The Beginnings of the Maronite Community
Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley
The Maronite community of Wilkes-Barre traces its beginnings to the year 1887 with the arrival of the first two Maronite immigrants, George Bechir Raad (George Reed), and Mansour Dagher (Mansour Decker) who settled in the Georgetown section of Wilkes-Barre, Twp.
Their destination of Wilkes-Barre was chosen for them by the Fayour brothers, who were merchants and bankers in New York City. They themselves had migrated from Hadeth El-Jebbe during the American civil War and established a mercantile business in the lower Manhattan "financial district", on Washington Street.
Mr. Decker and Mr. Reed, wishing to immigrate to the US, were given a note of introduction to the Fayour Family from their cousin, Kathur, wife of Skander Nassiff Dagher (Decker) of Hardine Lebanon, their home village. Upon arrival in New York, they took up residence with the Fayour Family, and after approximately two months, it was decided that they should settle in Wilkes-Barre, which was in the midst of an economic boom due to the demand for Anthracite coal.
Many thousands of immigrant miners (principally from Eastern Europe) were settling in the Wilkes-Barre area (Wyoming Valley). George Reed and Mansour Decker were welcomed to Wilkes-Barre by the Saba Family from Fih, Lebanon, a member of the Antiochene Orthodox community and, as far as is known, was one of the earliest Lebanese immigrants to this area. He assisted them in establishing their residence in the Wilkes-Barre area.
Being typically Lebanese with an industrious and pragmatic nature, they immediately began peddling dry goods "door to door" to the nearby mining communities of the area, and within a short period they prospered and began sending for relatives and families from their native Lebanon.
With the coming of more relatives and friends from Lebanon, a small community of Maronites began to develop. In 1892, the first Maronite couple to be married in Wilkes-Barre were the late George and Catherine Decker. In 1896, Margaret Decker, the daughter of Mansour and Catherine Decker became the first Maronite child to be born and baptized in Wilkes-Barre.
This community, having no Maronite church, and having normal spiritual needs, looked to Latin Rite churches for their spiritual nourishment. Namely, St. Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception (Irish Community), St. Joseph's Monastery (Franciscans), and St. Boniface Church (German Community). It was during this period of the 1890's and early 1900's that various "transient" Maronite priests would visit this community, offering religious services in the Maronite tradition, and satisfying, to a certain extent, the spiritual thirst and hunger of these immigrants, who missed their homeland and its traditions.
In these early years, economic conditions forced these immigrans to live ten to fifteen persons to a rented home before they became established. In an amazingly short time many of these immigrants became "well-to-do," middle class families. Their rapid rise on the economic scale is recorded in the Annual Record Almanac published by the local Chamber of Commerce. From peddlers and hucksters they became dry goods and shoe merchants, and in their obituary notices in years to come they were described as "prominent local merchants."
In 1911, as a result of their financial success, they were in a position to establish a Maronite Church; however disagreements quickly arose concerning the location of this church. Because of these concerns, the Maronite Community of Wilkes-Barre divided and established two locations: one at the corner of Park Ave and Dana Sts.; and the other a short distance away on Loomis St. The Park Ave. property was purchased on December 15, 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of the Loomis St. property on February 28, 1912.