Who was Saint Edmund of Abington and why is one of our bells named after him, but with a different spelling?
Edmund was a 13th century British teacher of Mathematics and Dialectics (similar to Debate), who studied Theology, was ordained, and became celebrated for his integrity. Pope Gregory IX appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, but he came into conflict with King and Pope over politics. He died while traveling in Poitingy, France, was buried there, and canonized in 1246 after miracles were reported at his grave. St. Edmund’s Hall Oxford, and St. Edmund’s College Cambridge in England were both named for him. Closer to home, the Society of St. Edmund, a religious order established in his name in France in 1843, moved to the U.S.in 1889, and became active in Alabama in the 1930s, supporting African Americans through the Civil Rights era. Today, the saint’s right arm relic is in a shrine near Mystic, CT – at St. Edmund’s Retreat, a house for all, including “those whose life experiences have alienated them from God and the Church.”
Philadelphia’s Edmond name connection dates back to Archbishop Edmond Prendergast (Auxiliary Bishop 1897-1911; Archbishop 1911-1918), whose patron saint and inspiration was “St. Edmond of Abington” (which he spelled with an o) and who named a number of local institutions in the saint’s honor. Our Faith-Filled Heritage states that “in 1912 the archbishop founded Saint Edmond Parish in South Philadelphia and in 1914, a new residence building for students at Saint Charles Seminary was named Saint Edmond’s Hall. He also saw to the founding of Saint Edmond’s Home for Children, at 44th Street and Haverford Avenue. This home…was the first Catholic school in the United States to provide educational opportunities for severely handicapped youth.”
Bishop Prendergast was a fairly busy guy. According to Encyclopedia.com, in addition to his various Saint Edmond projects, “During his episcopate he increased the number of parishes from 297 to 327, provided parochial schools for 23,000 more children, erected the free West Catholic High School for boys, and opened the free Hallahan High School for girls… He opened the Archbishop Ryan Memorial for the Training of Deaf Mutes, the Madonna House for Italian immigrants, a similar home for the Spanish-speaking immigrants, St. Francis Country Home for Convalescents… a boarding home for working girls, and three new orphanages… He established the Catholic Home Bureau, sponsored the erection of the Misericordia Hospital, and provided a Catholic hospital for Allentown.. Under his direction the forerunner of the Newman Club was established at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.”
Reverend Michael Crane – our Second Pastor – knew the Archbishop well, having been his Assistant at St. Malachy’s Church from 1889 to 1903 – through the period when Reverend Prendergast was appointed the first Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia in 1897. When Reverend Crane, himself, became an Auxiliary Bishop at SFDS in 1921, the Catholic Standard reported that he paid homage: Bishop Crane’s chosen motto “‘Ut Sim Fidelis’ – ‘That I may be faithful’ – is the same as that of the Most Rev. Edmond F. Prendergast, D.D., the late, lamented Archbishop who departed this life on February 26, 1918.”
Our church tower bells, installed in 1916, were called Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice and Gervase. They were ostensibly named after saints, but the names also had other associations. Adolph probably referenced sculptor Adolfo de Nesti, who went missing that year; Michael would have been the pastor, Rev. Michael Crane; Elizabeth likely honored Elizabeth Lippe, donor of the bells; Gervase probably honored the pastor’s sibling, Mother Mary Gervase, IHM; and the bell named Edmond almost certainly honored the Archbishop.
Today, there’s another Edmond of note, perched in the choir loft by the bell tower: look up and wave to Edmond Collins after Mass, who manages our parish livestream video and Youtube channel along with Susanna Collins!
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