Month: October 2021

Bishop Crane Visits the Penitentiary

December 19, 1924. “The Eastern Penitentiary witnessed one of its strangest, most moving ceremonies Saturday. In the prison chapel, candles burned against the background of a tall crucifix, and flowers decked the altar. Before the altar there ranged, in the garb of the prison and with heads bowed, thirty-two men. Beside each stood one of Philadelphia’s substantial citizens. Pacing the line, in his ecclesiastical robes, stood the Rt. Rev. Michael J. Crane, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.” (and Second Pastor of SFDS).

“Then, as the ancient hymns of repentance, charity and forgiveness the Church were sung by yet other prisoners in the choir, the Bishop passed along the line and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the thirty-two men who are expiating crimes against the State. An organ and a violin, also played by prisoners, softened still more the Latin chants.”

“If here behind prison walls you have found faith, then your imprisonment has been a blessing in disguise,” said the Bishop simply, when the ceremony was ended. Later, the prisoners presented Bishop Crane with a table and smoking set they had made themselves in the prison shops. Ho told them he would put them in his room as one of his chief treasures.”

“The thirty-two citizens of Philadelphia are representatives of Catholic lay organizations here. They were recruited by Father Francis Hoey, chaplain at the penitentiary, and they have promised to visit their individual charges for whom they stood sponsor, as long as they remain in the prison, and to find Jobs for them when they are released.”

“Organizations which the thirty-two laymen represent are: The American Society for Visiting Catholic Prisoners, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Temperance Society, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Holy Name Society.”

***

This evocative story turned up in the archives of the Catholic News Service. A separate Catholic Standard and Times article filled in a few more details: seventeen of the thirty-two confirmands were converts to the Catholic faith, due mostly to the missionary efforts of the “young chaplain there, the Rev. Francis P.K. Hoey.” About two hundred prisoners attended the service.

The Confirmation, though not the first there, was still significant. Eastern State Penitentiary records note that when the prison opened in 1829, it “was the world’s first true ‘penitentiary,’ a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners.” Early prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, but that proved too strict. The state ruled in 1913 that inmates should be grouped “for the several purposes of worship, labor, learning, and recreation.” In 1914 a “storage room of Industrial building fitted up, in service as chapel” and on 5 Apr 1914: “the prisoners were for the first time in the history of the Institution allowed outside their cells for the purpose of religious worship.” The first Catholic Mass was held Easter Sunday, April 12, 1914, and by 1918, the “chapel and assembly room abundantly justifies itself for church.”

By the time Bishop Crane visited the facility, in 1924, living conditions were much improved. A January report that year, noted “Inmates eat for first time in group dining halls. Tablecloths were provided on Sundays and holidays, and the holiday decorations were described as a ‘morale building factor;’” and by April, “clergymen of all denoms have unlimited privileges of visitation…” and the various chaplains had their own offices.

We have no record of whether Bishop Crane ever returned, but other bishops did, through the decades, bringing confirmation to inmates up until the prison closed in 1971. Abandoned for twenty years afterwards, it then reopened as a museum and historic (and Halloween) attraction in 1991. Today, one of its treasured features is an impressive series of murals, created in the Catholic chaplain’s office in the 1950s by a devout, self-taught artist inmate, and recently restored.

A Bell Named Edmond

St. Edmund of Abington shown in the Nuremberg Chronicle,

Who was Saint Edmund of Abington and why is one of our bells named after him, but with a different spelling?

Edmund was a 13th century British teacher of Mathematics and Dialectics (similar to Debate), who studied Theology, was ordained, and became celebrated for his integrity. Pope Gregory IX appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, but he came into conflict with King and Pope over politics. He died while traveling in Poitingy, France, was buried there, and canonized in 1246 after miracles were reported at his grave. St. Edmund’s Hall Oxford, and St. Edmund’s College Cambridge in England were both named for him. Closer to home, the Society of St. Edmund, a religious order established in his name in France in 1843, moved to the U.S.in 1889, and became active in Alabama in the 1930s, supporting African Americans through the Civil Rights era. Today, the saint’s right arm relic is in a shrine near Mystic, CT – at St. Edmund’s Retreat, a house for all, including “those whose life experiences have alienated them from God and the Church.”

Philadelphia Archbishop
Edmond Francis Prendergast

Philadelphia’s Edmond name connection dates back to Archbishop Edmond Prendergast (Auxiliary Bishop 1897-1911; Archbishop 1911-1918), whose patron saint and inspiration was “St. Edmond of Abington” (which he spelled with an o) and who named a number of local institutions in the saint’s honor. Our Faith-Filled Heritage states that “in 1912 the archbishop founded Saint Edmond Parish in South Philadelphia and in 1914, a new residence building for students at Saint Charles Seminary was named Saint Edmond’s Hall. He also saw to the founding of Saint Edmond’s Home for Children, at 44th Street and Haverford Avenue. This home…was the first Catholic school in the United States to provide educational opportunities for severely handicapped youth.”

Bishop Prendergast was a fairly busy guy. According to Encyclopedia.com, in addition to his various Saint Edmond projects, “During his episcopate he increased the number of parishes from 297 to 327, provided parochial schools for 23,000 more children, erected the free West Catholic High School for boys, and opened the free Hallahan High School for girls… He opened the Archbishop Ryan Memorial for the Training of Deaf Mutes, the Madonna House for Italian immigrants, a similar home for the Spanish-speaking immigrants, St. Francis Country Home for Convalescents… a boarding home for working girls, and three new orphanages… He established the Catholic Home Bureau, sponsored the erection of the Misericordia Hospital, and provided a Catholic hospital for Allentown.. Under his direction the forerunner of the Newman Club was established at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Reverend Michael Crane – our Second Pastor – knew the Archbishop well, having been his Assistant at St. Malachy’s Church from 1889 to 1903 – through the period when Reverend Prendergast was appointed the first Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia in 1897. When Reverend Crane, himself, became an Auxiliary Bishop at SFDS in 1921, the Catholic Standard reported that he paid homage: Bishop Crane’s chosen motto “‘Ut Sim Fidelis’ – ‘That I may be faithful’ – is the same as that of the Most Rev. Edmond F. Prendergast, D.D., the late, lamented Archbishop who departed this life on February 26, 1918.

Our church tower bells, installed in 1916, were called Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice and Gervase. They were ostensibly named after saints, but the names also had other associations. Adolph probably referenced sculptor Adolfo de Nesti, who went missing that year; Michael would have been the pastor, Rev. Michael Crane; Elizabeth likely honored Elizabeth Lippe, donor of the bells; Gervase probably honored the pastor’s sibling, Mother Mary Gervase, IHM; and the bell named Edmond almost certainly honored the Archbishop.

Today, there’s another Edmond of note, perched in the choir loft by the bell tower: look up and wave to Edmond Collins after Mass, who manages our parish livestream video and Youtube channel along with Susanna Collins!

Find it here and please help by subscribing:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkJF5ohnZQGikuhxV6OJV5w