Category: neighborhood

Walk in The Woodlands

DSCN4406A walk around The Woodlands Cemetery (40th and Woodland) offers interesting glimpses into odd corners of our long parish story.  Click here for the St. Francis de Sales Woodlands tour map

winthrop smith (2)Turning right on the main path after you enter the gates, approaching the old carriage house, look for a tall obelisk with the name of Winthrop Smith, publisher of the celebrated McGuffey Readers, on the front. His son, also named Winthrop Smith, is listed on the back, with his first wife, who died in 1911. Our parish connection is with this Winthrop’s scandalous second wife: when the couple married in 1913, the well-connected protestant Philadelphia financier and member of the Union League, was aged 67 and Miss Margaret McMenamin, of 4303 Baltimore Avenue, was a 33 year old Catholic stenographer from his old banking firm. They were married quietly, on a weekday, at St. Francis de Sales by Reverend Maurice Cowl, a former Episcopalian priest, recently converted to Catholicism. The couple later had a daughter also named Margaret; her husband, Lieutenant Cmmdr Charles Monk, is buried beside the obelisk, but the two Margarets were not included in the family plot.

vetterleinContinuing around the outer asphalt drive, in section N, you’ll pass the family plot of Emma and Joseph Smallwood Vetterlein, who achieved the “American Dream.” They rented a prominent pew on the main aisle of our church in the early 1900s, had a house at 4212 Spruce Street, and an estate called Knollhurst, built in Radnor in 1898. Joseph was a partner in the Vetterlein & Co. family cigar business started by his father, Theodore Vetterlein, who emigrated from Germany, “poor, without friends or relatives,” took a job in a tobacco shop, and ultimately saved enough money to go into business for himself. By 1864 he was renowned as a “leading merchant of Philadelphia.” His sons Joseph and Herman eventually took over the family business. Herman, an officer of the American Catholic Historical Society, donated one of our dome windows.

dandurand refectory4Esther Poquet Dandurand and (Pierre) Alexandre Dandurand– are buried opposite the enormous Thomas Evans obelisk on the VA side of Woodlands. Esther Poquet left France in 1838 as the shipboard servant of Mary Hamilton, daughter-in-law of Alexander Hamilton (of Broadway musical fame). Upon reaching New York, she left service to join her fate with young French adventurer and cook (Pierre) Alexandre Dandurand. In the early 1840s, they opened a French restaurant at 165 Chestnut Street. When Alexandre died in 1849, Esther continued the business as Madame E. Dandurand’s Restaurant Francaise. What’s their connection with our parish? They were the grandparents of our church architect, Henry Dagit, and it may have been this family heritage that sparked Henry’s awareness of French Byzantine Revival architecture and our patron saint.

DSCN6292Sheltered under a yew tree behind the Thomas Evans Obelisk, is a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother, marking the grave of Rose-Marie Simonis, a much-beloved Haitian teacher at SFDS school, who died of breast cancer in 2004. She lived at 4811 Windsor Ave., and her French husband, Eric, was the well-respected Sacristan of the church for several years under 12th Pastor, Father Roland; and 13th Pastor, Father Navit. SFDS School’s annual marathon used to wind through the cemetery to pay tribute at her gravesite. It’s still a good place for quiet contemplation!

Finally, back on the main path, working your way towards the exit, you’ll find a monument for Josephine Dandurand who fell in love with Charles (Karl) Dagit, the German tenant who lived above her family restaurant in the 1850s. Their long marriage produced seven children – among them, future architect Henry Dandurand Dagit, who would design our church as his family parish – he lived at 4529 Pine, rented a family pew, donated two dome windows, and his daughters are memorialized as angel statues in the back of our church.

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A Room With A View

DSCN6647Constance O’Hara’s 1955 biography Heaven was Not Enough, chronicled a personal crisis of faith in an eerily relatable setting.

Born near Rittenhouse Square in 1905, Constance came from a well-connected, well-to-do Philadelphia Irish Catholic family in an “age of immense security and serenity.” Her father was the physician for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and local convents; her great uncle was the first Bishop of Scranton. Her family were also linked, in some way, with Eleanor Donnelly – the “poet laureate of the American Catholic Church” who contributed our Blessed Mother altar.

That solid world began to turn hollow in May 1914, when Constance made her First Holy Communion — two months before the start of World War I. Her father, rejected by every branch of the military due to his fragile health, then exhausted himself tending patients through the Influenza epidemic of 1918. Inspired by Blessed Thérèse, the “Little Flower,” who would be canonized in 1925, he quietly carried her relic and “offered up” his sufferings as his health slowly deteriorated.

Our neighborhood enters the story at this point: Constance writes that “my mother, with the realities of life swamping her, returned to the precepts of her ancestors – a belief in bricks and mortar. We bought a vast house on Baltimore Avenue (number 4331 per parish records), its front windows flooded with sunshine, its back rooms dark and damp. It faced Clark Park which seemed like the wilds of the country. The oak paneling was solid and magnificent, as my mother pointed out; the furnaces consumed tons of coal and we were never warm. Over this uneasy home was suspended a mortgage bearing a staggering interest rate...”

DSCN3138 (2)I still went to Sunday Mass with my father, often to the ornate Church of St. Francis de Sales where Bishop Michael Crane met us at the door, saying in a booming cheerful voice that maddened me: “It’s time you got a nice Irish Catholic boy to marry that one. I’ve just the lad in mind. I’ll send him over tonight...”

Constance was not receptive. She notes that the years after WWI and during Prohibition were “an ugly period in which to be young.…” Cynical youth like herself  “were going to be honest about everything, and as the old moral values were based on hypocrisy we would dispense with them” and “just get as much pleasure from money and our senses as possible before it all ended in the final defeat of death…” while an off-kilter world careened towards the Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII.

After an unfortunate visit to an unnamed confessor at SFDS when her father died in 1926 – she wanted comfort, but was scolded, instead, for “indulging in self-pity” — Constance rejected the Church for many years. Nonetheless, one day in 1933, when “the sun poured in the windows of my room, and the tall trees in Clark Park had never seemed so beautiful...” she wrote  a “profoundly Catholic play” called The Years of the Locusts, about an enclosed convent of Irish Benedictine nuns surviving in occupied Belgium during the First World War, based on real diaries. The play was performed locally at Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Tree and was picked up for a run in London, but the beginning of World War II derailed those expansive plans.

1943 photo fr. flatley in uniformA long period of small achievement followed, punctuated with illness and depression, before Constance reconciled with the Church in the early 1950s. This was due, in part, to Reverend William Flatley, recently returned to SFDS from service in WWII, who gently encouraged her to offer up her personal suffering for American soldiers then fighting in Korea – and she wrote her healing memoir. She died in 1985, but her story remains like a leaded-glass window to another age, offering odd glimpses of a familiar,  unfamiliar landscape though its diamond panes.

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Henry Amlung and the Motor Bandits

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Today, neighbors routinely fret about parking spaces and inattentive drivers, but in the early 1900s,  parishioners like Henry Amlung (who owned a fur store in a time when furs and cars were both desirable luxuries) – and city government – had to adjust to some “new normal”  challenges at the dawn of the automotive age.

On February 11, 1919, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page reported an innovative crime wave: “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The news story continued:  “Motor bandits — believed by the police to have been the same who were frustrated in an evident plot to hold up storekeepers in the vicinity of Sixty-second and Race Streets…made a $5000 haul just twenty-four hours later from the fur store of Henry T. Amlung at 4810 Baltimore avenue.” (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence).

“Discovery of the thieves in the very act of transferring furs from the store to a waiting automobile led to an alarm which saved the balance of the stock, valued at close to $50,000…”

“Mrs. Letitia Hanganer, who occupies an apartment on the third floor of 4808 Baltimore Avenue, directly adjoining the Amlung establishment, first heard the robbers at work, but thought it was Amlung trying to enter his store and for a few moments returned to bed. She had been attracted to her window by the noise of someone in the adjoining sideyard below. She thought Amlung had locked the store up leaving his key inside, and was trying to re-enter by the window.”

“A few minutes later she was again attracted by the same noise, this time accompanied by the subdued voices of men. She returned to the window and for a moment was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice who was putting them into a limousine automobile…Mrs. Hanganer …awakened William Brooke, who conducts a tailoring establishment on the first floor of 4808 Baltimore avenue, and he ran to a second-floor window, shouting at the thieves.”

“Without abandoning the bundle of furs they then had in their arms the men dashed for their car, clambered in and fled.”

Police, on foot, stopped a trolley driver, who “saw the car drive east on Baltimore avenue as far as Forty-fifth street, at which point it might either have turned or continued on toward the central part of the city.” The police couldn’t chase them without vehicles! The paper reported that “an interesting development of the day was the loan to the police of the station at Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets of two fast automobiles for the purpose of waging war upon the motor bandits…” by local garage owners, but it wasn’t enough, and “motor bandits” just became bolder.

It wasn’t until the end of the following year, on December 23, 1920, that the Inquirer reported “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready..: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” The sawed-off shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with its similar automotive crime wave.

Sadly, it came too late for Henry Amlung, a member of the Holy Name Society and Knight of Columbus – he died a month after the incident, of “cardiac decompensation,” possibly weakened by influenza, and, perhaps, by worry. He was buried from our parish in an “auto funeral” (with an automotive, rather than horse-drawn, hearse and procession of cars driving from SFDS to Holy Cross cemetery) on March 29, 1919.

Remembering the Past: Influenza 1918

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Philadelphia Evening Bulletin October 5, 1918

A History Mystery column about the 1918 influenza pandemic published in July 2014, pondered: “Imagine not being allowed to go to church in a time of troubles…”

Well…now we know.

Influenza arrived in Philadelphia in September 1918, aboard a Navy ship coming from Boston. It spread quickly in the Navy Yard, then at a military parade in Center City attended by 200,000 people, promoting sales of Liberty Bonds to fund the war effort – a parade at which our parish was particularly well represented due to the school’s very successful Bond drive.

All public and parochial schools in Philadelphia closed for three weeks afterwards, to try to stem the epidemic. Medical personnel were still overseas aiding in the war effort, so IHM teaching sisters volunteered as nurses, tirelessly tending bedsides of many races, ethnicities, and religions, especially in the MBS boundaries.

Police closed places of worship citywide from October 6 through October 26, 1918, with few exceptions. Our church was one of these: the October 5, 1918 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported that: “Placards have been posted within the confines of the Catholic parish of St. Francis de Sales, announcing that by permission of the Board of Health, masses will be celebrated tomorrow morning in front of St. Francis’ Church, 47th St. and Springfield Ave. at 7:30, 9:30 and 11 A.M.” The outdoor Mass on the front steps “did not meet with general approval,” however (curious phrasing!), and the practice ended after October 13. Catholics were exhorted to pray in their homes for a speedy end, both to the epidemic and to the war.

October 1918 was a rough month for SFDS. The parish Death Register recorded eight deaths in September; then jumped to 40 between October 6 and October 31, 1918. Fatalities tapered off again to five in November, nine in December, and a few more in January. In the end, parish losses from influenza probably totaled about 60 people; the names of the deceased are recorded in the parish ledger, but not all of the death certificates are available to confirm the cause.

Who were the victims? Geographically, most of the deaths in our parish occurred in the less-prosperous section south of Baltimore Avenue. Victims were married and single; many were in their 30s; a few were infants and children. Most had been born in Philadelphia, many to immigrant parents. The death certificates provide a snapshot of their employment: a stenographer; a policeman; a sheet metal worker; a number of housewives and several salesmen including a cigar salesman; a female Bolter at J.G. Brill’s trolley manufacturing co.; a telegraph operator; a young lady in the women’s Naval Reserve; several bartenders; a soldier; a watchman; and a motor inspector among others. Above Baltimore Avenue, victims included the Assistant Treasurer of Standard Steel Co. and the Treasurer of the Broad Street Theatre.

The epidemic slowed down considerably by November 11, when the First World War officially ended.  Catholic sisters (who tended bedsides), Catholic seminarians (who dug graves), and clergy in Philadelphia were especially commended by the city for their heroic efforts during the crisis.  Worldwide, more people died of influenza than died in World War I, and more people died of influenza in Philadelphia than anywhere else in the world – a dubious distinction for our fair city!

 

DSCN6422 (2)Coronavirus 2020

Rectory offices have been closed since March 13 and Masses are being celebrated privately. Find Morning Prayer livestreamed on the Matt Guckin Facebook page at 7 AM (Monday to Friday) and 9 AM (Saturday and Sunday); Night Prayer at 9 PM.  

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER SERVICES TO BE CELEBRATED PRIVATELY. On March 25, 2020, The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Decree in Time of Covid 19 (II) stating that “Given that the date of Easter cannot be transferred, in the countries which have been struck by the disease and where restrictions around the assembly and movement of people have been imposed, Bishops and priests may celebrate the rites of Holy Week without the presence of the people and in a suitable place, avoiding concelebration and omitting the sign of peace. The faithful should be informed of the beginning times of the celebrations so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes. Means of live (not recorded) telematic broadcasts can be of help….”

SFDS Holy Week 2020 Services, celebrated privately,  will be available on Youtube and Facebook:

April 5 Palm Sunday Mass at 10:15 AM

Thursday April 9 Mass at 7:00 PM

Friday April 10 Passion at 3:00 PM

Sunday April 12 Easter Sunday Mass at 10:15 AM

Thomas V. Lilly: Human Cork

DSCN6400 (2)SFDS has had its share of “quirky” personalities through the years, but, as far as we are aware, only one who was described as cork-like or “corky”!!

The story of parishioner and Knight of Columbus Thomas V. Lilly seems at first unremarkable: he was born and grew up in Philadelphia, left school after eighth grade, and started as a draftsman in a machine shop, according to the census – possibly employed by his brother-in-law, James Dunton, a Machine Shop Superintendent. In 1897, the two men shared a patent for a bicycle bell. At some point, Lilly joined the Dunton household and moved with his sister and brother-in-law to 920 South 50th Street, where he would spend most of the rest of his life – first with the Duntons and then on his own — until he transferred to a nursing home shortly before he died.

Lilly dreamed of escaping from machine shop work, though, so when Cedar Park opened at 50th and Baltimore in 1911, he took an appointment as its first Park Superintendent. Collier’s magazine reports this left him time for hobbies: “Lilly was an amateur boxer, professional tap dancer and amateur diver before he became a cork. It happened on his fifty-fifth birthday when skeptical friends bound his ankles, knees and wrists with sash cord and tossed him— fully clothed—into a swimming pool. Lilly shucked off the ropes, undressed (to his trunks), wrung out his wet clothes, stored them on his stomach, floated around for a bit, then dressed and swam to the pool ladder.”

Lilly kept escaping. In 1932, he made the news with an exhibition of floating and diving, as “the 65-year-old natator (swimmer) who is still able to show the youngsters a few tricks about the water sport.” Collier’s Magazine reported in 1948 that “Thomas Vincent Lilly of Philadelphia…recently celebrated his eighty-second birthday by asking his neighbors to throw him, bound and gagged, off a diving board. They obliged. Thomas Vincent wiggled out of the ropes in one minute and five seconds. Lilly, a pensioned city employee, modestly discounts any element of risk. “I can’t sink,” he explains. ‘I float all day without twitching a muscle. Doctors have examined me plenty of times but they can’t account for my corkiness.’

 In November 1950, Lilly’s obituary noted that he “was famous for his aquatic feats, and demonstrated his ‘Houdini’ rope escape trick in the West Branch YMCA pool two years ago.” Parishioner Joe Ruane, whose Dad had an Electrical shop at 4830 Baltimore Avenue, offers “I don’t know anything about Thomas Lilly, per se. I do recall the legend of a person who did Houdini escapes at the YMCA which in those days was on 52nd Street…The rumor was something I heard from someone in my Dad’s store when I was about 13 or 14.

Lilly was known for rope tricks in his lifetime, but he surprised with one final stunt as a magician at investments. In June, 1951, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported “for 23 years Thomas V. Lilly…was Superintendent of Cedar Park, a public square at 50th St. and Baltimore Ave. Appointed to the post in 1911 by the Bureau of City Property at a per diem wage of $1.50, he never earned a wage more than $3.75 a day, which he was receiving when he retired in 1934. Yet, through profitable investments in securities and stocks, started with his small savings, he amassed a $50,000 fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to charity…” a sizeable amount at the time. Among his bequests was a large sum for St. Francis de Sales Church; in addition, the residue of his estate was willed to Bishop Lamb – then pastor of St. Francis de Sales – “to be used for charitable purposes as he sees fit.

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Woodland Avenue Roots

A002A story has been making the rounds that St. Francis de Sales Parish “was founded upstairs from a bar on Baltimore Avenue.”

It’s not true! And it’s just one of many casual pieces of misinformation that have been tossed into circulation about our church in recent times.

Where did our Parish actually begin? The Catholic Standard reported that the first Mass for the “New Mission Chapel” that would become our parish took place in a rented hall on the second floor of a commercial building on the “south east side of Woodland below Forty-ninth street” on February 16, 1890.

Woodland Avenue was one of the oldest, most well-known roads in the area. It began its life as part of the “King’s Highway” – a roughly 1,300-mile road laid out in the 1600s on the order of King Charles II of England, to link Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina. The local section was eventually renamed “Darby Road,” then became known as the “Darby Plank Road” in the 1850s, when it was covered with wooden boards to provide a better surface  “for the sporting fraternity, who speeded their fast horses over it.” When the boards wore out, racing stopped, and the road was renamed yet again as “Woodland Avenue.” Through all its early history, it was a busy, well-established commercial corridor; so when nearby farms and fields gave way to the rows of houses that we know today, and a need developed for a new parish to serve them, it was natural that our first Masses would find a home there.

The Woodland Avenue building where our first services were held is now long gone. The only photos available are the two supposed versions taken in 1940 for the Parish Jubilee Book: one with signs edited out, and an un-retouched version which shows a dry cleaner and an Oyster House on the ground floor, with a photographer or dentist occupying the second floor. We have so far been unable to determine what businesses occupied the premises in 1890, and the 1940 photos may not actually show the correct address.

The first Masses for Most Blessed Sacrament Parish are reported to have been held in a rented house at 5550 Woodland Avenue starting in May 1901.

How did the “Bar on Baltimore Ave.” story come about? Perhaps it emerged when someone misunderstood or misremembered that the piece of land on which our first chapel was built in 1891 (today it’s the part of the school that contains  the auditorium) included a small portion of the back lot of the Cherry Tree Inn – an historic hotel and tavern on Baltimore Avenue. The assertion could have been made flippantly, on the “spur-of-the-moment,” in one place — and then developed a life of its own.

Truth still matters.  In a modern age, when rapidly moving information is quoted and requoted in multiple places and different situations, it’s unhelpful to circulate half-remembered information without checking it, or to improve upon the facts in order to suit an agenda or to make a better story. Every misstatement or misrepresentation becomes a new tangle to upset or confuse and further complicate the future. We’ve seen that happen around the world in multiple contexts, in matters big and small, sometimes with horrifying results. Honest mistakes will occur but let’s make the sincere effort to limit them where we can.

Christmas Past

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Features and ads in St. Francis de Sales Parish Christmas Bulletins from the 1920s offer windows into a different age – when gifts might be hung on the Christmas tree and the Christmas stocking was a novelty!

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING AND HOW TO FILL IT (1927)

“For some reason, the beloved Christmas stocking of our childhood is not as common as it once was.

Kiddies who do not enjoy the thrill of opening mysterious packages, rooted from the recesses of a stocking in the dawn’s early light, are missing something that is their inalienable right.

The sheerness, or delicate fabric of Mother’s stocking, may keep them from using hers, but a Christmas stocking of some kind should be the possession of every child.

The larger presents may be downstairs beneath the spruce or fir, but a little gift or two should be added to the fruit, nuts and candy that are carefully wrapped in crinky packages and placed in the stocking. The time-honored orange should be placed in the toe; the horn, the jumping jack or the whistle should stick from the top. Do not use rich candies or soft-shelled nuts as fillers, or the child’s breakfast appetite will be destroyed. Better wrap a few hard candies of some kind in tissue paper and use the various nuts that cannot be broken by little fingers.

A nickel, a dime and perhaps a quarter, wrapped in several wrappings, and possibly securely tied inside a box will furnish several minutes of intense excitement. An apple will be appreciated. A potato from the bin, carefully wrapped in colored paper and tied, will bring a squeal of delight.

By all means give the children their Christmas stockings.”

Our second Pastor, Bishop Crane, was from the Ashland, PA, coal mining area, and many parishioners had family connections in that region, so they probably appreciated the joke:

THE BEST IN THE CLASS  (1926)

Interested Neighbor: ‘You seem to be a bright little boy. I suppose you have a very good place in your class?’

Little Boy: ‘Oh, yes, I sit right by the stove.’

Teacher in Pennsylvania mining district: ‘Can any one of you tell me where the Savior was born?’

‘Allentown,’ shouted Gottlieb.

Teacher: ‘What, Allentown! I just told you yesterday the Savior was born in Bethlehem.’

Gottlieb: ‘That’s right! I knew it was somewhere along the Lehigh Valley railroad.’”

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Bowling at de Sales

What are the things that bring parishioners – and Catholics — together? From the 1940s to the 1970s, a big answer was “bowling”!

D005 De Sales Photos Binder 09 012In September 1939, the Catholic Standard and Times announced that “Philadelphia’s Catholic Bowling League, a circuit of parish teams that has been dreamed of for several years, comes into existence Wednesday…Forty parish teams, in five divisions of the city…will compete for the Cardinal Dougherty trophy.”

Our parish Bowling League began in 1941, when the Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “This sport is being sponsored by the Holy Name Society. For the first time, two teams have been entered in the Philadelphia Catholic Bowling League which is the largest in the country…At the same time a parish bowling league has been formed. It will play every Wednesday evening at nine o’clock at the Centennial Bowling Alleys at Fifty-second Street and Baltimore Avenue. The intramural SFDS league opened with six teams in the men’s division, and six teams in the women’s division. Mixed teams of men and women evolved a few years later during World War II.

The Centennial Bowling Alley was technically at 5210 Broomall. After games, John and Ted Deady recall that their Dad, who didn’t drink, would, nonetheless, join the other members of the league for fellowship at Davis’s, a pub at 52nd and Litchfield, as part of the weekly ritual. Was it hard to schedule bowling? In some years, the League convened at Jimmy Dykes Colonial alley at 51st and Sansom instead of the Centennial (Jimmy Dykes owned several Philadelphia bowling alleys, but was better known for baseball, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics 1918-1932 and the Chicago White Sox 1933-1939. He is buried at our sister parish of St. Denis, Havertown). In later years, the league met at Bowlero and Gehris Lanes in Upper Darby.

Why did bowling end? Professor Robert Putnam at Harvard uses the fall of bowling as a metaphor for a general decline of the social bonds that tie people together. Others observe that those connections have simply changed: modern parents tend to bond while seated on the sidelines of their children’s sporting events and practices. In our parish, there was yet another reason for bowling’s demise, having to do with a changing neighborhood: Paul Harvey notes that “bowling had started out as a group of parishioners; it ended as ex-parishioners coming in from the suburbs.” In 1963, there were 4,233 families in the parish; by 1973, only 1,232 were left – the rest had moved out of the city. That changed everything.

Why was bowling important? The 1955 Parish Monthly Bulletin observed that sharing and working together in parish activities helped “grace to grow.” In 1965, the 25th Anniversary Banquet program noted “a whole generation of friendship has grown up around the de Sales League.” Jerry Mc Hugh, whose Dad was one of the charter members of the de Sales league, offers a bowling romance:

My Dad bowled with one Kitty Duffy.  She and her husband later moved to Medford Lakes.  Sadly, Joe Duffy died young.  Kitty supported her kids as a secretary for the FBI.  When my mom died in 1998, friends urged my Dad to talk With Kitty, who participated in the bereavement ministry in her Jersey parish. He did and found it helpful.  Then they had lunch.  Then they had dinner.  Then ultimately they eloped, my Dad being 80 at the time.  That’s when my dad finally left de Sales to join her in Jersey. And my Dad’s old bowling ball was literally the last thing I took out of the house from the very back of the first floor closet. (The Bostons bought his house.) Dad and Kitty had ten great years together – with the de Sales bowling league bringing them together several decades later.”

 

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Ad in 1942 de Sales Night Program

Star Harbor

 

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Star Harbor (4700 Springfield Ave.) in 1966

In the 1960s, as the youthful Baby Boom generation began to take over the news, their parents and grandparents sometimes felt left behind. The question became “Do we have a place for them in our fast-moving, youth-oriented society?”

The U.S. Government recognized vital needs. The Older Americans Act, signed into law on July 14, 1965, established the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and created Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly; and Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor.

Other social issues were more complicated. Vicky Perralta, the Filipino Program Director of the Philadelphia Center for Older People, told the Inquirer: “I have seen more elderly people die from sheer loneliness and isolation…” She offered a cultural perspective, based on “my being an Asian, where the old are really looked up to, where they are really loved, respected and wanted ‘till they reach their graves…”

Our parish developed a prototype solution, when Monsignor Sefton, along with Monsignor McDonough of Catholic Social Services, and Vicky Perralta, shared a common dream to create a space “for and by the elderly in their own neighborhood.

At the same time, our neighborhood was changing, which became part of the challenge. Our Parish 100th Anniversary Book points out that in the late 1950s, as longtime parishioners began to move out to the suburbs, new families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds — many of whom were not Catholic — began to move in. What was needed, then, was “the first community of its kind in the archdiocese, a recreational center for citizens regardless of race or creed.” (it is important to note that the word “citizen” was used, then, as a synonym for “people,” not to signify nationality!)

F006Monsignor Sefton purchased the former J.J. White Funeral Home on the corner of 47th and Springfield in 1966 and the Parish Centennial book notes that “many volunteers pitched in to clean, paint, repair, and decorate the former funeral home and make it an attractive place to meet.” Initial offerings – chosen by the community — included Arts and Crafts and Painting classes, as well as a discussion group, trips, and a “TV Lounge.”

The efforts were successful: the 1967 Parish Monthly Bulletin reports: “It was a joy indeed to see so many happy faces at the first Open House of our new enter for older citizens on Monday, September 18. Almost a hundred members and potential members spent the day inspecting the facilities at the center, lunching together and sharing in the afternoon’s entertainment. The future of Star Harbor seems assured because it has the enthusiastic approval of the people for whom it is designed. All the older citizens are invited to join. Many happy hours and welcome companionship are in store for them as they participate in the activities of the Center. Star Harbor is the fulfillment of a dream of Monsignor Sefton….His efforts in behalf of the senior citizens will be long and gratefully remembered…

Today, Star Harbor Senior Community Center is operated by Catholic Housing and Community Services in partnership with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), and continues “to provide services to ethnically and economically diverse seniors age 55 and over,” encouraging older adults to “engage in activities they enjoy and find meaningful. Health and wellness is a top priority with offerings in exercise, health education, screenings, and immunizations. Lunch is available for all members that are 60 years of age and older. Breakfast is available for purchase.” A counselor is on staff for senior issues. Today’s offerings also include opportunities such as “Learning to Use Your Tablet classes for iPad or Kindle.” Membership is Free. Check it out!

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Star Harbor Senior Citizen Center, as in St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin, September 1967

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Concert at Star Harbor 1978

SFDS Parish Lending Library

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The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

Our literary-minded St. Francis de Sales Parish has always kept up with local reading trends. Today, we have several book clubs; in the early 2000s, we had a library in the back of the church; long ago, we had a bookstore and lending library on Baltimore Ave.

The Journal of Library History reports that “Rental libraries were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s coming seemingly out of nowhere and threatening to transform totally the reading and book buying habits of the American public.” On Baltimore Avenue number 4726 (Vientiane Cafe today) was the Terry Shop in 1939, run by W.A. Fares, and offering “unusual gifts” and a “lending library.” When that business left, SFDS took over and in May 1944, opened its own Parish Lending Library on the spot.

What did the lending library do? The Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “The purpose of the Parish lending library is to make good literature easily available for everyone…” The library was open day and evening hours Patron membership of $5.00 allowed two books to be borrowed per week; an Annual $2 membership entitled patrons to rent one book a week at a fee of one cent per day; and nonmembers could rent single books for three cents a day.

The venture seemed to be successful: by its first anniversary, it had “a membership of 1,107 persons and over 200 of these are non-Catholics. It has on its shelves 1,576 volumes, all of the latest in Catholic books and the approved best-sellers. To date is has circulated 7,192 books among a variety of readers. The average patronage is 42 persons a day.” What were people reading?  Lists published in the Parish Monthly Bulletin included a variety of books such as  Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen; Powder Puff: the Adventures of the Easter Bunny in the City; The Remembered Face of Ireland by Josephine Hunt Raymond; Of Flight and Life by Charles Lindbergh; and More Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd among many others.

The Parish Monthly Bulletin also published a list of the 21 librarians. Census data from 1940 brings them to life: among them, Loretta Mulloy, who lived at 4811 Chester, was 18 in 1940, and the middle child of seven living at home with parents. Frances Cunniff, at 431 South 50th, was 31 in 1940, working as a clerk in a printing firm, living at home with parents and two siblings. Rita Duffy, at 4634 Chester, was a secretary/stenographer for a coffee importer. Her brother, age 32 and unmarried in 1940, was listed as “head of household,” with mother and ten siblings (youngest age 16) all living at home. Adele Smith, 1110 South 52nd Street, had attended three years of college and was a teacher, living at home with Mom and four siblings. Less than half were married, which makes sense: the library could have been considered a safe place to meet and socialize!

What happened to the Parish Lending Library in the end? Short answer: it moved to the basement (Choir Room) of the SFDS Little School in 1954. Long answer: The Journal of Library History concludes that “The rise of paperbacks and television, coupled with the increased cost of books after World War II, contributed to the demise of the rental business.

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SFDS Bookstore at 4726 Baltimore Avenue in 1948
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SFDS Parish Bookstore in 1948
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SFDS Bookstore in the basement of the Little School circa 1954