28 February 2013

Those Places Thursday: St Mary of the Assumption

Those Places Thursday is a weekly prompt by GeneaBloggers, in which various places are discussed. Today - being the day the Pope resigns (at 1400 ET) - I thought perhaps focusing on one of the Catholic Churches my family has attended at some point would be appropriate. Hence, I selected today's feature place to be St. Mary of the Assumption in Phoenixville, Chester County, PA.

St Mary is one of the oldest Catholic parishes in Chester County. The oldest parish in the county incidentally is St. Agnes Church in West Chester which was founded in 1793. Records for St Mary were kept from 1840. In 1841, according to the church's anniversary book, the present church grounds were purchased for $200 by Father Donahue. The church was completed in March of that year. At that time, Father Patrick Donahue - who was the pastor at St Patrick in Norristown - served St Mary's pastoral needs. He would come monthly for Mass and confessions. The other Sundays the parishioners of St Mary's would either walk to Norristown or gather for communal prayer at St Mary's.

By 1846 the parish population had more than doubled, necessitating a permanent priest. The Rev, Philip A O'Farrell was appointed pastor at that time. Father O'Farrell was born in Dublin in 1813 and passed here in 1869.

The early church family was comprised mainly of a working class. What these families lacked in material goods, they made up for in faith. In 1857, St Mary's is credited as being the first Catholic parish - outside Philadelphia - to hold Forty Hours Devotions.

According to the parish's sesquicentennial anniversary book, burials were first held in the churchyard. However a new borough ordinance restricted burials from being held within the borough limits. At this time land was aquired on a hilltop called Black Rock to serve as the new cemetery.

In 1907 another Catholc parish was erected in town, St Ann's. This effectivly divided the parish. That same year, Father James Gavin became pastor of St Mary's. He was loved dearly by the parishoners. I can recall my grandmother - Mary Welsh Still - talking of him. She was born in 1911 so Father Gavin would have been the one to have baptized her, heard her Fist Cofession, given her first Communion and Confirmation. He was also the priest who would have been the one who married her and my grandfather - Lloyd Still. Since my grandfather was Presbyterian at the time, the two were wed in the rectory. Mixed marriages - as they were called - were prohibited to occur in the church itself. Father Gavin passed shortly thereafter on 28 July 1940.

Since then the parish has seen many baptisms and weddings and funerals. It has seen renovations and growths. It has changed with the community and with the Church at large.

My grandmother's parents are the only family members I have actually been able to connect to St Mary's despite the Welsh and O'Flaherity family being large. My great grandmother - Catherine O'Flaherity - was one of seven kids. I do not know much about most of her siblings. Her sister Mary married Patrick Rodgers and I believe they moved to Philadelphia. Her brother Hugh married Katharine Dee and they moved to Pomeroy (also Chester County). Our two lines have remained pretty tight. The others - with the exception of Mary's twin James who died in infancy - I do not know anything about ... yet.
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.