Month: December 2016

A Visit From Saint Nick

The above news item appeared in the December 1925 Parish Bulletin. The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an organization of parish women, and Father McGinley was its Spiritual Director, but who was that man with the beard?

Timothy (T.J.) Wholey was a well-known member of the parish, who might be remembered today as the donor of the statues of St. Anne and St. Francis de  Sales.

Wholey’s story covers a tumultuous historical period. He started as a beer bottler on Passyunk, and moved into the saloon business. In 1905, he bought a building on the southeast corner of  52nd and Market, with a bar on the ground floor and an upstairs apartment for his family. Close to retirement age, Wholey sold the liquor license, just as the Temperance (anti-alcohol) movement gathered momentum (the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the sale of alcohol, was proposed in 1917 and became effective in 1920).

Wholey moved in with his son-in-law, James Alderice, of 4822 Windsor Avenue. Alderice was a railroad foreman in a busy age when both the Reading Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad were headquartered in Philadelphia. Wholey registered a patent on a piece of railroad equipment soon after – possibly inspired by his son-in-law’s work, or, perhaps, as a proxy. Meanwhile, Wholey’s son John (4842 Windsor Ave.) went to fight in the First World War.

T.J. Wholey was very active in the parish: his name appears on an assortment of event and committee lists from the period — as above, when he played Santa. Or when he contributed “most generously” to a children’s picnic and outing to Willow Grove Park, with his grandchildren among the participants. In May 1926 – right before the corner stone was laid for the Farragut Terrace addition to the school — he contributed $500 (a very large amount just a few years before the Great Depression) to the School Building Fund.

Is there a Santa Claus? Yes, there is – in all the generations of people, like Wholey, whose names may no longer be known, but whose spirit of generosity helped to build and shape our parish. So let us hereby celebrate all those, through our history, who have, through good times and bad, offered their energy, time, talents, and facial hair – because every effort is important to the strength of our community and to its lasting legacy in our neighbourhood.

Musical Heritage

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In many cultures, minstrels and griots sing ballads that preserve and tell history. In that spirit, did you know that our choir’s musical repertoire is a chronicle of our parish?

Isabel Boston, Choir Director, notes that some of the choir favorites were written right here for our church. Albert J. Dooner, Choir Director and Organist from 1921 to 1957, composed a number of pieces: “Dooner’s beautiful Ave Verum Corpus is still part of our regular repertoire. Jubilate Deo is used occasionally as a postlude for a big event. We would have sung it for Monsignor’s installation had we been upstairs with the organ. We sang Dooner’s Mass to St. Francis de Sales for the 125th Anniversary Mass.

Bruce Shultz, who has been our Parish Organist since 1969, created the “Mass for John Paul II (our regular mass during ordinary time) and his Mass for Patience (usually sung during Advent).”  Also, “we sing ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ by Bruce’s teacher and mentor, Harry Wilkinson… and a few by Harry’s teacher, Harry Banks.

Some hymns have special connections: Isabel notes that “Eternal Father, which we sing each year on Memorial Day, holds an association to our Ninth pastor, Father Hilferty, and his naval career” and “The hymns ‘Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise,’ and ‘Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven’ remind me of Fr. Janton; he really liked those. Father Hermann Behrens, beloved Choir Director who passed away unexpectedly in 1996, was from Germany, so “Any good German hymn reminds us of Fr. Hermann, but especially ‘A Mighty Fortress’ and ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ or the German choral version we occasionally sing, ‘Nun Danket Alle Gott.’ He also introduced many of the Bach pieces to the choir repertoire. Music is a continuing tribute.

Christmas music is rich with history: “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis” have been sung almost every year since our church was built, and the “Halleluiah Chorus” is a perennial favorite. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is notable for its local roots: it was written in Philadelphia by an Episcopal minister, just after the Civil War.

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed sacred music “a treasure of inestimable value…” because it enriches the Liturgy. In our parish it also provides a living connection through 126 years of our parish story, from all  “those who have gone before us”  to the families in the pews today. Treasure, indeed.

The Menorah in the Church Window

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It seemed like a simple question: “Why is there a menorah on one of our  dome windows?”

The 1940 St. Francis de Sales Parish Anniversary Book called it “the seven-branched candlestick of the Old Testament Tabernacle, a prophetic emblem of the sevenfold sacramental grace which would issue from the Church of Christ,” but that seemed vague and didn’t explain why the symbol was chosen.

The number seven – emblem of perfection — turns out to have many meanings in Catholicism, but its association with candlesticks is hazy. The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia noted that seven candles carried by seven acolytes were used at Papal Masses. A Bishop could have seven candles on the altar if he were presiding at home; six if he were visiting outside his diocese. The kinds of candles to be used were strictly regulated (pure beeswax, except in Oceania, where sperm-whale candles were permitted), but little explanation was offered for the significance of the candle number.

Some have suggested that for Christians, a seven-branched candlestick could represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord). It could also invoke a vision of “heavenly worship” from Revelations, in which “Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne, which are the seven spirits of God”  This is offered as a possible explanation for the Papal candles. Or our candlestick could reference Judaism in the Old Testament.

According to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia – current when our church was built – the original seven-branched Jewish candlestick was made for the Temple in the time of Moses: “symbolically the menorah represented the creation of the universe in seven days, the center light symbolizing the Sabbath. The seven branches are the seven continents of the earth and the seven heavens, guided by the light of God. The Zohar (Jewish mystical Kabbalah) says: ‘These lamps, like the planets above, receive their light from the sun.’”

The windows in our dome are thematically arranged, in pairs and opposites. The pair for the Menorah (the light of the Old Testament), is the Chalice and Eucharist (“Jesus Christ, the light of the world”), to its right, skip one. Opposite the Menorah, on the other side of the dome,  is the Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, signifying beginnings; the Omega, the last letter, is across from the Chalice. Thus, Alpha and Omega, a name for God, encompasses Creation and Redemption; Old Testament and New: a catechism in stained glass.