Archbishop Dougherty’s Big Trip

Before digital media and modern tech, when the world moved at a more stately pace, an overseas trip was a major undertaking – especially if an honor would be received at the other end. Accounts of Archbishop Dougherty’s journey to Rome in 1921, to be installed as a cardinal, focused largely on getting there and back!

The Philadelphia Inquirer recorded the expedition’s start: “Entering an automobile” (still somewhat exotic transport) at 7:30 AM sharp on February 19, 1921, Archbishop Dougherty “was accompanied to Broad Street Station by Monsignors Nevin S. Fisher and Michael J. Crane (our second Pastor, also travelling). In the line of march which escorted him to the station was a bodyguard of mounted policemen, a detail of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, representatives from other Catholic orders, a band, and color guard. The guard carried the papal colors of gold and white and the American flag. Two cadets from the school of St. Francis de Sales Church, Edward Lipp and Edward Walsh, bore the colors.” And that was only the beginning.

A Catholic News Service reported that, including our Msgr. Crane, “Four hundred clergymen and laymen of Philadelphia accompanied Archbishop Dougherty to New York… Seven special (train) cars were required to bring the big delegation to Hoboken…” where “Thousands of men and women who awaited his arrival at the pier knelt as he passed through their midst to the vessel and when he reached the decks hundreds of others greeted him and filed up to congratulate him and kiss the episcopal ring…” It noted “When the visitors had gone ashore Archbishop Dougherty stood on the starboard side of the liner amidships… Just before the liner pulled cut, at a given signal, came the parting salute of flowers. The red carnations worn by the Philadelphia party, roses, violets and orchids were thrown in the air and showered down on the smiling prelate as the Niew Amsterdam moved out into the river.

As to accommodations for the week-long voyage, the Inquirer noted that “An altar has been set up on board the vessel and His Grace will read mass each morning. A private dining salon has been set aside for the use of the party. According to the Catholic Standard and Times, “While the vessel was crossing the Atlantic, the Archbishop delivered an address on Washington’s birthday, eulogizing the ‘Father of Our Country.’” Upon arrival in France on February 28, “the party was greeted at Boulogne by a delegation of Knights of Columbus… and a group of prominent French Catholics, who escorted the Archbishop to Paris.” The Philadelphia group then continued to Rome on a special train, where, finally, “amid ceremonies of stirring solemnity and grandeur, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty received from Pope Benedict XV on Thursday. March 10, 1921. the full insignia of his exalted rank as a Prince of the Catholic Church.

Coming home, the new Cardinal sailed from Paris on April 6, aboard the RMS Olympic (a sister ship to the Titanic, reportedly just as luxurious, but less moist), “accompanied by his party of clergy and laity who had escorted him to Rome…” Arriving in New York, April 13, he was greeted onboard by dignitaries. Then, “During his passage up New York Harbor…the Cardinal was cheered by thousands…hundreds were congregated around Pier A, where the boats docked, and the street along which the automobile procession was to pass was dense with people for several blocks…The Cardinal and his party left Pennsylvania Station in two special trains the following evening at 6 o’clock… The train bearing His Eminence arrived at North Philadelphia Station at 8.05 o’clock” where he was greeted by “Bishop Rhinelander, of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, and Rabbi Krauskopf. of Keneseth Israel Synagogue. Clad in the robes of his high office, the Cardinal rode down Broad st. on which, for almost 10 miles, from Logan to extreme South Philadelphia, more than half a million citizens of all races and creeds greeted him with hymns of thanksgiving, deafening cheers, pealing bells and the stirring strains of music. Through this long human lane, amid sputtering red torches and spotlights, under triumphal arches, proceeded 150 automobiles carrying silk-hatted dignitaries of the city, the Church, and the professions in the special escort to the Cardinal…” And he hadn’t even won a Superbowl!

In this picture the Cardinal-elect sits in the parlor of the American College, Rome, awaiting the visit of the Vatican Emissary to give formal notice of his elevation to the Cardinalate. Figures in the front row from right to left are : Msgr. Patrick J. Supple, a classmate from Boston; Msgrs. Grosso and Respighi, Papal Masters of Ceremonies; Msgr. McCullough, Philadelphia; Bishop Allen, Mobile, Ala.; Msgrs. Fitzpatrick and Crane, Philadelphia; Msgr. O’Hern, rector, and Msgr. Mahoney, spiritual director of North American College.” (Funeral booklet for Cardinal Dougherty June 1951)

Arrival back in New York, April 1921 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Location, Location, Location

Have you ever wondered how our story—and our neighbourhood — might have been different if our church had been built in a different place?

So many spots were considered in the early days of our parish that it’s hard to keep track of what was real! The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in July 1890 that a site had been “secured” for first pastor Rev. Joseph O’Neill’s new church at “Forty-Seventh street near Chestnut.” Then, on October 31, it reported that “last week” Rev. Joseph O’Neill “purchased” a large lot “at Forty-seventh street and Chester avenue.” Were these two different plots or was the paper confused? A 1928 parish history affirms that Rev. O’Neill “secured a site at Forty-seventh Street and Chester Avenue, 250 feet by 150 feet, for the price of $15,000. But then, just to complicate things, a memo has surfaced referencing a “deed from Anthony A. Hirst to Most Reverend Patrick John Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, recorded…July 1st, 1890, for the property at the intersection of 47th Street and Warrington Avenue and running through to Baltimore Avenue.” (the corner now occupied by the 801 S. 47th St. Cedar Park Place apartment building. The southern property line was actually closer to Windsor).

The 1894 First Annual Report of the Parish Debt Association – the closest document to the time – described the challenge of consolidating enough land to build since “the holders of certain lots would not sell, offering as an objection that they were opposed to the school which Catholics made the accompaniment of the church and parochial house. Other ground was reported swampy, and would not be accepted.” It confirmed the Forty-seventh and Warrington Avenuepurchase and observedIt was not the place most desired, but it was hoped that the Baptists, who had bought the property at the North-east corner of Forty-Seventh and Springfield Avenue, might eventually sell to them.”

Father O’Neill went to Europe July 1 and returned October 8, but negotiations continued while he was away, with Rev. P.J. Garvey (pastor of St. James at 38th and Chestnut — the “Mother Parish” of St. Francis de Sales) and lawyer Anthony A. Hirst working on his behalf.  At some point, Rev. O’Neill was notified that the “property at the North-east corner of Forty-seventh and Springfield Avenue was secured through his attorney, Anthony A. Hirst, Esquire.” A September 29 memo from Rev.  P.J. Garvey to Archbishop Patrick John Ryan noted that “this property referred to by Mr. Hirst and located at the South east (oopsie) corner of 47th St. and Springfield Avenue is in my judgement a much better and more suitable site for a church than that secured by Father O’Neill before his departure. I feel sure Father O’Neill will be well pleased at the change because this SE Cor. of 47th & Springfield Avenue was the place he wished to purchase in the first instance…While favoring this new site in preference to the old one, I must say that I think the new church should be nearer to Woodland Avenue and somewhat further West; but if 47th & Springfield suits Father O’Neill and the new congregation I shall be satisfied. Your obedient child in Christ, P.J. Garvey.” The Springfield Ave. deed was signed over on October 15, 1890.

According to the 1894 report, once the Springfield Ave. lot was purchased, “the former lot was then offered for sale. A small portion of it was retained to make ample room for the new buildings.” This has to refer to the Warrington/Baltimore Ave. site, which bordered the Springfield lot: the report continues “The lot held by Father O’Neill had a frontage of one hundred and forty feet and a depth of two hundred and sixty-five feet,” which matches the dimensions on the Springfield Ave. deed plus an extra fifteen-foot strip.

Oddly, the 1928 history, 34 years later, forgot Warrington and mentioned only the Chester Ave. plot, noting that “Father O’Neill returned in October (1890), and finding the site he had earlier purchased unsuitable, he disposed of it.” Assuming we are not dealing with multiple realities in alternate universes, this suggests that Father O’Neill could have purchased two properties to sell once he decided on 47th and Springfield Ave. Now, 132 years later, here we are, in a neighbourhood landmark under a Guastavino dome. Good choices?!

Drama on the Front Steps

Nearly a century ago, in the “good old days” of alcohol Prohibition and associated gangsterism, a dramatic movie-script-like news story unfolded in front of our church.

On April 21, 1923, the Inquirer reported that in the small hours of the previous morning, “Miss Mabel Hills, 21 years old, of 421 South Forty-ninth street…was left gagged and dazed on the steps of St. Francis de Sales Church, Forty-seventh street and Springfield avenue.”

“Miss Hills, with two other women and three men, was returning home from a café at Broad street and Girard avenue. At Forty-ninth and Spruce streets a big, crimson-colored car pushed in front of the taxicab, bringing it to a halt. Four white-masked men jumped out. Throwing open the door of the cab, the bandits thrust revolvers into the faces of the occupants and one of them demanded: ‘Which one of you is named Hills?’”

“‘That is my name,’ Miss Hills answered, according to the story she told police, and the men then proceeded to drag her roughly from the machine and hustle her into their car. ’One of them stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth,’ the girl said, ‘and another wrapped me in a blanket. Then it seemed as if they drove me all over the city at a break-neck pace. I fainted several times. When I finally came to I found myself on the church steps. ‘Where’s the rocks?’ one of the men asked me. ‘We don’t want to commit murder, but we’ll knock you off right here at the church if you don’t tell us where the jewelry is.’ So I told them I carried it in two chamois bags in my stocking. One of them slit open my stocking’ (presumably not at the ankle) ‘and took them.’ Her jewelry consisted of a diamond ring set with a five-karat diamond, two other rings with diamonds set in platinum, a diamond bracelet and a platinum and diamond studded wrist watch. “

“After the bandits had departed with their loot, Miss Hills, dazed and sick, staggered to the parish house and told her story. Meanwhile, her companions drove to the Fifty-fifth and Pine streets police station, where their chauffeur, John Halpin…was arrested…” Two other suspects –Thomas Alexander and Nathan Kessler — were also soon captured.

Inquiring minds might wonder how Miss Hills came to have $5,000 worth of jewelry – a magnificent sum in the 1920s — hidden on her person. The reporter carefully records the whole colorful incident using distancing words: “according to the story she told police…” Bishop Crane’s rectory also quietly stepped back from the odd occurrence on its church property.

One of the men arrested, Thomas Alexander, was already known to police for his connection with “the Columbia avenue gang.” He would go to trial for Miss Hill’s kidnapping, but “despite the strength of the evidence,” would escape a guilty verdict. (The other major suspect, Nathan Kessler, died in Moyamensing Prison due to a mysterious heroin overdose while awaiting trial). The story wasn’t over: soon “after his acquittal,” Alexander “appeared in Atlantic City. There he went to a boardwalk cabaret and seeing Miss Hill among the merrymakers gave her a severe beating. He pulled his revolver, knocked her unconscious and then literally shot his way out. The cabaret proprietor…was hit by one of the flying bullets” and spent some time in hospital.

Two years later, in November 1925, The Inquirer reported that Thomas Alexander was again arrested, along with a man named Samuel Martin and “two well-dressed women,” in a house at Park Avenue and Dauphin Street for a different crime: “the killing of a policeman and another man during the attempted hold-up of the Freihofer Baking Company loading station...” Over 800 postal money orders and many other stolen items were found at the scene of the arrest, along with a “peculiar shaped mask” like that used in the murders, and “enough dynamite and nitro-glycerin to blow up a house.”

In a dramatic finale, the four Park Avenue suspects were captured when “detectives…trailed a weeping woman from a cabaret” near Broad and Columbia, “to the rendezvous of the alleged bandit gang…The identity of the girl whose tears led to the capture was not revealed by detectives, as she is not under arrest. According to police, she is a member of a respectable family who left home to seek adventure and found only disappointment, sordidness and sorrow…   THE END!

Little Sisters of the Poor

In 1869 Archbishop Wood of Philadelphia invited the Little Sisters of the Poor from France to come and assist in caring for the vast numbers of elderly poor in the city regardless of race or religious beliefs. The Charism of the Foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, serving the poorest in simplicity, humility, and trust in Divine Providence (begging), imbued them with the gift of fortitude for over 150 years in Philadelphia through faithfully observing their vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and hospitality, while personally assisting the dying with the firm belief that, as St. Jeanne said – “It is Jesus Himself whom you are serving in the Poor.”

Philadelphia Inquirer January 23, 1905

Did you know the Little Sisters of the Poor have been quietly serving the needs of the poor and the elderly in our neighborhood for 120 years? They’ve been here almost as long as SFDS (1890) and MBS (1901). And now, in a new age of need, our combined parish has a chance to renew connections with the Little Sisters that make us all stronger together.

The story of the Little Sisters of the Poor in this part of the city began in July 1902, when five Sisters “opened a non-sectarian house for the aged, southwest corner of Forty-second street and Baltimore avenue” in what appears to have been a four-story house (today an apartment building stands on the site), within the boundaries of St. Francis de Sales Parish. A mendicant order, relying entirely on charitable donations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “the Sisters in their new quarters commenced with literally nothing. Now twenty feeble old persons are under their care, and there are moments when the next meal is a serious problem. The only support derived by the home is that secured by personal solicitation from door to door…

Many neighbors and others did want to be a part of the worthy effort, so that the following year, on November 2, 1903, Bishop Prendergast was able to lay the cornerstone for the “new house of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Fifty-fourth and Chester avenue,” within the boundaries of the recently established (1901) Most Blessed Sacrament Parish. The Inquirer noted that “The ceremony, solemn in itself, was rendered all the more effective by a procession of the children of the parish of the (Most) Blessed Sacrament, carrying silk banners of various hues, representing the sodalities of the church.” When the finished building was dedicated in 1905, Bishop Prendergast was “assisted by Rev. M.J. Crane, of the Church of St. Frances De Sales (sic!)…The altar boys were from the Church of the Gesu, (Most) Blessed Sacrament, and St. Francis de Sales,” so the local parishes continued to affirm their support.

Since it was just a few blocks away, Most Blessed Sacrament Parish School, at 56th and Chester, would develop a particularly positive relationship with the Sisters over the years, and some youthful helpers even returned later to serve as adults. Jim Dengler, a volunteer and former Advisory Board Member, recalls how, in his youth, fellow MBS students “would volunteer in the home’s kitchen or laundry room, or help assist the Little Sisters in taking care of the Residents, and some of the boys would serve as altar boys at Mass. But I would bet none of them left without something good to eat, for the Little Sisters’ hospitality is the best.” Don Carter, retired Director of Plant Operations & Maintenance at the home, also recalls that “My first experience with the Little Sisters was when I was in first or second grade at Most Blessed Sacrament School.  The school was having a canned good drive for the Little Sisters Home down the street.  I wondered how the Sisters could live off tomato soup because that was all that mom would part with.  Little did I know that one day I would be helping stack all the canned goods that would be coming in on food drives!”

Through good times and bad, the Little Sisters welcomed the “poor elderly” at Sacred Heart and two other facilities in the city until the Sacred Heart building closed in 1969 “to make way for a more modern facility.” A new building, combining all three Philadelphia homes (St. Mary’s, St. Michael’s and Sacred Heart) in one place, “opened on the same location on April 13, 1973, and was dedicated to the Holy Family.” Meanwhile, the neighborhood around it continued to change. MBS School would close its doors in 2002. MBS Parish combined with SFDS in 2007, and, with a dizzying succession of pastors, the combined parish lost track of some of its old neighborhood connections.

Today, still focused on their mission, the Little Sisters recognize that “Material deprivation is only one form of poverty. Others that weigh heavily upon a person are: isolation, insecurity, the anguish of feeling that one is a burden on others, or being unwanted, seeing one’s self become weaker and weaker, and in some cases, being abandoned…” They still rely upon volunteers and charitable donations for their work, so that “with the help of a dedicated staff, the Sisters care for Residents in Independent Apartments and Skilled Nursing Units.” The Sisters have started a capital campaign to upgrade yet again on the same site. Here’s an opportunity to see what we can do to help!

Wheat

In 1911, the interior of our church was decorated with an intricate arrangement of Catholic symbols — but something important was missing, which would only be fittingly supplied when SFDS joined with MBS in 2007. What could it be?

The answer, surprisingly, is the wheat in one of the mosaic medallions on the front of the MBS altar. Wheat has been an enduring symbol of abundance and rebirth, redemption and freedom, across cultures and through time. Wheat and grapes seem an obvious reference to the Eucharist, and our church is filled with grape designs and Eucharist motifs, but there was only the faintest suggestion of a wheat-like pattern in a few short decorative borders, until the altar from Most Blessed Sacrament — a church named for the Real Presence in the Eucharist — was incorporated into our building.

The “forgotten” plant symbolism is perhaps understandable since Catholicism tends to be more focused on the host’s transformation into the Real Presence of Christ. We know that bread for the Eucharist must be made of wheat – missionaries cultivated wheat around the world for the purpose, and the gluten-sensitive in modern times have been informed that wheat gluten is essential to the makeup of the host. But there is little to tell us why a wheat host is so important – there is no entry for “wheat” in the Catholic Encyclopedia!

The wheat shown on our MBS altar is a kind of “bearded wheat” (with bristles), like the wheat grown in Biblical times, which Jesus would have recognized. He would have known Exodus and the grain-related Jewish religious traditions that were part of the Passover. Wheat is one of the “Seven Species” listed in the Book of Deuteronomy as native to Israel (“a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey”) and thought to contain “special holiness.” Wheat is also among the “Five Grains” (wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt) which have special status for a number of Jewish rituals. Challah and Matzah can only be made from these grains and only bread made with these grains requires the blessing before and after eating,

Myjewishlearning.com offers insight into the special importance of Jewish bread and blessing: “Jewish meals begin with the blessing over bread and then the sharing of bread together…” The words of the prayer: “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth,” surprisingly, do not refer “to the actual bread that we hold in our hands at the time when the blessing is said…” One reading “is that our daily bread reminds us of time past, when bread trees grew from Eden’s soil… Official Jewish wisdom…identifies the bread of the blessing as the bread of a messianic future, constituting “a statement of faith in a time to come when all will have enough to eat, free of the backbreaking work that is now required by most of the world’s population just to put food on the table.” The traditional blessing of the bread at the Last Supper invoked centuries of heritage and yearning. Then Jesus offered himself as the “Bread of Life” for its fulfillment, changing the wheat bread and grape wine, by the miracle of transubstantiation, into his Divine Presence – the true “daily bread” for which we pray in the Our Father, and which refers both to the daily necessities of life and even more to Christ himself.

Wheat has been a critical dietary staple worldwide for many centuries, but the wheat we consume today is very different from that of ancient times. Varieties have emerged and changed to suit different conditions. Wheat is now bleached and separated; doused with poisons to control pests and weeds; and engineered and hybridized to alter specific characteristics and increase yields. A bread baker, writing in The Jerusalem Post, mused that “Wheat bread…is no longer regarded by many nutritionists to be a healthy food, perhaps because of all the shenanigans we have been getting up to with it in the last century or two…” Traveling too far from its origins, a once dependable staple has transformed into something that a growing number of people find difficult to digest. Perhaps there is a Catholic parallel here, highlighting a need to reclaim our spiritual roots, along with a recognition of our special responsibility to preserve and protect the natural resources important to survival in what Pope Francis calls “our common home”   —  so that those who come after us will have wholesome food to sustain life, and can continue to partake of the special gifts of the Eucharist.

Mary Alice McLaughlin

An historic marker at The Woodlands Cemetery (40th and Woodland) celebrates achievements of Alice Fisher and S. Lillian Clayton, two prominent historic figures in the field of Nursing, but tucked into a quiet corner nearby (N190-192 on the VA side of the cemetery) is another nursing figure with an SFDS connection and local roots who also deserves some recognition.

A 1978 history of the Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH) School of Nursing describes Mary Alice McLaughlin as “a tall woman, stately and immaculate in uniform…she possessed a combination of dignity, strength of purpose and total professionalism blended with patience, fairness, and compassion.” Today, she should be remembered for her efforts to improve nursing education in a time when few universities were interested, and hospitals – including PGH — operated nursing schools, mostly just to take advantage of the student labor.Dedicated to her vocation, it was said that Mary “never lost interest in her students’ welfare despite the terrible physical ordeals she suffered” in a long, ultimately fatal bout with breast cancer.

Mary received her diploma from Pennsylvania General Hospital in 1930 (the city’s public hospital, once part of Blockley Almshouse, which operated until 1977 on property now shared by HUP, CHOP, and the VA). A firm believer in continuing education for nurses, she became “the first student to register in the newly formed Department of Nursing Education at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 1940.” For sixteen years, she worked as Assistant Director of Nursing Service at PGH, then Assistant Director in charge of Nursing Education, before becoming Director of the School of Nursing and Nursing Service from 1949 until her death at age 44.

Throughout her professional life, Mary labored to get nursing recognized as a serious career: “It was at her instigation that the first program in Pennsylvania to train Licensed Practical Nurses was begun.” In 1950, she pushed through a rigorous evaluation, so that the PGH School of Nursing achieved full academic accreditation with a curriculum centered around training nurses in effective patient care,teaching disease prevention and health education, and developing students’ “ability to adjust to all nursing situations.” In pediatric wards, student nurses learned ordinary child behavior expectations, as well as how to deal with “blindness and other specialized problems…” (the children’s department at PGH was equipped with top-of-the-line Isolettes – incubators piping pure oxygen to aid premature babies’ breathing. The archdiocesan St. Lucy School for the Blind would be founded across the street from SFDS in 1955 to fill an important need after it was realized that pure oxygen saved babies but had become a prime cause of childhood blindness!). Professional training also opened new horizons: a course on Professional Adjustments, “once intended to teach only professional courtesies,” was “redesigned to help seniors adjust to a career that could take them far away from friends and advisors.”

In addition to improving nursing education, Mary worked to make studying at PGH more attractive: for years, she advocated with the hospital board so that “finally, in 1950, students again received a stipend of $15 monthly from the city – a practice that had been discontinued during the Depression years” and more scholarships were made available.  She also “boosted student morale greatly by allowing seniors to go into white shoes and stockings. They must have felt they were almost full-fledged nurses!” and “interns and student nurses all joined in the fun of burning black shoes and stockings, or else draping them in rather surprising places around the hospital grounds, as soon as the intermediate year ended.” Seniors received special curfew privileges. As a sign of changing times, students were also “permitted a moderate amount of makeup and were allowed to wear shorts on the tennis court.”

Sadly, nursed through her last days “by those who loved and respected her.” Mary finally succumbed to her disease. She had attended All Saints Chapel at PGH, (which, incidentally, had its rectory at 3951 Baltimore Ave.), and also St. Francis de Sales with her mother, Mrs. Catherine McLaughlin, who lived at 4619 Chester Ave. She was buried at the Woodlands from St. Francis de Sales in 1954.

Priest Bails Out of Falling Jet

 “Priest Bails Out of Falling Jet, Lands in Tree – Gets to Wedding.” Was it the sensational news headline that distracted from the original research subject on the same page, or was it the oddly familiar name of the adventurous priest, Captain Cornelius F. McLaughlin?

Rev. McLaughlin   tells his tale to the newlyweds

It took a minute to place that distinctive name, then memory clicked with a smile on a small boy in a whimsical 1928 Parish Monthly Bulletin account of a children’s movie outing https://sfdshistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/a-trip-to-the-movies/ quoted in a history column a few years ago. “Bad Boy Brady…in the Third Grade at SFDS School,” had reported that “We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin (then about 11 years old) walked over together, and talked about marbles and baseball players. Joe said he wants to be an outfielder like Al Simmons, but Cornelius said he wants to help his father on the Ice Cream truck...” Cornelius popped up a few other times in other 1920s bulletins – in lists of altar boys, and school awards, and writing his own thank you for another movie treat

If he could have looked forward in time, young Cornelius might have been surprised by his future career and amazed by his calamitous adventure – a real-life caper as exciting as any of the movies he enjoyed!

On June 3, 1956, the Inquirer reported that Air Force chaplain Captain Cornelius McLaughlin (then age 39) was on his way from Sioux Falls IA, where he was stationed, to officiate at his cousin Barbara Coyle’s marriage to Edward Norbert Dooling in St. Alice’s Church, Upper Darby, PA, when his pilot realized that their T-33 jet trainer was running out of fuel. “Shortly thereafter, the pilot bailed out, having satisfied himself that his passenger had done likewise.” The jet crashed near Pine Bush, NY just before midnight, and “no-one knew what had happened to Father McLaughlin. It was 5:30 AM when police finally got a telephone call from the missing priest” who “had spent the intervening hours up a tree – trying to extricate himself from the harness of his parachute. Then came the breakneck race to get to Philadelphia in time for the 10 AM ceremony.” Would he make it? The Inquirer noted the first hurdle: “When New York State police picked up Father McLaughlin he was clad only in coveralls, the normal ‘uniform’ for jet flight…” so “he would have to obtain proper vestments, and quickly…After a few inquiries, the Rev. James Dalsey, of the Epiphany College in Newburgh, was willing and able to supply them…” Others helped as the race continued: “Police took him to Stewart Air Force Base at Newburgh, NY. There an obliging operations officer got Father McLaughlin a seat on a (C-47) transport plane just about to take off on a training flight. The transport landed at the International Airport here just four minutes after 10 AM. Father McLaughlin’s brother, Patrolman Martin M. McLaughlin, of the Upper Darby Police, met him there and sped him to St. Alice’s Church.”

But, as the Inquirer sadly noted, “yesterday was the first Saturday in June. At St. Alice’s, there was a wedding scheduled for 10 AM, another scheduled for 11 AM and still another scheduled for noon. Fifteen minutes was the maximum delay permissible under the circumstances. So the ceremony was already under way…when the McLaughlin brothers arrived at the church. Father McLaughlin entered the sanctuary and quietly took a seat there while Father Nolan, assistant rector of the church, performed in his stead.” All was forgiven, though, when Father McLaughlin attended the Wedding Breakfast and told his story!

Who was Cornelius McLaughlin? Baptized at SFDS in 1917, one of five children of William and Margaret McLaughlin, his family lived at 5028 Beaumont Street. He graduated from SFDS School and West Catholic High School, before entering St. Charles Seminary. McLaughlin was ordained at the Cathedral in 1945 by Bishop Hugh Lamb (who was, at the time, pastor of SFDS) and served at several parishes in the archdiocese before becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Father McLaughlin served in the Air Force during the Korean War and remained on active duty for 20 years, earning several awards. He retired to San Diego, died in 1995, and is buried back here in PA, at Holy Cross Cemetery.

The Big Picture

This history column usually focuses on the single “planet” that is our parish, showing how it fits into the “solar system” of our immediate neighborhood. Every now and then, though, it’s good to step back and look beyond our single point of light, to the whole sky and the many galaxies beyond our view that form our universe – and the many cultures and communities that form the wider Catholic Church, of which we are such a small part. And in that, Sister Gertrude Borres is our key!

Sister Gertrude, of the Religious of the Assumption – in the convent across the street from the church – was named Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees in 2019 – just before the Covid pandemic hit — and has been working steadily ever since, through crisis after crisis, with different waves of immigrants and migrants. Her mission is two-fold: working with Catholic Social Services to connect people with resources to take care of their physical needs (loss of jobs, healthcare during covid, documentation, etc.), and, also, to help people feel welcomed by recognizing that “language, culture, and customs are important” and it’s vital to “nurture faith as lived.” Her office currently supports chaplains saying Mass in seventeen different languages other than English or Spanish – and embraces the rich diversity of customs and traditions that anchor and enrich Catholic experiences around the world – from Asia and the South Pacific to Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

How has our parish intersected with Sister Gertrude’s work?

As the Afghan crisis unfolded, Sister Gertrude says, when Catholic Social Services welcomed about fifty Afghans arriving in Philadelphia, her role was to support and help with resettlement. When a family who moved to our neighborhood wanted to send their children to St. Francis de Sales School, she went to Father Eric, who went to Sister Mary McNulty, and among them, they arranged for this to happen. Parishioners contributed to help cover tuition. The parents then needed to learn English, so Sister Kathy Benham, IHM, was also looped in, and the parents began to attend English as a Second Language classes at the IHM Literacy Center.

Ukraine is currently immersed in an ongoing war and conflict. The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy is Orthodox Catholic and has its own support organization, so Sister Gertrude’s efforts have focused on spiritual solidarity and the understanding that there is little we can do physically to help, but “it strengthens them to know that people are praying for them.” The Zoom Novena Pilgrimage that just ended – a joint effort with the local Ukrainian Church, in which, each night, participants learned the story of one city and the impact of war – cultivated empathy for people in Ukraine who, she notes, in their suffering, “are experiencing the passion of Christ.” The Taizé Prayer Service at our parish, at the end of the novena, strengthened the newly-forged bonds with the Ukrainian community and the sense of sharing in the same mission.

On World Communications Day, Pope Francis compared the church to a choir, in which “unity does not require uniformity, monotony, but the plurality and variety of voices…” He hopes to “rediscover a symphonic Church, in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice, welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes.” Sister Gertrude who is herself a migrant, born and raised in the Philippines, feels that the role of her office is to “make the big church closer to the migrants and refugees.” Here at SFDS, she would like to “open us to not only our little world but to the universality of the church and our parish mission expressed right there in our title, as ‘United by the Most Blessed Sacrament’!” Let the dialogue begin!

Gender Bender

71. St. Francis de Sales

We come to thee, O happy Saint

To claim thy care and love,

To beg thy guidance through this life,

To endless bliss above.

Chorus

Oh, pray for us, St. Francis,

For dangers hover near;

Oh pray for us, St. Francis,

To conquer every fear.

While in the rosy bloom of youth,

To God thy soul was given,

And true, through life, thy spotless soul

‘Mid suffering soared to heaven.

Thy purity has won for thee

A crown of fadeless light;

Oh, may its beauty shine on us

And cheer the gloom of night.

              The verses above are from a hymnal printed for SFDS by the Catholic Standard in 1926, under the direction of Rev. Charles McGinley who was the Director of the women’s BVM Sodality organization at the time.

              The words to the hymn are somewhat peculiar for our Patron Saint – particularly the second verse, about “the rosy bloom of youth” and the suffering of a spotless soul. Saint Francis de Sales wasn’t tortured or martyred; he became the Bishop of Geneva in 1602 and died peacefully of a heart ailment at what was then a respectable age of 55. It seems odd that the hymn doesn’t reference his patient efforts to keep the faith alive during the Protestant Reformation; his advice on the Devout Life or his other inspirational writings (“We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh“); or his designation as patron saint of journalists and the deaf (a role Pope Francis is now highlighting).

              Curiously, an internet search finds the same song used to honor Saint Charles Borromeo in Monterrey, CA in 1914: “…then all the people form a long procession. In the center is carried the statue of San Carlos, and, while the choir sings the Hymn to San Carlos, they march slowly around the church… ‘We come to thee, O happy Saint/ To claim thy care and love,/ To beg thy guidance through this life,/To endless bliss above…’” Here, too, the words don’t fit the life of that 16th century Bishop known for founding seminaries.

              Hymnary.org, which tracks different versions of hymns printed over time, provides an answer. Its first recorded instance of the verses, is as a Hymn to St. Agatha, “dedicated to St. Agatha’s Sodality by a member” in 1872 and popular from 1872 to 1935. Ah, now it all fits! St. Agatha made a vow of virginity in rosy youth; kept her purity, through the suffering of torture and imprisonment; and soared to heaven to claim a martyr’s crown, around the year 251 AD.

              So why was the hymn repurposed? Since saintly feast days fall once a year, usually on a weekday, there hasn’t been much call for special songs – surprisingly, even for use in the annual Forty Hours or for institutions named for saints. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, now working on a new English language breviary, notes that music has existed for a number of saints but “Many of the nearly 300 Latin hymns, some dating back to the early centuries of the Church, have never had an official English translation…” If a need arose for an anthem, churches improvised. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has now approved the Green Book of the hymns of the Proper of Saints, so more official songs could eventually be available in English, but here’s a challenge and an opportunity for our own parish tribute to our patron St. Francis de Sales!

A Moving Story

MBS Chapel shown circa 1917

Usually, we expect an old building to stay solidly, reliably, fixed in one place, but the ever-adaptable MBS chapel has kept on moving with the times!

Its story began in 1885, when Reverend M.J. Lawler of newly established St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, in the rapidly growing Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia, received city planning permission to build a “temporary frame chapel” at 17th and Morris Street to serve the then mostly Irish immigrant population. Completed and dedicated in November 1889, the wooden structure was used until December 1901, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “…Father Lawler started to build a church which, when finished, will be one of the largest in the city.”

The chapel had to be removed in order to make space for the new construction, so “it was carefully taken apart by workmen, and…presented to Father Burke” of the newly established Most Blessed Sacrament Parish at 56th and Chester. Father Burke then invited Father Lawler, who had said the first Mass in the chapel when it was dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas, to say the first Mass at the dedication of the same chapel as Most Blessed Sacrament on December 22, 1901 (Incidentally, Reverend Joseph O’Neill of St. Francis de Sales was the Deacon for the dedication Mass, and the St. Francis de Sales Choir provided the music, so, fittingly, MBS and SFDS — destined to be combined as one in 2007 — celebrated their connection from the very beginning!).

A 1917 parish history provides a poetic description of those early MBS days: “Memory calls up the little wooden Chapel among the trees in all the glory of its rustic setting on a Sunday morning in Spring. Over the fields, up the lane and through the main thoroughfare, came these worshippers…” A forest of row houses quickly replaced the trees, though, as that corner of the city grew, and a bigger worship space was soon needed to accommodate the mostly immigrant laborers spreading out from South Philadelphia. A stone chapel/school building was dedicated in 1908, and the cornerstone was laid for the church in 1922. Meanwhile, the little wooden building clung bravely to its corner, becoming the MBS Parish Assembly Hall.

In 1925, as the neighborhood continued to expand, Good Shepherd Parish formed at 67th and Chester Ave. The “small frame structure” from MBS found a new purpose: dismantled, moved, reconstructed, and repaired, it became the temporary new chapel, where, “on Sunday, July 26, 1925, the first Mass at Good Shepherd Parish was celebrated at 6:00 AM on the feast of St. Anne…” The little building happily served that Parish until their new church was consecrated in 1951 (Good Shepherd was consolidated into Divine Mercy Parish in 2004).

Chapel at Good Shepherd 1925-1951

The sturdy little chapel’s travels weren’t over! In 1951, Rev. Christopher Purcell, of the newly-formed St. Christopher Parish in Somerton, wrote to Cardinal Dougherty, that “Through the kindness of Father Hammill, Pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Phila., (who had, incidentally, assisted at SFDS 1934-1939) we have been given the temporary chapel at Good Shepherd Parish and its equipment which he no longer needs.” The St. Christopher’s Parish website notes that the chapel was used until the present church was built in 1978,then “The original church was converted to a hall, and re-named as Trainer Hall.” It’s still there on the St. Christopher (patron saint of travelers) parish grounds as they work on a capital campaign to expand their 1978 church!

Trainer Hall at St. Christopher Parish 1951-Present

John Deady likes to call this column “Have Chapel, Will Travel,” referencing a long-ago TV series about a man who moved around the American frontier, forever finding new adventures. Maybe he’s right about this plucky little chapel: next stop “Space, the final frontier”??!