Tag: St. Francis de Sales School

Eyes on the Skies

DSCN4599 (2)Look up and you never know what you might find — like this artwork near the roofline on the Farragut Terrace side of Saint Francis de Sales School!

The January 1927 St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin explained its symbolism when the building addition (by Henry Dagit’s firm) was newly-constructed:

Image (82)“The cross…is the sign of our faith, and it is used on all Catholic Churches and Buildings…”

“The two large carved limestone panels on the front facade of the School are emblematic of the spirit of the School. The panel on the south side represents Saint Francis de Sales, the teacher, teaching the boys the arts and sciences as the foundation of learning. It also illustrates the life and virtue of the patron Saint of the Parish, Saint Francis de Sales. The panel on the north side…represents the modern nun, the symbol of virtue, the guide and foundation of our schools, teaching the girls the arts of domestic science and training. The girl holding the vase represents the perpetual truths of the faith.”

OK, perhaps that reads as a little sexist nowadays, though the basic message of sound academics and Catholic values still stands.

DSCN4585“The carved limestone symbols at the top of the buttresses are emblematic of Knowledge, Astronomy, and Science, signifying the use and purpose of the building. The shield…(with) the open book and the torch represents the symbol of Knowledge. The Torch of Learning must be used to give light in order to (access) the knowledge in the book, and also to give light to our understanding.”

DSCN4581 (3)“The lined sphere with the zodiac…resting on the books, and the instruments about it, represent the study of Astronomy, and the study of the Universe and Geography.”

school emblemThe Lamp of Science, with the sun in back of it, represents the light given…upon all subjects by the study of the sciences. The lamp, resting upon the books, signifies the attempt to equal the light of the sun by the study of the sciences.

Why so much science? People were excited about new discoveries in the 1920s. Study of the heavens especially interested the church, which described a special star at Christmas and used the equinox to calculate the date for Easter. Guy Consolmagno, Astronomer to current Pope Francis, notes that the Vatican Observatory was founded in the 1890s, in part “to show that science and religion were not opposed to one another,” and further observes that “the reigning Big Bang theory of cosmology was devised by a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaître” in 1927. So keep looking up!

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A Day in the Countryside

47th-balt

Before the automobile age, how did people in the neighbourhood take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life?

In 1891, de Sales parishioners who wanted to enjoy a quiet Sunday afternoon in the countryside just stepped out the door of our first combination chapel/school building (today’s auditorium) and crossed forty-seventh street!

At that time, most of the 4700 block of Windsor/Warrington was an open field; while the 4700 block of Warrington/Baltimore, belonging to Mary R. Wilson, was occupied by a stone farmhouse, a barn, and fruit trees. More fields stretched out beyond, to 50th street. On the other side of Baltimore Ave., the grounds of the Twaddell Estate, with 1640s mansion, spring house, antique rose bushes, and fruit trees, sat in the middle of a swathe of property stretching from from 44th to 48th Street; Baltimore Avenue to Lombard (today Larchwood), with other farms beyond it.

The area grew quickly. By 1911, when our church was completed, only part of the Wilson farm remained on this side of Baltimore Ave. Its former 48th Street edge was accessorized with an eyebrow-like row of new houses – including two at the end that were moved around the corner onto Baltimore Avenue in 1905 to make room for a the new Calvary M.E. Church! Neat lines of tract housing quickly filled in  the rest of the neighbourhood. Even the 275-year-old Twaddell mansion – which had survived both the Revolution and the Civil War – would be demolished in 1921, for new construction.

Our parish bought the remains of the Wilson farm in 1920, and third grade and commercial classes (business skills for those not attending high school) were held in the 3-storey stone farmhouse for a few years as the school continued to expand. The parish also held several Lawn Fetes and Carnivals on the grounds. A 1925 event featured the Philadelphia Firemen’s Band and the SFDS Boys Battalion Band. The prize for a lottery drawing was “a Chest of Linen Service.”

The parish had planned to build a new school building on the Wilson land, but in 1926, Bishop Crane changed his mind, and bought and demolished several houses on Farragut Terrace  to make room for  a new wing added to the original school building. The Wilson farm property was sold to  Brown & Sons developers, who, by 1927, advertised a newly-built Automobile Showroom at 4730 Baltimore Ave.; with a theatre (the Byrd), apartment building, and 17 stores in the planning.