When Reverend Joseph O’Neill tried to buy land to build our first SFDS chapel in 1891, local property owners expressed concerns about the incoming Irish and German Catholic immigrants. By the time the handsome new church was finished in 1911, the building had become a local fixture.
The media may have helped to bridge gaps and ease some of the tensions of the changing neighborhood, by opening windows into Catholic culture. Newspapers of the period liked to publish lengthy, detailed word-pictures of interesting events – as when, on November 13, 1911, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported how “Archbishop Prendergast, assisted by two other prelates of equal rank and a number of priests of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, with appropriate and impressive ceremonies yesterday dedicated the new Catholic Church of St. Francis de Sales, Forty-seventh street and Springfield avenue.”
The Inquirer carefully described the scene: “The interior of the edifice had been transformed into a bower of beauty and light. Hundreds of candles and electric bulbs shed their rays through the auditorium and sanctuary, while the best skill of the florist and decorator was in evidence with the mass of multicolored autumn flowers that banked the altars with side walls. The church was crowded with a notable representation of the laity, which had gathered long before the hour set for the beginning of the ceremonies. Many unable to gain admission to the edifice stood about outside the church to see the imposing procession of prelates and priests which proceeded to the services.”
“Two church dignitaries who assisted Archbishop Prendergast at the dedicatory exercises were Bishop Fitzmaurice of Erie, and Bishop Carroll, of Nueva Segovia, Philippine Islands. Promptly at 10.30 A. M. the procession of clergy and acolytes moved from the chapel of the school building and proceeded along Forty-seventh street to the main entrance of the church on Springfield avenue. As the cross bearer entered the wide door of the edifice the choir, accompanied by a large orchestra, sang a joyous anthem. The procession moved up the centre aisle. Here it divided, part going to the right and part to the left, allowing Bishop Prendergast and the other prelates, clothed in full pontifical robes, to ascend the altar when the simple ceremony of dedication took place.”
For Catholic readers, The Catholic Standard and Times newspaper peered behind the scenes to list all the important names, then summarize the sermons and speeches. Pastor Reverend Crane spoke of construction concerns in our developing neighborhood, and how, when the plans of the building were first submitted to the men of the parish (no women, of course!), “At first all thought the church would be too expensive, but when it was pointed out that the neighborhood was one of the best residential sections of the city; that the Catholic church is the true house of God, and that God’s permanent home should be second to none, they began with confidence…” The project was complicated, with the Guastavino dome to be built atop the Dagit structure, so “Solemn High Mass was offered at the start for the intention that the work should be successful, and that no accident should occur...” Archbishop Prendergast addressed “all those who watched the progress of the work from the foundation until the cross surmounted the graceful and majestic dome, to those who that day saw for the first time the beauties of which they have so often read...” and described the resulting — “magnificent new temple” as a landmark that “charms the eye and is an ornament to the city.” It was also a permanent territorial marker for Catholicism in the area, with an interior “well fitted to serve the needs of those who for generations to come will assemble within its walls…”
Nine years later, after the construction debt was paid, the building was officially consecrated on November 13, 1920. The building that the neighbors once rejected had become a cornerstone of the neighborhood