Tag: 49th St.

Holy Housing

Our church is a local landmark, but threads of parish history are also woven into the greater fabric of the neighborhood, in past-lives of other buildings and locations. Here are some, possibly surprising, former residences of SFDS clergy and religious through time:

1422 South 49th Street (before Woodland). When the parish was first formed in 1890, it met in a “rented hall on the southwest side of Woodland Ave. below 49th St.”  First Pastor Rev. Joseph O’Neill had been living at St. James (38th and Chestnut) “but knowing that there is no parish without a priest, a small two-story house was rented at 1422 South 49th Street” The 1895 First Annual Report of the Parish Debt Association observed that “The burden of debt” related to purchasing the land needed for the chapel “was the reason of the economy that the new pastor was obliged to practice in selecting his first place of dwelling…”

4509 Regent. After the chapel was dedicated in 1891, the same 1895 report notes that Father O’Neill moved from 49th Street to what appears then to have been a boarding house at 4509 Regent Street, where he lived for two and a half years until the newly-built rectory was ready on December 20, 1893.

47th and Windsor. According to IHM records, before the IHM Sisters arrived in 1904, “Father Crane appealed to the good people of the parish to provide ‘as a gift to the Divine King’ a home for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who were to take charge of the school. The response far surpassed his most sanguine hopes, and a residence opposite the school was accordingly purchased. The first community arrived at Saint Francis de Sales. Convent on Thursday 25 August 1904.” (the original house stood on the corner where the convent is today)

4804 Baltimore. The 1940 Parish Jubilee Book relates that “The building used as a convent was overcrowded from the beginning and was badly in need of repairs, so in the summer of 1915, the sisters took up residence at 4804 Baltimore Ave…” for two months while their original convent house at 47th and Windsor was renovated.

47th and Chester NE corner. According to IHM records, “The old convent was torn down and the cornerstone of the new building was laid by the Right Reverend Bishop in 1926.” While the new convent was under construction, the IHM Sisters lived at 47th and Chester in what appears to have been a big house with a wraparound porch (an apartment building stands there today)

914 south 49th (between Springfield and Warrington). According to the 1989 Parish First Hundred Years Jubilee Book, in 1977, the Religious of the Assumption “opened a house as a home for sisters involved in education programs and sisters attending the University of Pennsylvania. They also became involved in parish social work.” (They moved to their present location at 1001 S. 47th St. in 1999).

928 Farragut Terrace. When he was a boy, long before he became a Bishop and our Fifth Pastor, young Joseph McShea lived in a house that stood right behind the school. He noted: “my family home stood on Farragut Terrace (number 928) and was sold to the parish in 1925 to help provide space for the enlargement of the school

929 Farragut Terrace. When Saint Lucy Day School for the blind was dedicated by Bishop McShea in 1956, the Catholic Standard and Times reported that “A complete convent for the staff of four Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who have been especially trained for this work is located on the third floor.” The building later served as the IHM Center for Literacy. Now it’s a private home, belonging to a parish family!

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Drama on the Front Steps

Nearly a century ago, in the “good old days” of alcohol Prohibition and associated gangsterism, a dramatic movie-script-like news story unfolded in front of our church.

On April 21, 1923, the Inquirer reported that in the small hours of the previous morning, “Miss Mabel Hills, 21 years old, of 421 South Forty-ninth street…was left gagged and dazed on the steps of St. Francis de Sales Church, Forty-seventh street and Springfield avenue.”

“Miss Hills, with two other women and three men, was returning home from a café at Broad street and Girard avenue. At Forty-ninth and Spruce streets a big, crimson-colored car pushed in front of the taxicab, bringing it to a halt. Four white-masked men jumped out. Throwing open the door of the cab, the bandits thrust revolvers into the faces of the occupants and one of them demanded: ‘Which one of you is named Hills?’”

“‘That is my name,’ Miss Hills answered, according to the story she told police, and the men then proceeded to drag her roughly from the machine and hustle her into their car. ’One of them stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth,’ the girl said, ‘and another wrapped me in a blanket. Then it seemed as if they drove me all over the city at a break-neck pace. I fainted several times. When I finally came to I found myself on the church steps. ‘Where’s the rocks?’ one of the men asked me. ‘We don’t want to commit murder, but we’ll knock you off right here at the church if you don’t tell us where the jewelry is.’ So I told them I carried it in two chamois bags in my stocking. One of them slit open my stocking’ (presumably not at the ankle) ‘and took them.’ Her jewelry consisted of a diamond ring set with a five-karat diamond, two other rings with diamonds set in platinum, a diamond bracelet and a platinum and diamond studded wrist watch. “

“After the bandits had departed with their loot, Miss Hills, dazed and sick, staggered to the parish house and told her story. Meanwhile, her companions drove to the Fifty-fifth and Pine streets police station, where their chauffeur, John Halpin…was arrested…” Two other suspects –Thomas Alexander and Nathan Kessler — were also soon captured.

Inquiring minds might wonder how Miss Hills came to have $5,000 worth of jewelry – a magnificent sum in the 1920s — hidden on her person. The reporter carefully records the whole colorful incident using distancing words: “according to the story she told police…” Bishop Crane’s rectory also quietly stepped back from the odd occurrence on its church property.

One of the men arrested, Thomas Alexander, was already known to police for his connection with “the Columbia avenue gang.” He would go to trial for Miss Hill’s kidnapping, but “despite the strength of the evidence,” would escape a guilty verdict. (The other major suspect, Nathan Kessler, died in Moyamensing Prison due to a mysterious heroin overdose while awaiting trial). The story wasn’t over: soon “after his acquittal,” Alexander “appeared in Atlantic City. There he went to a boardwalk cabaret and seeing Miss Hill among the merrymakers gave her a severe beating. He pulled his revolver, knocked her unconscious and then literally shot his way out. The cabaret proprietor…was hit by one of the flying bullets” and spent some time in hospital.

Two years later, in November 1925, The Inquirer reported that Thomas Alexander was again arrested, along with a man named Samuel Martin and “two well-dressed women,” in a house at Park Avenue and Dauphin Street for a different crime: “the killing of a policeman and another man during the attempted hold-up of the Freihofer Baking Company loading station...” Over 800 postal money orders and many other stolen items were found at the scene of the arrest, along with a “peculiar shaped mask” like that used in the murders, and “enough dynamite and nitro-glycerin to blow up a house.”

In a dramatic finale, the four Park Avenue suspects were captured when “detectives…trailed a weeping woman from a cabaret” near Broad and Columbia, “to the rendezvous of the alleged bandit gang…The identity of the girl whose tears led to the capture was not revealed by detectives, as she is not under arrest. According to police, she is a member of a respectable family who left home to seek adventure and found only disappointment, sordidness and sorrow…   THE END!