Symbols in the 24 windows of our Guastavino dome tell the story of Christ’s Passion, but there’s a hidden human layer of meaning. Imagine early parishioners forming a prayer circle in the middle of our church, then floating up to hover in front of the windows they donated – twenty donors, each with a different prayer intention. Who were they and what were their needs? Here are just a few:
Henry D. Dagit (4529 Pine), architect, designed our church as his family monument. He rented a family pew and his daughters modeled for the angel statues in the rear. Dagit’s youngest daughter, Jane, was born in 1907; and his father, Charles (Karl), and his brother Frederick both died in 1908, so many Dagit thoughts and prayers were woven into the fabric of our church while it was under construction from 1907 to 1911.
General St. Clair Mulholland (4202 Chester), another pewholder, was a Union veteran from the American Civil War, who became the first Irish Catholic Police Chief of Philadelphia in 1868. He had retired by the time our parish was founded, but participated in its activities and made the Parish speech at our Second Pastor, Father Crane’s 1902 Silver Jubilee. He died in 1910, just before the new church was finished, so his window is his memorial.
Thomas Slattery (4710 Baltimore), pewholder, helped out with de Sales Nights fundraisers, and would become one of the sponsors at the Baptism of our Church Bells in 1916. Slattery, a coal wholesaler, ran the Philadelphia office of his family business. It was profitable, but there was a family tragedy, when his 34-year-old brother James, who operated the coal mine at Tuscarora with another brother Daniel, is said to have shot himself in a moment of melancholy. James was buried in Holy Family Cemetery, Schuylkill County, in 1907.
Herman Vetterlein‘s brother was pewholder Joseph Smallwood Vetterlein, who lived at 4212 Spruce. The pair ran a very successful family cigar business. Herman was also an officer of the American Catholic Historical Society. What was he commemorating when he donated a window in our church in 1910? Thankfulness, perhaps, after a long drama with an ex-wife, a custody battle, and a second marriage. In 1911 Herman became the legal guardian of his 10-year-old grandson. Business prospered that year, and perhaps uncomfortable family situations were finally resolving.
Mrs. Catherine Slane (4931 Catharine) was a pewholder with a three-year-old child, when her older husband Felix – a saloon keeper — died in 1911 after a long illness. The window she donated was probably in her late husband’s memory.
Herman Feeser (510 South Forty-eighth Street) lived with his in-laws, the Ramspachers, and the relatives shared a pew in the church. Herman was a poultry dealer at 3rd and Front Streets. He and his wife Mary were married in 1905. Perhaps their window memorialized their first child who died – or the new baby just born in 1910. Mingled sadness and joy.
Adolpho de Nesti (studio at 3919 Irving), a sculptor from Florence, Italy, carved most of the statuary in our church and the friezes on its facade. Our church would be his biggest project and his proudest achievement; he would disappear a few years later in 1916, probably called back to Italy by his government in the First World War, leaving behind his American wife and child, never to return.
A church is made of brick and stone – and also thoughts and prayers, wishes, memories, and dreams. Imagine generations of souls, gathered around the beacon of our dome – their long-ago intentions joined in concert with all our prayers today. A powerful beam towards the heavens.