Mater Dolorosa: A century of history

“That’s spe­cial, to keep it go­ing a hun­dred years.” — Rev. John J. Large

It’s time to cel­eb­rate at Ma­ter Dol­orosa.

The Frank­ford-based Ro­man Cath­ol­ic par­ish is 100 years old.

There are 20 or so com­mit­tee mem­bers do­ing all of the heavy lift­ing that it takes to or­gan­ize a gala set for Sunday at a Far North­east uni­on hall.

Since the Rev. John J. Large, the pop­u­lar pas­tor, ar­rived in 2005, he has been im­pressed with the year-round vo­lun­teer work that keeps the par­ish go­ing.

“We don’t have the re­sources of oth­er par­ishes, but we try to do what oth­er par­ishes do,” he said.

The cel­eb­ra­tion will be­gin with an 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday. It’ll be tri­lin­gual (Itali­an, Eng­lish and Span­ish).

Car­din­al Justin Rigali had been sched­uled to cel­eb­rate the Mass. In Ju­ly, however, Pope Be­ne­dict XVI ac­cep­ted his resig­na­tion as arch­bish­op of Phil­adelphia.

Per­haps Arch­bish­op Charles J. Chaput, in­stalled last week as Rigali’s re­place­ment, will cel­eb­rate the Mass, but no form­al word has come from the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia.

A party will fol­low from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Em­er­ald Room, loc­ated on McN­ulty Road.

The ori­gins of the par­ish date to 1908, when Itali­an im­mig­rants pe­ti­tioned the arch­diocese to build a church for them. The arch­diocese agreed, and St. Peter’s Par­ish was cre­ated, with the first Mass in a store­front on Unity Street in March 1908. Later, the par­ish used a prop­erty at 4330 Paul St. for ser­vices.

By 1911, pa­rish­ion­ers voted to change the name to St. Rocco’s. An April 1911 edi­tion of the Cath­ol­ic Stand­ard and Times dubbed the par­ish “Saint Rocco’s Chapel for Frank­ford Itali­ans.”

On Dec. 11, 1911, pa­rish­ion­ers again voted to change the name, this time to Ma­ter Dol­orosa. The per­man­ent church at Paul and Ru­an streets opened in 1914.

The par­ish op­er­ated a school from 1926 to 2003, when the arch­diocese closed Ma­ter Dol­orosa, St. Joachim and St. Joan of Arc, cit­ing dwind­ling en­roll­ment.

Today, there are 300 fam­il­ies re­gistered at Ma­ter Dol­orosa. Large, known fondly to some as “Johnny The Mot,” also serves as pas­tor at St. Joan of Arc.

Large said Ma­ter Dol­orosa pa­rish­ion­ers past and present should be proud to have kept a church, es­pe­cially an eth­nic one, thriv­ing for a cen­tury.

“That’s spe­cial, to keep it go­ing a hun­dred years,” he said.

Large cred­its Ma­ter Dol­orosa’s long op­er­a­tion to loy­al long­time pa­rish­ion­ers who have re­mained as the neigh­bor­hood has changed. He’s also grate­ful to those who, al­though they have moved, still con­trib­ute to the par­ish in vari­ous ways.

Among the staples of the par­ish are the reg­u­lar spa­ghetti sup­pers and casino trips.

The par­ish of­fers a Span­ish Mass every Sat­urday at 6 p.m., and there was a spe­cial tri­lin­gual ser­vice on Sunday night to mark the 10th an­niversary of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the United States.

The former school build­ing is now op­er­ated by the Sankofa Academy Charter School.

The pas­tor mar­vels at the pro­act­ive skills of Sis­ter Linda Lukiewski, the dir­ect­or of par­ish out­reach, and Sis­ter Eileen Cooke, the dir­ect­or of re­li­gious edu­ca­tion.

Long­time pa­rish­ion­ers are glad Large has re­mained pas­tor for six years.

“He’s ab­so­lutely mar­velous,” said Rose­marie Flem­ming, cit­ing his ser­mons and love of chil­dren, among oth­er qual­it­ies. “He’s so caring and lov­ing. He’s been the greatest thing that ever happened to us.”

Flem­ming has an adult son and daugh­ter who at­ten­ded Ma­ter Dol­orosa from kinder­garten through eighth grade.

A pa­rish­ion­er for 36 years, she con­tin­ues to live on Ro­main Street and is pleas­antly sur­prised that more than 400 people plan to at­tend Sunday’s event.

“The fact that all these people are com­ing back proves they loved their par­ish,” she said.

All of the plan­ning will be worth it on Sunday, Flem­ming be­lieves.

“Go­ing through the one-hun­dredth has been a joy ride. It’s such a big thing,” she said. “It should be really, really nice. We have a beau­ti­ful church and a beau­ti­ful par­ish with beau­ti­ful people.” ••

Tick­ets are still avail­able for Sunday’s 100th-an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion of Ma­ter Dol­orosa Par­ish. The party will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. at Sprink­ler Fit­ters Loc­al 692’s Em­er­ald Room, at 14002 McN­ulty Road.

The cost is $25 for kids ages 4 to 10 and $50 for any­one 11 and older. Chil­dren 3 and un­der will be ad­mit­ted free. Tick­ets will not be sold at the door.

The day starts with a Mass at 11:30 a.m. at the church, at Paul and Ru­an streets.

For tick­ets or more in­form­a­tion, call the rect­ory at 215-535-4036 or vis­it­terdo­l­orosach­

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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