Our Lord Jesus began His earthly life in rather meager surroundings. St. Ignatius Parish shares in a similar and humble beginning. While we were not relegated to a stable, the West Lawn Fire Company auditorium was far from the comforts that we enjoy today in our own beautiful, newly renovated church building. Bishop Joseph McShea, the founding bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, established the new parish of St. Ignatius Loyola to serve the growing population in western Berks County. New territorial boundaries were drawn for the fledgling parish and four hundred and seventy-five families, who previously belonged to Sacred Heart Church in West Reading, became the founding members of St. Ignatius. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, and confessions still took place at Sacred Heart until November, 1965, when daily Mass, baptisms, and confessions were celebrated in the renovated garage of the newly-occupied Rectory on Bressler Drive.
Eight acres of farmland adjacent to Van Reed Road was purchased in the Whitfield community of West Lawn with plans to build a church, school, and rectory on the grounds. The name given to the newly established parish was an appropriate one because of the proximity to the religious order of Jesuits who operated the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, which fell within the boundaries of the new parish. In 1539, St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, and they became known over the centuries for their missionary work with an emphasis on the education of the laity. Before the United States declared their independence from England, the Jesuits were well rooted in the area that would become Berks County, as they helped establish the Catholic faith in America.
Under the leadership of Rev. Joseph Radocha, our first pastor, and Rev. Robert Coll, administrator, the parishioners of St. Ignatius continued to worship in the social hall of the fire company as their new parish buildings were under construction. The school was built first and would be staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis who lived in a wing attached to the school. Sister M. Perpetua served as the first principal and on September 6, 1967, two-hundred and thirty students filled the eight classrooms which opened into an auditorium.
Once the school was completed, Holy Mass was celebrated in its auditorium and the parishioners of St. Ignatius soon got used to traveling to St. Albans Drive on Sunday mornings. By the spring of 1968 the contemporary octagonal structure of the new church was ready to open its doors to the excitement of its parishioners. A white marble altar with a matching, smaller altar of repose were featured in the open, raised sanctuary, protected by only a modest communion rail. Blue-tinted windows and turquoise carpeting adorned the new edifice which accommodated eight-hundred and fifty people. Everything in the new church was designed to serve the people in their service to God and each other. On April 13, 1968, the parish family of St. Ignatius Loyola celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the first time in their brand new church.
Rev. Stephen Bednarik was named as St. Ignatius’ second pastor in September, 1969, after the passing of Fr. Radocha. The area began developing rapidly and by 1975, the parish census topped 1000 families. Under Fr. Bednarik a new rectory was built on the parish grounds and occupied by June, 1976. After a lengthy illness, Fr. Bednarik passed in September, 1977. His dream of a new pipe organ became a reality later that year. In October, 1977, Rev. Pascal Sabas was appointed as the new pastor and St. Ignatius continued to experience growth, with the number of parish families hitting the 1300 mark by 1980.
A statue of our patron, St. Ignatius Loyola was erected on the corner of Van Reed Road and Whitfield Boulevard. Due to increasing enrollment, the school was looking for more space so the parish purchased a new convent on St. Albans Drive which allowed the school to transform the Sisters’ wing into classrooms. In 1982, only seventeen years since its inception, St. Ignatius became a “mother parish” as the Diocese established St. Francis de Sales parish in Robesonia from the rolls of our parish census. In the same year, stained glass depicting Gospel scenes replaced the original church windows.
In August, 1983, Rev. Msgr. James A. Treston was named as the fourth pastor and would serve the good and faithful of the St. Ignatius community for the next thirty years. The beloved Msgr. Treston diligently took care of the of the St. Ignatius campus and infrastructure while upgrading the facilities to provide a beautiful and fitting setting for the parishioners to gather, worship, and learn. Major additions were undertaken to meet the growing community’s needs at the education center as well as the church. A parish library, gymnasium, religious education offices, science lab, computer classroom and meeting rooms were added to the school in 1991.
Five years later, the church was renovated and enlarged with a narthex, 100-seat chapel, new sacristy, ministry room, bride’s room, choir room, confessionals, and a church office. The church was also made accessible for those with disabilities. A porte cochere graced the entrance to the church and a bigger-than-life crucifix stands above the new marble sanctuary.
Monsignor introduced the biblically-based concept of Stewardship to the parish as a way of giving back to God a small part of the blessings which He bestows on us. The parishioners are asked to give of their time, talent, and treasure in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. A barometer of how well the parish has responded is by the number of ministries, organizations, and activities available at St. Ignatius, where the family total ballooned to over 3000 and an incredible 11,000 souls by 2008. There is something for everyone at St. Ignatius and all of the parishioners are encouraged to get involved.
In 2013, the parish was saddened by the retirement of Msgr. Treston who devoted 30 of his 53 years of priesthood to make St. Ignatius the envy of the Diocese. Fr. Tom Bortz was assigned as the fifth and current pastor of the church where he began his own priestly ministry as an assistant to Msgr. Treston. Minor interior renovations were made at the church which included new padded pews, carpeting, tabernacle, brass railings, and a devotional area dedicated to our patron, St. Ignatius.
Fifty-six years have passed since the founding of St. Ignatius Loyola parish, and many changes accompanied the continual growth of our faith community, but the parishioners’ great love for God has been constant through it all. Central to their belief, it is and always has been over the years, the Holy Eucharist that unites the parish family of St. Ignatius each week in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ, truly present in this Most Blessed of Sacraments, continues to be the very foundation on which our parish has been built, as He is the source and the summit, the strength and the determination, the love and the grace for everything that we do and everyone we serve. We look forward to the future with a confidence that God will sanctify our service to the Church and each other as we offer ourselves “for His greater glory.”
Our future is what we want it to be -- as parishioners! In the words of our patron, St. Ignatius Loyola, we do all "for the greater glory of God."