Tag: Monsignor Joseph J. Anderlonis

Seasonal Anniversaries

The end of the year seems to be hard on priests! Ten of our seventeen pastors have died since our founding in 1890; and of those, seven have their anniversaries within the next few weeks. This year, oddly, many of the dates happen to fall on Sundays or holy days, which feels like a sign that we should take a few moments to reflect on their special contributions to our story.

Monsignor John T. Mitchell, our seventh pastor (1967-1976), died on November 25, 1981, so his anniversary falls on Thanksgiving Day this year. He came to de Sales from St. Saint Ignatius Parish, where he founded St. Ignatius Nursing Home and was known for his civil rights activism and efforts for the black community. At de Sales, focused on social ministry, he worked to hold the neighborhood together in a time of great societal changes. The controversial Venturi neon lights renovation happened during his tenure.

Sunday, November 28 commemorates Bishop Joseph Mark McShea, our fifth pastor (1952-1961; died 1991). Bishop McShea was the last of the three bishops to serve at SFDS. He grew up in the shadow of our dome: in his youth, he was altar server to Bishop Crane and his family home on Farragut Terrace was one of those knocked down to build the addition to the school. The lower church was refurbished by the Dagit firm during his tenure, and the dome was re-tiled in an unsuccessful attempt to stop leaks. He also established St. Lucy’s School for the Blind in the building that today houses the IHM Literacy Center. Bishop McShea went on to become the first Bishop of Allentown.

Reverend Monsignor Joseph J. Anderlonis S.T.D., our sixteenth pastor (2016-2019), saw the need for stability in the parish. He promised that he would never abandon us; he’d have to be “carried out feet first.” And so he was, on December 6, 2019 – the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Monsignor Joe was our Lithuanian connection, having spent much of his career at Saint George Parish. Learned and sociable, he encouraged book clubs and educational and social gatherings to help bring our diverse community together.

Bishop Hugh Lamb, our fourth pastor (1936-1951; died 1959) has his anniversary on Wednesday, December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the official closing day for this Year of Saint Joseph. The middle of the three SFDS bishops, he is remembered for radio broadcasts, expanding parish activities, paying off the parish debt, and overseeing the 1940 Parish Jubilee. He became first Bishop of Greensburg, in Western PA.

Reverend Edward L. Gatens, our third pastor (1929-1936; died 1955), is commemorated Sunday, December 19. Rev. Gatens came to us from Pottsville, where he was known for defiantly building a Catholic high school, with a bold cross-shaped window, on the hill where the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan liked to burn its crosses. He arrived at SFDS just in time for the Great Depression and struggled to minister to the many in need among his flock. Due to a debilitating chronic health issue, he resigned his post in 1936.

Sunday, December 26 belongs to Bishop Michael J. Crane, our second pastor (1903-1928), who built our church and opened the school. Consecrated in 1921, he was the first of the three bishops to serve at SFDS. In addition to the church, he also built the convent and the addition to the school. Bishop Crane is buried on the Rectory lawn.

January 5 celebrates Monsignor Francis J. Fitzmaurice, our eighth pastor (1976-1977; died 2004), who was also Parish Administrator 1973-1976, when Reverend Mitchell’s health began to fail. When Father Fitzmaurice wrote his memoir for the parish 100th Anniversary, he recalled two exciting events: the glorious Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia and a scary break-in at the rectory – both emblematic of that interesting era. He went on to become pastor of St. Laurence, Highland Park/Upper Darby.                

Through good times and bad, our intricate parish tapestry is woven from the unique threads contributed by our succession of pastors. We are who we are today, in part, because of them.


A Sister Named Francis de Sales

The St. Francis de Sales Parish rectory often helps people trying to  research family history through parish birth, marriage, or death records, but every now and then, there’s an unusual request —  as when someone, last year, hoped to find out about a long-ago religious relative who simply shared the same name as our Parish.

Jeannie obligingly checked our books and found no record here of a Sister Francis de Sales. Monsignor Joe, who happened to be in the office, thought the address on her death certificate — 225 North Camac Street (near today’s Convention Center) – might be the historic home of the Visitation Sisters when they first came to Philadelphia. With that clue, we spent a pleasant morning pooling our knowledge and resources to uncover an interesting corner of Philadelphia history.

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St. Francis de Sales institutes the Order of the Vistiation with St. Jane Chantal in 1610 (detail of a window by Nicola D’ascenzo. St. Francis de Sales Church, Philadelphia).

The Sisters of the Visitation were founded in Savoy (France), in 1610, by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Chantal, as shown in the middle long window on the 47th street side of our church. The order opened a monastery in the United States, in Mobile, Alabama, in 1833. In 1898, they were invited to start a monastery and school in Mexico, where they were joined by several Mexican Sisters – among them, a young Mexican-Italian woman named Sister Francis de Sales Bortoni.

Political unrest in Mexico in early 1926 endangered the American Sisters and they fled back to the United States, bringing the Mexican Sisters with them as part of the community. It was a difficult time for everyone, and a letter from one of the Sisters  reported “When our community was forced to leave Coyoacan under such painful circumstances our dear Sister Francis de Sales contracted a severe cold…from that time we noted a decline in her health…”

Sister Francis de Sales made her final vows later that year in the crowded Alabama convent, while the Mother Superior was “in Philadelphia preparing a home for our exiled family.” That October, the Sisters moved in to a property on Camac Street (where the order had run a mission and school from 1848 to 1852, which closed during a period of anti-Catholic riots), under the protection of Cardinal Dougherty, who headed the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The Cardinal decided that the nuns, who had been teachers, would not open a school in Philadelphia because the Mexican sisters did not speak English; instead, they would live in a cloister as contemplatives.

The letter offers clues about that life, noting that Sister Francis de Sales had special devotions for “our dear Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and for Our Lady of the Rosary.” Although she was aide “in the Sacristy and in the Dispensary for short periods, and also in the woolen wardrobery, our dear Sister did such exquisite embroidery that during the last years of her life, as long as she was able, she worked for the Service of the Tabernacle.” She never recovered, however, from that initial illness, and eventually, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis: “her heart action became very painful and her sufferings from asphyxia were heartrending” but she united “her sufferings to those of our Blessed Lord” and claimed her soul was “in perfect peace” when she died at age 35.

The Camac Street location was unhealthy, and around 1940, Cardinal Dougherty became concerned that many of the sisters were tubercular. This was a common, deadly, contagious illness in those days: antibiotics were not available to treat it until the late 1940s (Reverend William Canney, of SFDS, died of tuberculosis in 1936) and “fresh air” was the chief treatment. When the order shrunk from 44 to 28 members, the Cardinal found them a new, airier home next to his residence just outside the city at 5820 City Line Avenue – paid for in part with funds from his Jubilee — but by then, Sister Francis de Sales, was long dead from the disease. The Visitation Sisters remain at that address today, though the Cardinal’s residence was sold to St. Joe’s University in 2012.


Color OUR Collections! From February 3 to 7, 2020, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. Last year, our SFDS parish history archives contributed a selection of stained-glass windows and other church details to color; this year, we feature 1920s parish bulletin advertising art to click and print. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at ColorOurCollections.org

Monsignor Joseph J. Anderlonis, S.T.D.


Sixteenth Pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish

 October 1, 1944 to December 6, 2019

Monsignor Joe kept his promise too soon. He always said that he would never leave us voluntarily – he’d be with us until they “carry me out in a box, feet first.” Now, he joins the ranks of the great former pastors whose lives we commemorate in our parish bulletin every winter on their anniversaries – ironically, a tradition he instituted.

Monsignor Joe was smart, kind, wise, generally easygoing, sometimes outspoken, and had an impish sense of humor. He was not one to “toot his own horn.”

Today, we learn that Monsignor Joseph J. Anderlonis was born in Philadelphia on October 1,1944. He attended Saint Andrew’s and All Saints’ parochial schools, then Father Judge High School, before entering Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he graduated with a B.A. with highest honors. In 1966, he went on to study in Rome, residing at the Pontifical North American College, and enrolled at the Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University. There, he received a Bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology in 1968 and the Licentiate degree in 1970. Busy guy: in between, he was ordained to the priesthood in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome on December 19, 1969.

In 1970, Father Anderlonis became curate at Most Precious Blood and then Resurrection Parish, Chester, PA. Later assignments included Old Saint Mary’s, Society Hill; the Basilica-Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul; and Holy Saviour Parish, Linwood, PA. From 1974 to1977, he did post-graduate coursework in Dogmatic Theology at the Gregorian University. From 1977 to 1982, he taught at Neumann College, Aston, PA, and was the academic supervisor for the first Permanent Diaconate program of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.

Father Anderlonis became tenth Pastor of Saint George Parish in 1982. He also served on the Marriage Tribunal of Philadelphia. At the same time, he continued his studies, receiving his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.), Magna Cum Laude, from the Gregorian University in Rome on May 29, 1987, with a dissertation on the Christology of the Swedish Theologian and Bishop, Gustaf Aulen (1879-1977). In 1988, Father Joe Anderlonis became National Spiritual Advisor of the Supreme Council of the Knights of Lithuania. In, 1998, “Father Joe” was appointed an Honorary Prelate of His Holiness and became “Monsignor Joe.” He was invested at the Cathedral on June14, 1998.

Monsignor Joe, christened unofficially as “Mojo” by students at St. George, had deep roots in Philadelphia. He often noted that the paternal side of his family had its roots in Saint George Parish (Andrew and Anna Matoniute Andrulonis) and his maternal grandparents (Anthony and Karolina Petrosaite Kraujutis) were among the founding families of Saint Andrew Parish.

When Monsignor Joe came to St. Francis de Sales in 2016, he also still had duties at St. George, so he traveled back and forth, but he embraced our parish with all of its history and all of its potential. During the time that he was here, he encouraged the ideas and projects of parishioners that would help to build the community. He held parish “town meetings” and periodic informal gatherings, where he listened to needs and suggestions. He instituted the monthly refreshments, sponsored by the different ministries, in the church after Mass, so we could get to know each other. He encouraged book clubs and educational endeavors and relished conversations about neighborhood and church history. He moved the Blessing of the Animals from the parking lot to the parish garden. He kept our Nativity Pageant and Birthday Song traditions and supported the choir and the Assumption Religious spiritual exercises. He made a thousand tiny adjustments that helped to bring our diverse community together and he will be greatly missed.

Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.

These were the verses written for the memorial of Bishop Crane, our second pastor, who built St. Francis de Sales Church, and who died close to Christmas on December 26, 1928. They seem appropriate once again:


By Sister M. Donatus, Immaculata College

“The angels must finish these beads,”

He smiles, his last dear rosary –

And the good Bishop, kind to us all,

Sailed over Death’s quiet sea


Mary’s bright love attended him,

A Star in the darkest night –

The little King’s arms awaiting,

Heaven was just in sight.


To the music of Aves, from angel’s tongues,

A Baby’s eye on the mast,

Life’s last glad mystery finished,

The Bishop reached Port at last.