Tag: Woodland Avenue

Bishop at Work

Bishop Crane breaks ground for St. Joseph’s University, 1925 (Photo used with permission from St. Joseph’s University Archives)

Saint Joseph’s University recently opened a West Philadelphia extension at the old University of the Sciences campus, 43rd and Woodland. They may be new neighbors, but an archival photo reveals our historic connection!

On October 15, 1925, at the original City Ave. campus, Catholic News Services reported that our second pastor: “The Right Rev. Michael J. Crane. Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia. officiated at the breaking of ground for the first building of the new St. Joseph’s College on the site where the imposing group of buildings for the Jesuit Institution will soon stand. The first building will house the College of Liberal Arts and serve as a faculty building. Bishop Crane used a shovel which was used when ground was broken for old St. Joseph’s Church here in 1733 and which has been a treasured relic among the Jesuits since that time.

Saint Joe’s University still has the original photo, and the plaque that was affixed to the shovel, though the location of the actual shovel is not known.

News coverage of the groundbreaking was scant. A few years later, in 1927, the dedication of the building – on the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the college in 1853 — would be a much larger event, with the famously flawed aviation hero Charles Lindbergh (first to fly solo across the Atlantic) as a special guest. He would be awarded an honorary degree of Master of Aeronautics – even though the university did not have a program in the subject! It was claimed that 10,000 people attended that event, including a number of international dignitaries. Cardinal Dougherty officiated.

How did St. Joe’s come to build on City Ave back in 1925? Their history reports “The Jesuit charism, or mission, coincided perfectly with a grand plan envisioned by a group of wealthy Catholics from Overbrook and Bala Cynwyd in 1922 to develop City Line into an uber-Catholic community — a Catholic Main Line” with two wealthy parishes (Our Lady of Lourdes in Overbrook and St. Matthias in Bala Cynwyd); and plans for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, St. Joseph’s Jesuit college, and the Cardinal’s residence, among others. Priorities change. Now, the university observes that the new “Saint Joseph’s University City campus is located in Philadelphia’s innovation district — home to health science start-ups, established biotech firms and influential higher education institutions that work together toward solving societies’ most pressing problems.” And we are here too. With a lot of young people and families bringing new energy. Shall we also be innovators?! 😊

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Woodland Avenue Roots

A002A story has been making the rounds that St. Francis de Sales Parish “was founded upstairs from a bar on Baltimore Avenue.”

It’s not true! And it’s just one of many casual pieces of misinformation that have been tossed into circulation about our church in recent times.

Where did our Parish actually begin? The Catholic Standard reported that the first Mass for the “New Mission Chapel” that would become our parish took place in a rented hall on the second floor of a commercial building on the “south east side of Woodland below Forty-ninth street” on February 16, 1890.

Woodland Avenue was one of the oldest, most well-known roads in the area. It began its life as part of the “King’s Highway” – a roughly 1,300-mile road laid out in the 1600s on the order of King Charles II of England, to link Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina. The local section was eventually renamed “Darby Road,” then became known as the “Darby Plank Road” in the 1850s, when it was covered with wooden boards to provide a better surface  “for the sporting fraternity, who speeded their fast horses over it.” When the boards wore out, racing stopped, and the road was renamed yet again as “Woodland Avenue.” Through all its early history, it was a busy, well-established commercial corridor; so when nearby farms and fields gave way to the rows of houses that we know today, and a need developed for a new parish to serve them, it was natural that our first Masses would find a home there.

The Woodland Avenue building where our first services were held is now long gone. The only photos available are the two supposed versions taken in 1940 for the Parish Jubilee Book: one with signs edited out, and an un-retouched version which shows a dry cleaner and an Oyster House on the ground floor, with a photographer or dentist occupying the second floor. We have so far been unable to determine what businesses occupied the premises in 1890, and the 1940 photos may not actually show the correct address.

The first Masses for Most Blessed Sacrament Parish are reported to have been held in a rented house at 5550 Woodland Avenue starting in May 1901.

How did the “Bar on Baltimore Ave.” story come about? Perhaps it emerged when someone misunderstood or misremembered that the piece of land on which our first chapel was built in 1891 (today it’s the part of the school that contains  the auditorium) included a small portion of the back lot of the Cherry Tree Inn – an historic hotel and tavern on Baltimore Avenue. The assertion could have been made flippantly, on the “spur-of-the-moment,” in one place — and then developed a life of its own.

Truth still matters.  In a modern age, when rapidly moving information is quoted and requoted in multiple places and different situations, it’s unhelpful to circulate half-remembered information without checking it, or to improve upon the facts in order to suit an agenda or to make a better story. Every misstatement or misrepresentation becomes a new tangle to upset or confuse and further complicate the future. We’ve seen that happen around the world in multiple contexts, in matters big and small, sometimes with horrifying results. Honest mistakes will occur but let’s make the sincere effort to limit them where we can.