Tag: Windsor Avenue

A Visit From Saint Nick

The above news item appeared in the December 1925 Parish Bulletin. The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an organization of parish women, and Father McGinley was its Spiritual Director, but who was that man with the beard?

Timothy (T.J.) Wholey was a well-known member of the parish, who might be remembered today as the donor of the statues of St. Anne and St. Francis de  Sales.

Wholey’s story covers a tumultuous historical period. He started as a beer bottler on Passyunk, and moved into the saloon business. In 1905, he bought a building on the southeast corner of  52nd and Market, with a bar on the ground floor and an upstairs apartment for his family. Close to retirement age, Wholey sold the liquor license, just as the Temperance (anti-alcohol) movement gathered momentum (the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the sale of alcohol, was proposed in 1917 and became effective in 1920).

Wholey moved in with his son-in-law, James Alderice, of 4822 Windsor Avenue. Alderice was a railroad foreman in a busy age when both the Reading Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad were headquartered in Philadelphia. Wholey registered a patent on a piece of railroad equipment soon after – possibly inspired by his son-in-law’s work, or, perhaps, as a proxy. Meanwhile, Wholey’s son John went to fight in the First World War.

T.J. Wholey was very active in the parish: his name appears on an assortment of event and committee lists from the period — as above, when he played Santa. Or when he contributed “most generously” to a children’s picnic and outing to Willow Grove Park, with his grandchildren among the participants. In May 1926 – right before the corner stone was laid for the Farragut Terrace addition to the school — he contributed $500 (a very large amount just a few years before the Great Depression) to the School Building Fund.

Is there a Santa Claus? Yes, there is – in all the generations of people, like Wholey, whose names may no longer be known, but whose spirit of generosity helped to build and shape our parish. So let us hereby celebrate all those, through our history, who have, through good times and bad, offered their energy, time, talents, and facial hair – because every effort is important to the strength of our community and to its lasting legacy in our neighbourhood.

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On Eagle’s Wings

De Sales Photos Binder 06 030 (2)On the Mary side of the church, halfway up the wall, an eagle sculpture forms part of the design of a pulpit, once used to proclaim the Gospel and deliver the sermon. The book rested on the back of the eagle’s wings  – a familiar pulpit motif, because it is the symbol of Saint John the Evangelist, whose Gospel opens, appropriately,  “In the beginning was the Word…”

The eagle might have been important for other reasons to the long-ago donors of the pulpit –- R. Conrad Schwoerer and family — who lived at 4712 Windsor Avenue. As our national bird, it signified American patriotism.  Richard Conrad Schwoerer  was a proud Civil War veteran of Company B of the 51st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. The eagle also symbolized strength and power. The Schwoerers, father and son, were bankers, occupying positions of trust and authority on the board of the Central Trust Company in Camden. The father died in 1910, shortly before our church was finished, so the donation became a fitting memorial.

Why did the architect include a pulpit high in the wall? Jesus preached an important sermon on a mountain, where he could be more easily seen and heard. In days before microphones and loudspeakers, the high pulpit was symbolic and served a similar purpose, lifting the celebrant above the congregation to increase his visibility. The wooden tester, or sounding board, that formed the roof of the pulpit was intended to reflect the celebrant’s voice out to the congregation.

When the Mass was simplified after Vatican II, the pageantry associated with the high pulpit was eliminated, and sanctuary furnishings were streamlined worldwide. Our pulpit survived because it is a part of the architecture, but it was not used for many years. Today, the high pulpit is used on special occasions, as when the Nativity Proclamation is read just before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In the glittering light, the litany of Jesus’ lineage, proclaimed from the high pulpit, reminds us of the past and connects us with all of the faithful down through the ages – from ancient times, through more than 125 years of our own parish history, to the families in the pews today. And the eagle still reminds us that before everything, “In the beginning was the word…”

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.