Tag: Reverend James T. Higgins

Seasons of Darkness and Light

“The altar at St. Francis de Sales’ Church arranged for Solemn Pontifical Mass, November 12th, 1916,” 
(Catholic Historical Research Center)

A pair of evocative photos turned up recently in the Archdiocesan CHRC Archives, capturing our church in solemn and celebratory moods long ago.

The first is labeled on the reverse “The altar at St. Francis de Sales’ Church arranged for Solemn Pontifical Mass November 12th, 1916. Presented by Father Lallou to A.C.H.S.” (American Catholic Historical Soc.) The occasion was the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the Church, and Father Lallou, of St. John the Evangelist Church, gave the sermon. Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, D.D., rector of the Catholic University, presided, assisted by Rev. James T. Higgins, pastor of MBS. The Philadelphia Inquirer noted at the time that “All the officers of the mass are alumni of the Catholic University.” Our Pastor, Rev. Michael J. Crane, and Rev. Higgins – both now memorialized on our rectory lawn – had graduated together, among its first alumni. The exuberant electric lighting (imagine climbing up to replace those burnt-out bulbs!) is a reminder of how much clean, bright electricity – the new light of knowledge — was prized in 1916.

The second photo, showing the rear of the church, is unlabeled but also very early, and captures the magnificent serenity of the church at rest.

Look around you and compare these photos with our church today   — eerily the same and different. Check out the old full altar rail, the big hanging cross-shaped sanctuary lamp, the “cake stand” electric candle stands, and the early view of the organ. The old church was both darker, with the ornate dark pews and old flooring, and brighter with its multitude of light stands and bare bulbs.

Pope Francis quotes composer Gustav Mahler: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future,” adding “It is not a museum piece. It is what gives us life, as long as it makes you grow.” Our parish treasures its past, while continuing to move ahead: trying new ideas to engage families, planning updates to facilities for modern energy awareness, and looking at feasibility of adding wheelchair cuts to our 1960s pews to make the church more accessible. The shared sacrament of the Eucharist is what anchors us, connecting our past, present, and future.

 Interior of St. Francis de Sales Church, Philadelphia, Pa., with balcony and organ. (Catholic Historical Research Center)
Saint Francis de Sales Church, modern view
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