Category: parish organizations

The Assumption of Mary Vietnamese Community

In 2016, the Vietnamese Community celebrated their fortieth anniversary at St. Francis de Sales.

Their history (translated) recalls that: “On April 30, 1975, with the collapse of South Vietnam, more than 130,000 Vietnamese left their homeland to seek freedom. Vietnamese refugees came to Philadelphia from refugee camps in Florida, Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania. Most came to Philadelphia from Indiantown Gap Camp, PA” (near Hershey).

The Philadelphia Archdiocese sponsored seven Vietnamese priests, who “were invited to St. Charles Seminary to learn American customs and English language, so that after three months of study, they could be appointed to the parishes they would serve.”

I002 IOct 5 1978 Father Annthony Vu Nu Huynh
Rev. Anthony Vu Nhu Huynh

In December 1975, Reverend Anthony Vu Nhu Huynh was appointed Assistant Priest at St. Francis de Sales Parish and Director of the Vietnamese Apostolate for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. His Vietnamese ministry started first at de Sales. Then, “in 1976, as the number of refugees grew, he began establishing communities in Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery counties. Once his diocese was stabilized, he then helped small communities in neighboring locations, such as Wilmington, Reading, Allentown, Atlantic City and Camden.”

It was not an easy time: “in the early days, when everyone was a new refugee, the language was foreign, transportation was not available, many had to depend on American sponsors, there was a shortage of  Vietnamese food, Vietnamese markets were not available, and the communication between Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese was difficult.” A reunion Mass at St. Charles Seminary that first Christmas was bittersweet, with happy faces and sad memories to share.

Our parish helped with resettlement efforts. Monsignor Hilferty, who became Pastor in 1977, had served as Military Chaplain in Vietnam for twenty years from 1957 to 1977, so he understood the needs of immigrants and the challenges of starting over in a new place. Parishioner Betty Allen worked tirelessly to find housing for Vietnamese families – as well as newly-arriving Laotians, Cambodians, Koreans, and H’mong – many of whom were not Catholic. The Parish School began an ESL (English as a Second Language) program for children, who were soon able to participate in regular classes.

Until he passed away suddenly in 1990, Father Anthony worked diligently to insure that Vietnamese heritage survived in a new land, and children continued to learn their culture, religion, language, and customs. Today’s flourishing community of over 300 faithful from the tri-state area is a tribute to the success of his early efforts, as is the ordination of eight Vietnamese  priests and a deacon.


Musical Heritage


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.

Knights of Peter Claver

Who are those folks in the fez hats and golden sashes?

          They represent an important American Catholic tradition, with an SFDS difference.

          The Knights of Peter Claver were founded in Mobile, Alabama, in 1909, in an age of strict segregation. The fraternal organization was named after the Jesuit saint who ministered to African slaves in Colombia in the 16th century, and initially provided fellowship and spiritual direction for African American Catholics.

          Paul Harvey recalls November 3, 1990,  when “eight laymen and two clerics from St. Francis de Sales Parish were initiated…One cleric was the Pastor, Rev, John Kilgallon; the other was…Brother Brendan Garwood… The laymen were John Carrigan, David Collins, Paul Harvey, William Mellette, Lonnie Perry, Larry Riley, Ogden Wing and Edmund Wells. These men represented one of the first integrated councils in the city.  John Carrigan — Grand Knight of the new Council #315 — was the first white Grand Knight in the City of Philadelphia. In December 1990 Paul Harvey was elected the first white President of the Central Committee of Philadelphia, the representative and guiding body of all Councils of the Knights of Peter Claver and Courts of the Ladies of Peter Claver in the city.

          During the early years the Knights sponsored weekly donuts after both the 10AM and noon Masses… Later this parish community also supported the monthly breakfasts that became a staple of Knightly community-building. When the De Sales Night Dinner Dances restarted, then-Grand Knight Bill Mellette, a professional chef, organized a catering committee made up almost exclusively of Knights that provided tasty fare for many years at less than commercial prices.

          A proud moment for the Knights came when parishioner and Knight James Kettor asked for help reuniting his large family of eight children, left behind in Liberia. Then-Grand Knight Paul Harvey, helped by SFDS parishioners; Religious of the Assumption Sister Frances Joseph; and Sue Small from Villanova University… raised over $10,000 dollars in multiple fund raisers that brought the family together at a New York airport and drove them back to West Philadelphia. The Kettors remain members of the parish to this day even though they no longer reside within parish boundaries.

            Now, twenty five years after that 1990 initiation Deputy Grand Knight Paul Harvey and Financial Secretary Edmund Wells received their 25 year pins from the Knights of Peter Claver in November 2015 at the closing Mass of the 125th Anniversary of St Francis de Sales Parish.

Big Sisters and Little Sisters


          Who are the purple-robed Sisters who live across the street from the church?

          Over the years, the convent at 1001 South 47th street has been home to several different religious orders with different ministries. The Assumption Religious arrived in 1999 (having lived on 49th St since 1978). They were known initially in the parish as the “Big Sisters of the Assumption” for disambiguation, since their convent was formerly occupied by their ‘cousins’ the  Little Sisters of the Assumption, who are a nursing order.

          Founded by Mother Marie Eugenie in Paris, France, in 1839, the Assumption Religious are an international contemplative and apostolic order, with a goal of transforming society through education. Their mission found a great following from the beginning: communities grew and quickly spread throughout Europe; and then to the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Today, Assumption Religious are active in 35 countries. Other United States communities are in Lansdale; Worcester, MA; and Chaparral, NM.

          The Assumption Religious have a long history in Philadelphia! When the Sisters arrived in America from France in 1919, their first ministry was Ravenhill Academy boarding school for girls in East Falls – most famously attended by Grace Kelly (actress, and later Princess Grace of Monaco). Former Philippine president Corazon Aquino also attended in the 1940s – when our beloved late Sister Francis Joseph was teaching there as a layperson, before she joined the order. The school closed in 1977 and the Ravenhill Mansion  currently houses administrative offices for Philadelphia University.

         Today, our local Sisters come from France, Ecuador, the Philippines, and the United States; and are active in the Parish as well as on the Penn campus. They teach at the Hispanic Bible Institute and provide sacramental preparation for the Hispanic community at the Cathedral. A sister is The Director for Evangelization with the Filipino Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and at Our Lady of Hope Parish in North Philadelphia. The international character of the community makes them well-suited to work with the many immigrant groups in the Archdiocese.

          At de Sales, they participate in the pastoral council, the choir, and engage in many other activities associated with our parish such as the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, Taize prayer, a young adults group and a book club. The Parish Crafts Ministry meets at their convent  at 1:00 pm the 2nd and 4th Wednesday, each month and anyone who knits or crochets is invited to make items for the needy. With the laity, they arrange study groups and retreats.

          If you would be interested in finding out about  Scripture study groups, and other related activities, contact the Sisters at (215) 386-5016 or email