Category: people

The Lady and the Lamp

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Photo: Women’s Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
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SFDS Sanctuary Lamp

Some of our original Saint Francis de Sales building contributors have been forgotten because the items they donated are no longer part of our church. But their presence on the Donor Plaque by the 47th Street door should remind us of their part in our story.

Such is the case with Miss Laura Blackburne, who donated a massive hanging cross-shaped sanctuary lamp – supposed to be a “reproduction” of one at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy – that was a prominent feature of our Sanctuary until the 1950s.

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The Gothic Mansion, 12th and Chestnut

The lamp was given to honor Miss Blackburne’s mother, Ann Eliza Priestman Blackburne, who was buried at The Woodlands (Section L185), from Saint James, our “parent church,”  in 1909.All we know of the mother is from an archived letter describing her youthful education at the Young Ladies’ French and English Academy located  briefly in the Gothic Mansion on Chestnut St. above 12th (which later housed the St. John’s Orphan Asylum associated with Saint John the Evangelist Church). There, from 1831 to 1833, she learned regular academic subjects, as well as Astronomy, music, needlework, and art taught by the French Dames de la Retraite.

Daughter Laura lived with her mother at 3808 Walnut, inherited a small fortune from a relative, and engaged in a number of organizations. She was on the board of the American Catholic Historical Society, and worked on fundraisers for St. Vincent’s home – a boys’ orphanage at 70th and Woodland. In 1897, she co-sponsored a very successful Cake Sale fundraiser for the Women’s Suffrage (right to vote) Society.

As a board member for the Women’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (today’s Women’s Humane Society), Miss Blackburne seemed especially interested in horses – still the primary form of transportation. In 1909, she was on a committee planning construction of a clinic at 315 Chadwick Street, near Rittenhouse,  “equipped with the most up-to-date appliances  for the treatment of horses.” The dispensary would be “fitted up and conducted along the lines of dispensaries in London and Florence.” During World War I, she became a member of the Red Star, a sub-group of the WSPCA funding care for the sick and wounded among the “half a million horses and mules” used by the American army in Europe to transport “food, supplies, guns, and ammunition;” as well as for the many “war dogs” used to “search for wounded soldiers, carry messages, and keep vermin from the trenches.”

Today, the Women’s Humane Society continues its commitment to humane and compassionate treatment of animals, and it’s nice to discover our connections!

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Photo: Women’s Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
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Fireworks

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Here’s a long-ago neighbourhood tale for the holiday weekend.

Did you know that our church had an important connection with the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel before our annual  De Sales Night event existed?

Jean Baptiste Revelli, from France, was an early “pew holder” (parishioner who rented a specific seat) in our parish. Known simply as “Baptiste,” he was also the Assistant Manager and Maitre d’Hotel at the Bellevue from its earliest days.

When the Bellevue Hotel became the Bellevue-Stratford in 1904, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a fulsome article, reassuring everyone that: “Baptiste Revelli will still be manager of all the large dinners and look after the menu. ‘Baptiste’ is a personal friend of every society man, woman, and child in the city…In addition to knowing the men and women of prominence here, Baptiste is a walking social register of New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, and other cities and he is familiar with most of the titled persons of Europe who visit America or have social connections here. He has the reputation of knowing more of what is needed to make a private dinner or public banquet pass off successfully than any man in America, and his ideas as regards table decorations have won him worldwide fame.

Baptiste was married in our parish in August, 1910 – around the time that he donated one of the tall stained glass windows to the ongoing church construction. His bride, Miss Catherine Hayes, was his second wife; his first wife had died thirteen years previously. They lived at 4609 Cedar Avenue.

Sadly, being a star did not protect against flying stars. On July 8, 1926, the Reading Times reported that “Jean Baptiste Revelli came to Philadelphia in the Centennial year of American Independence and met death at an event commemorating the Sesquicentennial Anniversary…when an aerial bomb (rocket) struck him in the chest at the close of a fireworks display in Clark Park.”

Aged 75, the “genial white-haired” Baptiste  had retired from the Bellevue just a year before. In his time, he had “waited on kings and presidents… from President Arthur to President Wilson, General Pershing, King Albert and Queen Elizabeth, of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier, Lloyd George and Clemenceau.” He was buried from our church.

A Woodlands Connection

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Two monuments at The Woodlands cemetery and two long-ago love stories offer family insights about the architect of our church.

In 1838, a rustic young Frenchwoman named Esther Poquet set sail for America as the shipboard servant of Mary Hamilton, daughter-in-law of Alexander Hamilton (of Broadway musical fame). Esther was not, perhaps, a model employee: upon reaching New York, she fell in love with a young French adventurer and cook named (Pierre) dandurand refectory4Alexandre Dandurand, left service, and the two were soon married. They moved to Baltimore, and, eventually, to Philadelphia. In the early 1840s, they opened a French restaurant at 165 Chestnut Street called Cafe Tortoni, described by one newspaper reporter as “The best eating-house in Philadelphia…much frequented by editors, authors and the better class of men about town”  and known for its excellent wine  cellar. When Alexandre died in 1849, his wife Esther continued the business as Madame E. Dandurand’s Restaurant Francaise.

What does any of this have to do with our church?

Another romance.

The Dandurands’ daughter Josephine fell in love with the family’s German tenant, Charles (Karl) Dagit, who lived above the  restaurant in the 1850s. Josephine’s very French mother did not approve of this French-German alliance, but the couple refused to be discouraged. They courted for several years, until they were finally allowed to marry in 1858. Their long marriage produced seven children – among them, future architect Henry Dandurand Dagit.

DSCN4409In the 1840s, when The Woodlands (former estate of William Hamilton, from a different Hamilton family) opened as a cemetery at 40th and Woodland Ave., it was promoted as “the most beautiful rural cemetery in the United States.” Henry Dagit’s grandmother Esther  must have been impressed, since she chose the location for her husband’s 1849 burial (Section G 332-334). When her daughter — Henry’s mother Josephine —  had to bury her three-year-old baby in 1882, she chose a spot at Woodlands not far from her own parents (Section I 555-557), and where she and her husband would both later be buried.

DSCN4406Perhaps visits to Woodlands through the years alerted Henry Dagit to the growing neighbourhoods on this side of the river, so that in 1904 he built a house at 4527 Pine Street for his own young family — and, a few years later, he embarked on the construction of our church. And perhaps his European family background gave Henry Dagit a particular affinity for the French and Swiss heritage of our patron saint – and inspired the many French and German artistic references in our church.

Three Bishops

The Catholic Encyclopedia re-states Church law that “there shall be but one bishop of each diocese…” and “there is only one cathedral.”

Philadelphia’s cathedral is downtown on the Parkway, but our church has, in its history, been home to three bishops. How can this be?

All three of our bishops were titular bishops, which means that at consecration, each was assigned the title of an early Christian diocese that, by modern times, had “neither clergy nor people.” One reason was to preserve the memory of those “once venerable and important but now, desolate, sees.” Another, was the practical reason that, since there were no pastoral duties in an ancient inactive diocese, its bishop would be free to help out in a large modern district, such as the Philadelphia Archdiocese, that had grown too big to be managed by one bishop. A titular bishop could live locally and help with bishop’s tasks, but was not, by technicality, a local bishop with a competing cathedral.

Who were our bishops and what were their connections?

Our second Pastor, Reverend Michael J. Crane, became Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia under Cardinal Dougherty and Titular Bishop of Curium, Cyprus (aka Kourion – site of an important University of Pennsylvania archaeological excavation!)  while serving at our church in 1921. The Titular Bishop of the ancient see of Helos (or Elos, near ancient Sparta), was fourth Pastor Auxiliary Bishop Hugh Lamb, stationed at our parish from 1935 to 1951.  Reverend Joseph Mark McShea became Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia and Titular Bishop of Mina (aka Mauretania Caesariensis in Algeria), while serving as our fifth Pastor, in 1952.

What is the role of a titular bishop? It’s complicated. As Auxiliary Bishop, he reports to the local diocesan Bishop, who delegates a variety of pastoral tasks and “functions that require the sacramental power of a bishop.” In his own diocese-in-title, his power is entirely “potential:” the Pope is in charge, and the titular bishop waits forever in reserve “just in case.”

What happened to our SFDS bishops?  Bishop Crane, who built our church, died in 1928 and is buried on the rectory lawn. Bishop Lamb became diocesan Bishop of Greensburg in Western PA in 1951. Bishop McShea was appointed first Bishop of the newly created Allentown Diocese in 1961. His departure opened a new era in the Philadelphia Archdiocese when his replacement, Bishop Gerald McDevitt, opted to follow the 1960s population shift to live in the suburbs.

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.

A Bell Named Adolph

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Our church bells don’t ring out as often as they did in times past, but they’re still an important part of our church. Did you know that the largest bell weighs in at 2,500 pounds, which makes it bigger than the Liberty Bell (which is a mere 2,080 pounds, and cracked)!

According to the 1940 Parish Jubilee volume, the eleven bells up in the tower were “named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase.”

It’s an odd list. Among other things, one might wonder: why Adolph?

When the bells were consecrated in 1916, that was still a fairly common name. Several Saints are named Adolph: Saint Adolph of Osnabruck lived in Germany in the 1100s and was known as the “Almoner of the Poor;” there was also a 9th century Spanish martyr named Adolph; and Saint Adolph Ludigo-Mkasa, who was martyred in Uganda in the 1800s.

The name could be there for another reason, as well. The bells were bequeathed to the church by Mrs. Elizabeth Lippe, in honor of her late husband, William. A little research reveals that William’s Dad emigrated from Germany. His name was Dr. med. Adolph Graf zur Lippe Biesterfeld Weissenfeld, shortened to Dr. Adolph Lippe, and he was an important figure in the history of homeopathic medicine, holding the chair of “Materia Medica” at the Homeopathic College of Philadelphia (the origins of Hahnemann University Hospital) from 1863-1868.

The name could also be intended to honour Adolfo de Nesti, the Italian sculptor who created many of the statues in our church. (It may be additionally significant that Monsignor Michael J. Crane’s sister was a nun named Sister Mary Gervase; and his Assistant was the formerly-Anglican Reverend Maurice Cowl).

So, in the story of one church bell, we have represented Germany; Spain; Italy; England; Uganda; care for the poor; immigration; higher education; alternative medicine; Catholic history; Philadelphia landmarks; American history; fine art; and church music – an emblem of the rich tapestry of our Parish heritage!

 

 

Atlantis Lore and Civil War

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How is SFDS parish connected with the lost city of Atlantis?

Admittedly a tenuous link, it comes to us through Eleanor C. Donnelly, the donor of our Blessed Mother altar, who was born in Philadelphia in 1838. The sixth child in a large literary family, she credited her brother Ignatius with teaching her to write verse when she was age nine, and she published her first book during the American Civil War.

By the early 1900s, Eleanor was “The Poet Laureate of the Catholic Church” in America and her religious poems were read at many public events. Her published works comprised “almost fifty volumes” of short stories, poems, and  biographies – including a biography of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace, head nurse of the local  Civil War Satterlee Hospital (its location marked by the Gettysburg stone in Clark Park), filled with interesting details of hospital life. Another poetry volume, Lyrics and Legends of Ancient Youth , published in 1906, is notable as all proceeds from its sale went to “the building fund of the new church of St. Francis de Sales, Forty seventh street, West Philadelphia, of which the Rev. M.J. Crane is the Rector.”

Eleanor was a prolific letter writer: the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC) archives and the Minnesota Historical Society contain many letters to and from prominent people, including correspondence with her favorite big brother Ignatius. This is where the Atlantean connection comes in: a Minnesota congressman and Lieutenant Governor, Ignatius Donnelly is better remembered today for supporting the theory that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and for his book  Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, which remains a seminal cult classic of Atlantis lore.

Eleanor’s life had its share of shadows. She never married and never quite fulfilled her dream of religious life, which proved “too taxing.” Our Mary altar is poignantly engraved with a memorial to her parents and brothers and sisters. Her parents died young. Her brother Ignatius passed away suddenly in 1901. Two of Eleanor’s sisters and a niece died within days of each other  in 1909, and other relatives perished soon after.

Eleanor lived at 4502 Springfield Avenue, according to Who’s Who in America 1908-1909. She and her last remaining sibling retired from there to live with the IHM Sisters at Villa Maria convent in West Chester, where Eleanor wrote a dedication poem for our church in 1911. She was buried from the Cathedral with great ceremony, in 1917.

On Eagle’s Wings

De Sales Photos Binder 06 030 (2)On the Mary side of the church, halfway up the wall, an eagle sculpture forms part of the design of a pulpit, once used to proclaim the Gospel and deliver the sermon. The book rested on the back of the eagle’s wings  – a familiar pulpit motif, because it is the symbol of Saint John the Evangelist, whose Gospel opens, appropriately,  “In the beginning was the Word…”

The eagle might have been important for other reasons to the long-ago donors of the pulpit –- R. Conrad Schwoerer and family — who lived at 4712 Windsor Avenue. As our national bird, it signified American patriotism.  Richard Conrad Schwoerer  was a proud Civil War veteran of Company B of the 51st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. The eagle also symbolized strength and power. The Schwoerers, father and son, were bankers, occupying positions of trust and authority on the board of the Central Trust Company in Camden. The father died in 1910, shortly before our church was finished, so the donation became a fitting memorial.

Why did the architect include a pulpit high in the wall? Jesus preached an important sermon on a mountain, where he could be more easily seen and heard. In days before microphones and loudspeakers, the high pulpit was symbolic and served a similar purpose, lifting the celebrant above the congregation to increase his visibility. The wooden tester, or sounding board, that formed the roof of the pulpit was intended to reflect the celebrant’s voice out to the congregation.

When the Mass was simplified after Vatican II, the pageantry associated with the high pulpit was eliminated, and sanctuary furnishings were streamlined worldwide. Our pulpit survived because it is a part of the architecture, but it was not used for many years. Today, the high pulpit is used on special occasions, as when the Nativity Proclamation is read just before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In the glittering light, the litany of Jesus’ lineage, proclaimed from the high pulpit, reminds us of the past and connects us with all of the faithful down through the ages – from ancient times, through more than 125 years of our own parish history, to the families in the pews today. And the eagle still reminds us that before everything, “In the beginning was the word…”

Never Say Never: Reverend Richard Curry

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If you had asked teenaged Rick Curry to lend you a hand, he would gladly have done so, but he might first have had to run out to his car to get it, reports his old classmate and friend, John Deady.

Curry, who graduated from SFDS parish school (class of 1957) and later West Catholic, was born without a right forearm and sometimes found his prosthesis cumbersome.

Well-liked in the parish school, Curry managed to get into as much mischief as any of the other boys. The Sisters prepared him early on, though, for limited career choices. Particularly, he was told, he should not aspire to a career in the military, as a doctor, or in religious life – how could a priest perform a blessing or say Mass without a right arm?

This set the challenge for a contrarian lifetime of achievement.

Joining the religious as a Jesuit Brother, Curry overcame the doubts of various supervisors, became an accomplished one-armed baker, and wrote two cookbooks. The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking is an entertaining education in the spiritual significance of bread, as well as a compilation of favorite recipes from his travels around the Jesuit world.

After earning a BA from Saint Joseph’s College and an MA from Villanova, Curry earned the title of Doctor, with a PhD in Educational Theatre from new York University. Then, for many years, he worked with the Veteran’s Administration on healthcare and rehabilitation for wounded veterans – thus associating himself with both medicine and the military.

Curry spent his life creating opportunities for the handicapped. He advocated for actors with disabilities – working to ensure that genuinely disabled people played disabled parts in theatre, movies, and television. He himself played a number of small roles, including a one-armed psychologist on an episode of the long-running TV series Monk. He became a professor of Catholic Studies and Theatre, as well as director of the Academy for Veterans at Georgetown University. He also co-founded the Dog Tag Bakery, operated by wounded veterans.

In his lifetime, Curry received twenty-five honorary degrees, and was named a “Distinguished Citizen” by President George H.W. Bush. Six years before he passed away in December 2015, he applied for a special dispensation from Rome to become a priest, and was ordained. The IHM Sisters who long ago encouraged him to accept limitations, might be very glad to be proven not quite right just this once!