Tag: Donors

The Edge of History

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St. Francis de Sales historic Pew Rents book shows Ramspacher and Feeser in pew 31 in the West Transept of the 1911 Church.

Ordinary life often unfolds just outside bigger world events, and that is certainly true for early parishioner George Ramspacher.

Ramspacher’s death notice lists him as German, while census data describes him as French. In fact, he was born in 1842 in Alsace, a region claimed by both countries. Britannica notes that during the period, “from 1815 to 1870” Alsace was considered French; “at the end of the Franco-German War (1870–71), however …Alsace was detached from France and annexed to the German Empire….” remaining under German control until the end of World War I — so Ramspacher was, in his lifetime, both and neither.

Ramspacher arrived in the United States around 1864, during the American Civil War, “engaged in the baking business at 208 Delancey Street,” and married Miss Julia Kempton of Philadelphia in 1866, after the war ended. When he retired from the bakery in 1894, the couple moved out to our neighborhood with several adult children, including daughter Mary and her husband Theodore Feeser, all living in the same house at 510 South 48th street. The Ramspachers joined our parish just a few years after its 1890 founding, and when the new church was built in 1911, they rented pew 31 in the West transept (47th Street side) with the Feesers, who also donated a dome window.

In 1916, just a month before Woodrow Wilson was narrowly re-elected President with the soon-to-be-ironic campaign slogan “He kept us out of the War,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “With their eight children, sixteen grandchildren and six daughters and sons-in-law present, Mr. and Mrs. George Ramspacher…celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding on October 1.” The paper casually noted that “the celebration was originally called for September 23, but because of the absence of some of their children at the seashore and the fear of infantile paralysis (polio) the event was postponed until last Sunday…

Daniel J. Wilson reports that “The 1916 polio epidemic was one of the largest in the United States and the largest in the world to that date…Pennsylvania’s 2,181 cases ranked third behind New York’s 13,223 and New Jersey’s 4,055…Polio typically struck during the warmer months of summer,” and in Pennsylvania, numbers escalated rapidly from three cases in May, to 120 by July, 747 in August, and 804 in September, before falling to 379 in October. “Polio was a new and frightening disease in 1916,” without a cure. Public health officials quarantined patients and their families. “In late August, the state health commissioner closed the schools until September 18. Some communities tried to prevent children from epidemic areas from entering their borders. However, since doctors in 1916 did not understand how the disease was transmitted, these measures were largely ineffective in preventing polio’s spread…” Fortunately, apart from the postponement of the party, the Ramspachers appear to have escaped its vengeance.

George Ramspacher had one more near-encounter with history, when he died on June 4, 1918, at age 76, due to “myocarditis/edema of the lungs” – heart failure and fluid in the lungs – shortly before the official September arrival of the deadly 1918 Influenza pandemic. His wife, Julia, passed in 1922. They were both buried from SFDS at New Cathedral Cemetery (2nd and Butler Streets).

 

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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

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 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.

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!

 

 

Door Number Three

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As you enter the church vestibule through the recently-re-opened main doors, look to your right, and you’ll see a former interior doorway (note the transom window above it) transformed into a golden shrine to St. Francis de Sales – and, incidentally, to the spirit of Vatican II!

The statue appears to be the one donated to the parish by Timothy J. Wholey in 1920. For its first  forty-five years, it stood proudly in the sanctuary at the front of the church, beside the St. Joseph altar, overseeing countless richly choreographed solemn high masses.

By 1965, Vatican II and changing tastes dictated that venerable ornate churches were “fussy” and “old-fashioned.” Our parish celebrated its 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary that year with a modern streamlined blue-tiled-wall redecoration of the main part of the church (four years before the Venturi neon lights!). Parishes were also urged to “clear the clutter” in the sanctuary, so freestanding statues including our patron saint were banished.

Meanwhile, as rituals simplified, architectural usage adjusted. The Baptistry, the small room at the back of the church where baptismal ceremonies were held (today’s Adoration Chapel), was designed with three doors: an entrance from outdoors; a door from the vestibule; and a door leading into the main church. In old tradition, the first part of a baptism, which involved an exorcism, was supposed to take place outside the church, or symbolically in the church vestibule, before formal admittance into the Baptistry. When the ceremony changed, the vestibule door became superfluous.

The doorway space did turn out to be a convenient place to relocate the statue of St. Francis de Sales. Its modern shrine would also brighten the parish entrance and make it more welcoming. The family of Eugene F. White, a longtime parishioner who had died in 1962  (his family ran the J.J. White Funeral Home at 4700 and later 4701 Springfield), funded the construction as a memorial. Its trendy gold colored tiles and white marble base were slipped in with the other work, and casually mentioned in a single sentence in the Monthly Bulletin related to the Jubilee renovations.

Now, fifty years later, with the main doors of the church and vestibule re-opened after the latest phase of our 125th Anniversary restoration, we can welcome our patron saint’s statue out of  construction dust into another new chapter of our parish history!

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.