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.