Category: people

A Well-Connected Family

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John and Wilhelmina Ruane (center) celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1956, with their children and their spouses and the 20 grandchildren at that time. Joe is fourth from the right, at the edge of the door in the back row.

Longtime parishioners Joe and Nancy Ruane are “well-connected” at Saint Francis de Sales parish. Joe’s grandparents were early parishioners, and Joe’s electrician father and grandfather worked on our electrical connections – including installing the two long chandeliers at the front of the church and the first sound system.

1943 ruane baltimore aveJohn F. Ruane and Wilhelmina Halberstadt Ruane married in 1906 and appear to have moved to the parish sometime before 1920. Joe writes that by the 1930s, “the couple lived at 720 S. 49th Street, and had an electrical shop at 4830 Baltimore Avenue…” He notes that his father became a partner in the business after the Second World War, and “took over the business when my grandfather retired in the late 50’s. They did a lot of the electrical work for De Sales when Bishop Lamb was pastor” from 1936 to 1951.

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The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

Joe says “My grandmother worked one day in their store keeping the books, and worked other days at a religious goods store in 4700 block of Baltimore Ave, next to the then Byrd theater (this could have been the SFDS Parish Bookstore and Lending Library at 4726 Baltimore – today’s Vientiane Restaurant).  She was the author of a book sold there, “A is for Angels” which went through the alphabet with a religious word for each letter.”

Joe further recalls “My parents lived in Delaware County after they got married and raised our family in Collingdale, but as an infant, after being baptized in the hospital, the sacrament of baptism was supplied, or completed, at St. Francis de Sales a few weeks later. As children my parents used to bring us into the city to watch the De Sales May Procession during the time of Bishop Lamb.”

Joe’s guardian angel moment came when he helped in the family electrical store in 1947/1948: “One day I dropped a screw from a toaster on the floor” and  “noticed through a crack in the floor a fire in the basement. Luckily the fire was taken care of quickly by the fire station at 50th and Baltimore (today’s Dock Street Brewing Co.) since three stores on the corner of 49th and Baltimore all shared the same basement, divided by thin wooden partitions.

Joe notes that as an adult, “ I moved to the parish in late 1968, married and moved to Roxborough in 1971, and returned here in 1973, where Nancy and I raised our daughter who was married in St. Francis De Sales in 2000” — connecting our parish through multiple generations!

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Joe’s grandfather, John F Ruane and grandmother, Wilhelmina Halberstadt Ruane at their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1956. The priest on the left is Rev. Philip Bruckner, C.M., of the Miraculous Medal Association in Germantown, Joe’s cousin and nephew of his grandmother; the priest on the right is Msgr. Charles B. McGinley, pastor of Holy Child parish, north Broad Street, now Our Lady of Hope where Sr. Gertrude Borres R.A, is Director of Evangelization. Ruane Electric had done the electrical work, including lighting, for the Holy Child Shrine of the Nativity.

Our Man in Washington

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Adolfo de Nesti

If you’re ever in Washington DC,  stroll over to the Wilson Building (home to the offices of the DC Mayor and Council at  1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW), look up at the facade, and say “Hi” to the artist who decorated our church!


Before crafting statues and friezes inside and outside our 1911 church, sculptor Adolfo de Nesti was commissioned to design classical figures to adorn what was then called the Municipal Services Building in Washington. The Washington Post, July 3  1908, reported that his 26 white marble statues, each over nine feet tall, represented “the arts, sciences, commerce, statesmanship, and other conceptions.”  One of the statues, depicting “a graceful-appearing young man with bared arms and a loose-fitting robe draped about his shoulders is Art…and De Nesti, it is said, has used his own head and figure as the model…”

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Art by Adolfo de Nesti (Photo (c) Bruce Guthrie)

De Nesti’s works were a small part of a much larger idea. In 1901, the MacMillan commission approved a development plan to re-make the nation’s capital as an idealized “City Beautiful” that would inspire “civic virtue…through important monumental architecture.” James Wasserman, author of a guide to Masonic Washington,  suggests that the many symbols incorporated in decorations throughout the city “silently communicate a curriculum designed to inspire, elevate, and teach eternal truth.

De Nesti, who came from Florence, Italy,  dreamed American in his Washington years. His business partner, Ernest Bairstow, would later be known  for his work on the Lincoln Memorial. De Nesti was on the Street Decoration Committee for the 1905 Inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt. And in 1906, he married Agnes Campbell Gordon Armistead – the Great Granddaughter of Colonel George Armistead, whose 1812 defense of Fort McHenry inspired our National Anthem.

Statue of Our Lady by Adolfo de Nesti (Immaculata University)

In 1907, having finished his work on emblems of  “patriotic religion”  in Washington, de Nesti and his young wife began a new chapter of their lives in Philadelphia. Their son was born here in March 1908 and de Nesti began crafting inspirational symbols of Catholic faith in our church. In 1914, he sculpted a statue of the Blessed Virgin to top the dome at Immaculata University.

As far as we know, de Nesti  never became an American citizen, and likely returned to Italy in World War I. His wife remarried after a “tragedy” and divorce in 1921, at which point their son, Adolfo Napoleone Francesco de Nesti Junior changed his name to the all-American Armistead Greene.  Adolfo de Nesti’s American dream ended early but his sculptured likeness in Washington still wistfully overlooks every presidential inaugural parade. And Saint Francis de Sales Church in Philadelphia, the city of our nation’s Founding Fathers, is his memorial.

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The Wilson Building, Washington DC (Photo (c) Bruce Guthrie)

Horse Party

horse partyStep back in time, just after World War I,  and imagine city streets filled with horse carriages and carts instead of motor vehicles. Miss Laura Blackburne (3808 Walnut; later 5038 Larchwood), an early donor to St. Francis de Sales Church, was also a board member of  the Women’s SPCA (today’s Women’s Humane Society) and worked on the Dispensary Committee for a unique holiday event as reported in The Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 24, 1918:

There was great rejoicing in “animal circles” at the announcement that Santa Claus today would visit the stables and kennels of the poor horses, dogs, and cats, as well as the homes of real folks. 

            Through the agency of the Women’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Santa gave Christmas dinners to more than 200 animals. The horses that have so nobly done double duty during the war were given especial notice. 

            There was a sort of thin, soupy mixture for the first course, mixed feed for the entree and carrots and big red apples for dessert. Dog biscuits were Rover’s share and there was catnip in prettily tied bunches for the kitties. 

            Ned, a staunch old dray horse who for the last year has been supporting a family of eleven, had the time of his long life. Ned’s master is sick and has been almost blind for many months. Ned’s steady work in hauling has furnished the only livelihood for the master, mistress and the nine children of the family. 

            Dan is another of the heroes who were decorated “inside and out” for his splendid services. He has been earning the living for an eighty year old man and his family. 

            Girl Scouts distributed the Christmas dinners for the animals from the Lighthouse at Second Street and Lehigh avenue, from the dispensary at 315 South Chadwick Street (near Rittenhouse), and from Lowry Home (for homeless dogs and cats), Eighty-Sixth and Eastwick Streets. Horses in the police van and traffic squad stables were remembered by the women too. The Christmas compliments were in the form of bright red apples. 

            Members of the dispensary committee of the women’s society investigate their “horse families” just as conscientiously and carefully as social workers investigate the homes of they city’s poor people. Wherever the people are poor and deserving of help, and their horse or animals are hungry, the society gives its aid…

            The lighthearted article sounds reassuringly normal, considering that the Great Influenza Pandemic, which killed an estimated 12,191 people in Philadelphia alone, had finally slowed its brutal onslaught just the previous month! All schools and churches in the city — including ours — were closed down for three weeks, from October 6 to October 26, 1918, in an apparently successful effort to help stem the contagion.


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!

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



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


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


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



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!