Our Fifth Pastor, Bishop Joseph Mark McShea (who became first Bishop of Allentown in 1961), was uniquely connected to Saint Francis de Sales parish in Philadelphia.
SFDS made a familiar first pastoral assignment for the Bishop, after working for the Vatican in Rome and Washington DC through World War II. The Parish Monthly Bulletin reported in 1952 that “Bishop McShea’s appointment to St. Francis de Sales is truly a ‘homecoming” for he completed his elementary schooling in our parish school, served Mass at our altar, was a member of the Boys’ Battalion, and left the parish to continue the studies which would enable him one day to return to St. Francis as pastor and bishop.”
In his first remarks as a newly-consecrated Bishop, McShea recalled “the countless times when I too sat and knelt in these pews; when I walked up these aisles to the altar rail to receive Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion. These Stations of the Cross bring back memories of Lenten Devotions. At the shrines I kneel in spirit again to pray with you to The Blessed Mother, to Saint Joseph, and the gentle Bishop, Saint Francis de Sales, the heavenly patron of this parish. So too the rectory, the school, the auditorium and school yard abound in remembrances of boyhood experiences…”
(Why is SFDS School not listed on McShea’s “permanent record”? Early Freshman classes at the new West Catholic High School for Boys appear to have been held at Transfiguration Parish, which must then have been mistakenly recorded as his grade school. “Joe McShea’s” attendance here – and minor boyish mischief — was remembered and confirmed by his SFDS School classmates).
McShea’s roots were deep in our parish. He especially remembered “those days in the Twenties when at the same altar I knelt to serve the daily Mass of Bishop Crane. On entering the pulpit, I recall other times when I stood here with the good Bishop in the days of his failing eyesight to read to him in a low tone the Sunday announcements, that he might repeat them aloud to the people…”.
In addition to serving at the altar for our church-building Second Pastor, Bishop McShea had two other historic links with our parish. He noted: “my family home stood on Farragut Terrace (number 928) and was sold to the parish in 1925 to help provide space for the enlargement of the school;” and his will, when he died in 1991, specified a Latin quotation for his tombstone, which translates “I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house…” Do those words sound familiar? Look up at the inscription in the mosaic on our sanctuary walls!