenth cen­tury settlers, began to immigrate in signi­ficant numbers after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. These were not the Irish whose ancestors had gone to Ire­land from Scotland and who were Prot­estant, but native Irish. Most of the native Irish who settled in Philadelphia promptly joined the descendants of their eighteenth century predecessors in the city’s St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s churches. As Irish immigration in­creased, so did the number of Catholic parishes in the city. By 1850, there were twelve, by 1860 twenty-eight and by 1870 thirty-six, thirty of which were predomi­nantly Irish. When St. Augustine’s Church was founded in 1836, “Irish­-born parishioners constituted one-half of the congregation, and from 1844 to 1870 fifteen of its twenty-two priests were Irish.” At St. Patrick’s Church, 103 of the 111 pew-holders were Irish. Of course, only a minority of the Catho­lic Irish immigrants remained in Phila­delphia, as many others went into the in­terior to construct canals and railroads, and to mine coal. They carried their Catholicism with them to such inland mining centers as Pottsville in the An­thracite Region, such railroad towns as Altoona, and steel manufacturing cities as Pittsburgh. A contentious lot, it was said of the Catholic Irish that the only time that they stood together was “for the reading of the Gospel [lesson] at mass.”

While the Irish and Germans continued to dominate immigration into Pennsyl­vania until 1890, they were joined in­creasingly by southern and eastern Euro­peans. This was the “new immigration,” including Italians, Greeks, Poles, Rus­sians, Ukranians and other Slavic peoples. They began to arrive in small numbers even before the Civil War, and by the late nineteenth and early twenti­eth centuries, they poured into the state’s manufacturing and mining cen­ters. Like the nineteenth century Irish and German immigrants, many of them were Catholic and tended to develop parish churches in their neighborhoods.

Italian Catholics became especially numerous. Pennsylvania’s religious pluralism at first confused them. They had “left a country with one church and many political parties,” but “here they found only two political parties and many churches.” Gradually, they began to organize their own congregations, be­ginning in 1852 with the Church of St. Mary Magdalene De Pazzi, in South Philadelphia, the “first Italian parish in the United States.” As the city’s Italian community grew, church officials secured additional Italian priests and established more Italian churches. By 1920, there were ten and by 1940, there were sixteen in Philadelphia alone. As Italians moved inland, they repeated this pattern. The Italian Catholics of Roseto, in the “Slate Belt region of Northamp­ton County,” built their own church in 1894 but had to go to Easton, fifteen miles away, to receive the sacraments from an Irish priest until they received their own Italian pastor.

The thousands of Polish Catholics who arrived in Pennsylvania slightly later than the Italians also had difficulty in obtaining priests. The fact that Penn­sylvania received more Poles than any other state – “twice as many as New York and Illinois” – made the problem especially serious. By the late nineteenth century, however, Polish priests who were sensitive to their parishioners’ cul­tural needs, such as Francis Hodur, were ministering to immigrants in their own language. Seventy percent of Pennsyl­vania’s Poles lived in the mining and mill towns of central and western Pennsyl­vania, settling first in Shamokin, Shen­andoah, Mount Carmel and Nanticoke, where their Polish parishes were often the largest religious organizations in their communities.

Also highly conscious of the impor­tance of cultural traditions were Slavic immigrants from southeastern Europe, consisting of Rusins, Croatians, Serbians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Slovenians and others. Although many of the Slavs were Catholic, some belonged to churches of the Eastern Rite. They too attempted to establish ethnic parishes in the mining and mill towns in which they settled and to obtain priests of their own nationality who spoke their language. The first Uniate priest to come to the United States arrived in 1884 and promptly led his Rusin parishioners in Shenandoah, Hazleton and Kingston in the construc­tion of Uniate churches. Other Rusin congregations developed in the Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh and PhiladeJphfa areas. By 1910, there were eighty Rusin congregations. Some neighborhoods, such as South Pittsburgh, and :some towns, such as Steelton, included numerous Slavic groups. Io Steelton, Croatians and Slovenes, “with a few Slovaks and Poles,” formed St. Mary’s Croatian-Slovenian Church in 1898. Slightly more than a decade later, some members formed a distinctively Slove­nian congregation.

Some of Pennsylvania’s eastern Euro­pean immigrants were not Catholic but belonged to one of several branches of the Orthodox Church. In early twen­tieth century Steelton, there was a Ser­bian Orthodox congregation as well as a Bulgarian one. Because of support from the Russian government, the Russian Orthodox Mission was especially active in organizing congregations among the Ukrainians in Pennsylvania. After the Tsarist government fell in 1917, some Ukrainian Orthodox priests obtained a bishop and organized the American Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A few of the Russian immigrants were known as “Old Believers,” for they belonged to the Old Orthodox Church. In Erie, they formed one of only four congregations of this denomination in the United States.

Some of the immigrants from eastern Europe who settled in Pennsylvania before the Civil War were Jews. They “clustered into the downtown section” of Philadelphia, and “gradually they were absorbed into the existing Jewish structure.” Later Jewish emigrants who departed Poland, Hungary, Russia and elsewhere tended to re-create the ghettos that they had left. So heavily did they settle in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia that it became known as “Jerusalem.” As the Pennsylvania Rail­road enabled Philadelphians to work in the city and live in the suburbs, Jews moved into their former neighborhoods in South Philadelphia’s “Society Hill” and the “Northern Liberties.” Here they converted Protestant churches and German Jewish synagogues into their own places of worship, wore their custo­mary “four-cornered” garments, per­formed the “ritual” slaughter of animals “in the open street,” and adhered to “numerous other obligations practised by traditionally observant Jews.” By the 1920s, other Pennsylvania cities and towns also had congregations of eastern European Jews, but none, including Pittsburgh, attracted as many as Phila­delphia.

Although most of the immigrants who came to Pennsylvania from eastern Europe were Catholic or Jewish, some were Protestant. Like others from that area, they settled in the mining and mill towns. For example, in Connellsville and South Bethlehem, they founded Slovak Lutheran congregations, while in Coatesville, Phoenixville, Johnstown and McKeesport, they organized Hun­garian Reformed congregations. At first, they depended on ecclesiastical leaders in their homeland to provide ministers, but later they received help from American denominations. Indeed, leaders of Pittsburgh’s Hungarian Reformed congregation contacted both Hungarian and American churchmen in their quest for a clergyman. An Hun­garian bishop identified a willing candi­date, and the American Reformed Home Mission Board guaranteed his salary.

Not all immigrants to Pennsylvania came voluntarily or formed their own churches within a few years after they ar­rived. The first Africans were brought as slaves to prominent residents, including William Penn. Early African Christian­ity in America was an “invisible institu­tion” which only gradually became evi­dent as Africans began to worship with the European settlers in their churches, such as St. George’s Methodist, in Phila­delphia. When the number of blacks at St. George’s increased significantly, ushers ordered them to a section of the balcony. Instead of complying, they left to form their own congregation. When their leaders disagreed, they formed two churches in 1794: the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, led by Absolom Jones, and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, served by Richard Allen. Bethel became the mother church of a large denomination, and Allen became its first bishop. A few years later, blacks also separated from Phila­delphia’s Presbyterian congregations and in 1807 formed the First African Presbyterian Church. Two others emerged in the city prior to the Civil War. Simultaneously, Philadelphia’s Black Baptists formed their own congre­gations that grew rapidly. In time, the Methodists and Baptists proved most appealing to blacks there and elsewhere in the state. During the 1890s, Roman Catholics intensified their efforts among blacks and designated St. Peter Claver’s Church in South Philadelphia “especially for Negro work.” Subsequently, they have attracted considerable numbers of blacks who came to Pennsylvania’s cities during the twentieth century.

If immigration during the past few dec­ades has produced significantly greater religious diversity in Pennsylvania, it is not yet apparent. Refugees from Euro­pean uprisings in the 1950s were not numerous and seem to have found what­ever religious nurture they wanted in existing organizations. Aliens from Latin American islands and countries have caused several churches to alter their programs and add Spanish-speak­ing clergymen to their staffs. Reading’s once-fashionable Second Reformed Church (United Church of Christ) recently attempted a Spanish-speaking ministry to residents of its neighbor­hood. Arrivals from Asia might add an­other dimension to Pennsylvania’s relig­ious diversity. In 1941, Catholic officials organized a Chinese parish in Philadel­phia’s Chinatown. Whether other Asian immigrants will enter existing organiza­tions, worship in the tradition of the eastern religions or be indifferent to organized religion remains to be seen.

Although ethnic differences contrib­uted to the greater variety of religious beliefs and practices in Pennsylvania during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, other influences were impor­tant also. The legacy of German Pietism and English Puritanism produced reviv­alists in the tradition of the eighteenth century Presbyterian evangelist Gilbert Tennent, such as Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday who preached a more emotional than rational religion. Their followers left congrega­tions that they considered cold and for­mal to gather new ones that maintained basic religious beliefs, emotional wor­ship and enthusiastic evangelism. Some of these were Pentecostal groups that have grown rapidly in recent years, espe­cially among blacks who set up “store front” churches in the cities. Others were “holiness” groups such as the Evangelical Christian Church founded in the early 1880s by a Hamburg hard­ware salesman. Originally known as the “Heavenly Recruits,” its self-educated ministers attracted unchurched members of the middle and lower classes in south­eastern Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

Such an intense emphasis on experi­mental religion caused some Protestants to become more aware of their own tra­ditional doctrines. Having studied pro­foundly the German scholarship in history and theology, John W. Nevin and Philip Schaff reacted against contemporary revivalism during the 1840s and ’50s and taught the controversial “Mercersburg Theology,” emphasizing the historic continuity of the church, Christocentric faith and liturgical worship in the Reformed Church’s seminary in that town. Subsequent disputes divided Pennsylvania’s Reformed Church into “high church” and “low church” fac­tions. Simultaneously, German Lu­theran confessionalism led Pennsyl­vania’s Charles Porterfield Krauth to break with the Lutheran General Synod and to lead in the formation of the rival General Council. The council organized a new seminary at Mount Airy, near Philadelphia, where the faculty stressed more distinctively Lutheran doctrines and worship. Among Anglicans also, there appeared at the same time a similar trend toward a more historical doctrine of the church and more highly ritualistic worship. This trend swept some Angli­cans, known in America after the Revo­lution as Episcopalians, into the Roman Catholic Church. It caused others to organize “Anglo-Catholic” parishes, and to construct neo-Gothic structures, such as St. Marks’s in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) replete with rich sym­bolism, incense and holy water. From German Jews came demands for modern expressions of their ancient faith which led to Reform Judaism’s emphasis on the moral and intellectual qualities that were presented in the Pittsburgh Plat­form in 1885. Unitarians moved even further toward rational religion and established a seminary in Meadville to teach it.

As some Pennsylvanians disputed doctrines, others expressed their eager­ness to demonstrate their beliefs by participating in the “Social Gospel” movement. They opened their churches during the week to care for children of working parents, built kitchens from which to feed those who were out of work, constructed gymnasiums in order to provide wholesome recreation for the youth and took up the causes of the working classes in labor-management clashes. In the late nineteenth century, Russell Conwell transformed his Phila­delphia congregation into “the greatest of institutional churches,” – the Baptist Temple that founded a college (now Temple University) and bought a hos­pital (now the Temple University Med­ical Center). Churches began to sponsor boy and girl scout troops and to provide meeting places for community organiza­tions. Although some “institutional churches” grew rapidly, others declined because of more staid members’ opposi­tion to social programs, disdain for their clientele and disagreement with their ministers’ advocacy of “social justice.” During the tumultuous 1960s and early ’70s, it seemed to some clergymen that both speaking out and remaining silent on public issues divided their congrega­tions.

During most of the Commonwealth’s 300 years, Pennsylvanians of these diverse religious beliefs and practices expressed their differences charitably as Penn hoped that they would; however, tension occasionally developed. During the 1750s the militant Scots-Irish Presby­terians and German church people in the West bitterly condemned the pacifistic Friends in the East who dominated the colony’s legislature for their failure to provide protection from the Indians. Pacifists and militants clashed again over the issues of independence and mili­tary service during the War for Amer­ican Independence. More intense hostil­ity developed among nineteenth century immigrants. Eastern Rite Catholics resented deeply attempts by Russian Orthodox authorities to proselytize among them. Continental European Catholics resisted domination of their church by Irish priests, bishops and car­dinals. Philadelphia’s Germans with­drew from the Irish-controlled St. Mary’s Church and established in 1787 Holy Trinity, the first deliberately ethnic Catholic parish in the United States. More often, Italian Catholics clashed with the Irish bishops who realized that they “could not hope to make the Ital­ians Irish, but … could at least attempt to make them respectable.” Pittsburgh’s Italian Catholics charged that Irish priests would not baptize Italian babies and that until recently only Irishmen could serve as ushers. As recently as 1933, Philadelphia’s Italian Catholics “revolted” when Dennis Joseph Cardi­nal Dougherty closed the Italian Church of Our Lady of Good Council. Furious parishioners “imprisoned one priest, menaced others, diverted funerals, cracked the church bell through inces­sant tolling and threatened to burn the church down.” Polish Catholics also re­volted against the Irish bishops who appointed Irish priests to serve Polish parishes in Pennsylvania. When Poles of South Scranton’s Church of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were unsuc­cessful in obtaining the Polish priest whom they wanted, they left, “founded the independent parish of St. Stanis­laus” and called Francis Hodur as their pastor. Under Hodur’s leadership, this local schism led to the development in 1904 of the Polish National Catholic Church which became independent of the Roman Catholic Church.

The most violent departure from Penn’s dream of a “peaceable kingdom” occurred in 1844 when Philadelphia’s Protestants rioted in Irish Catholic Ken­sington and in other Catholic neighbor­hoods. Having long believed that the city’s Irish Catholics did not observe the Sabbath properly, drank too much whis­key on that and other days of the week as well, and increased their numbers too rapidly, Protestants were enraged by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick’s de­mand that Catholic: children in the pub­lic schools be excused from daily read­ings from the King James version of the Bible. They attacked the Catholics physically, killing eighteen people, injur­ing at least eighty-four, burning approxi­mately thirty homes and destroying two Catholic churches in addition to three schools. Eventually, the governor sent five thousand troops to keep order in the city.

With the exception of such events, religious diversity has enriched life in Pennsylvania and still does. Small groups continue to find refuge here. This state contains sixty-seven percent of the nation’s members of the Brethren in Christ Church and more than thirty-four percent of all Mennonites. They and the Amish attempt to maintain their sectar­ian way of life in rural Lancaster, Miff­lin and Centre counties. (The Amish believe that God made the country but Satan made the cities.) The openness and simplicity that they, the Friends and many Black Baptists practise in worship contrasts sharply with the meaningful liturgy of Greek, Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox services. Their places of wor­ship vary in style from the plain Friends’ meeting houses to the ornately decorated Catholic and Orthodox churches. The musical accompaniment to worship ranges from “Gospel songs” in Pitts­burgh’s “storefront” churches to Bach chorales among the Moravians in Beth­lehem.

The significance of Pennsylvania’s religious diversity extends beyond eccle­siastical boundaries. That Pennsylvanians have such a variety of educational opportunities in private schools is largely the result of their ancestors’ desire to teach their particular religious doctrines to their young. The state’s artistic heri­tage includes the Friends’ plain silhou­ettes and the colorful paintings of the Moravian John Valentine Haidt. Some Pennsylvanians are beginning to collect the German residents’ fraktur many of which originated as baptismal and con­firmation certificates. The state’s relig­ious diversity even enlivens its politics, as some Catholics and Protestant Fun­damentalists oppose Liberal Protestants and Jews on several issues.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania’s distinc­tive diversity seems to be declining. Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians who are now dominant numerically in Pennsylvania are promi­nent in other states as well and in some ways are becoming more similar. Since the Catholics’ Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), it has become difficult at times to distinguish between the Mass and Methodist worship. Without large­-scale immigration to reinforce the Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish congre­gations, they are not the tightly knit “ethnic communities” that they once were. The children and grandchildren of the immigrants in growing numbers go to public schools, marry outside the group and move from their ghettos to suburbs where they join neighborhood congregations and lose the unique ethnic aspects of their religion. Parishioners of Mount Carmel’s Mother of Consolation Church may not much longer be able to sing carols in Polish at the Christmas Eve Mass. Now that linguistic differ­ences are no longer as divisive, some de­nominations that were strong in Penn­sylvania are merging with other churches to form national bodies, as did the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational-Christian Churches in 1957 and the Evangelical United Brethren with the Methodist Church in 1968. The Pennsylvania elements in these unions are losing many of their distinguishing characteristics. Some re­cent observers implied that such denomi­national activity was not necessary be­cause Americans were adopting “civil religion” that will supersede their diverse beliefs and unite them. A few others acknowledged the trend toward secularism by announcing the “Death of God” and that Americans live in a “Secular City.” Such assertions now seem premature.

In the light of recent trends, it is not clear how pluralistic or uniform in religion Pennsylvanians will be in the years to come. But predicting the future is not the responsibility of the student of history. As far as the past is concerned, however, Pennsylvanians in their religious diversity have realized William Penn’s vision more fully than he could have imagined.


For Further Reading

Klett, Guy S. Presbyterians in Colonial Pennsylvania. Phila­delphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937.

Muhlenberg, Henry Melchior. Notebook of a Colonial Clergy­man. Edited by Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.

Schrott, Lambert. Pioneer German Catholics in the American Colonies (1734-1784). New York: The United States Catholic Historical Society, 1933.

Tolles, Frederick B. Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia, 1682-1763. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1948.

Wolf, Edwin, II and Whiteman, Maxwell. The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1957.


John B. Frantz, an associate professor of American history at the Pennsylvania State University, received his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania. He spe­cializes in colonial and revolutionary America and Pennsylvania history, with a particular emphasis on religious history. Currently. he serves as vice­-president of the Pennsylvania Historical Association.