Finding St. Anne’s

A team of de­voted loc­als is re­search­ing the his­tory of St. Anne’s par­ish. They’ve already learned stor­ies of some of those bur­ied in the church’s two grave­yards.

Foun­ded in 1845, St. Anne’s par­ish in Kens­ing­ton/Port Rich­mond is among the old­est par­ishes in the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia.

It has a glor­i­ous past, but some of its ped­i­gree may still be un­told.

Fath­er Ed­ward Brady, newly ap­poin­ted pas­tor of the church at 2328 E. Le­high Ave., is in­trigued by some of the his­tory and wants to find out more. He is ded­ic­ated to en­rich­ing this par­ish com­munity and, know­ing FatherBrady, he will get it done.

To do this, he has formed a group, the St. Anne His­tor­ic­al Com­mit­tee (SAHC), which is ex­amin­ing the an­cient par­ish’s re­cords to un­lock some of the treas­ures that have made St. Anne a beacon of hope in Kens­ing­ton.

The com­plete leg­acy still needs to be un­covered.

“I am in­trigued by the his­tor­icity of this place and feel com­pelled to dig deep­er in­to its past,” said Fath­er Brady. “Who knows what we will find … the ad­ven­ture is worth the ef­fort.”

The com­mit­tee is a di­verse group of in­di­vidu­als with a pro­found in­terest in Amer­ic­an his­tory and their Ir­ish her­it­age.

In fact, while St. Anne’s is a Cath­ol­ic in­sti­tu­tion, three re­li­gions are rep­res­en­ted with­in the group — Cath­ol­ic, Pres­by­teri­an and Quaker — and the mem­bers’ ca­reer back­grounds are var­ied as well. One is a mu­si­cian, an­oth­er is a re­tired phar­ma­ceut­ic­al ex­ec­ut­ive, and an­oth­er is a gene­a­lo­gist.

In­clud­ing Fath­er Brady, the com­mit­tee con­sists of Cor­mac J. Brady, Claire A. Gard­ner, Thomas J. Ly­ons II, loc­al his­tor­i­an Ken­neth Mil­ano, Drew Mon­aghan, J. Thomas Showl­er and Rus­sell W. Wylie.

Already, the com­mit­tee has set out an am­bi­tious sched­ule. Their first tar­get for in­vest­ig­a­tion is the two cemeter­ies that com­fort­ably sit on op­pos­ite corners of this ex­pans­ive par­ish com­plex.

The smal­ler one sits in the rear, off the rect­ory, al­most hid­den from sight. The lar­ger one sits prom­in­ently on the south­w­est corner, be­side the im­press­ive stone two-story church, and it’s in plain sight of the hun­dreds of people who pass by every day, but many prob­ably take little no­tice of it.

But that will soon change and the cemetery will soon get the no­tice it de­serves. The com­mit­tee plans a multi-step ap­proach to see what stor­ies are en­tombed there.

This jour­ney has just be­gun.

In in­vest­ig­at­ing the his­tory of these cemeter­ies, the com­mit­tee will start by ex­amin­ing the par­ish cemetery re­cords, which, due to the age of the doc­u­ments, are very fra­gile and brittle.

For the team, pre­serving the in­teg­rity of the re­cords is of cru­cial im­port­ance.

Also, the group is in dis­cus­sions with Vil­lan­ova Uni­versity to di­git­al­ize these old re­cords so they will be more user-friendly and not harmed by fre­quent ref­er­en­cing.

Next, after study­ing the re­cords, the com­mit­tee plans to de­vel­op “work teams” to do the ac­tu­al field work of ex­amin­ing and re­cord­ing the ac­tu­al head­stones in the cemeter­ies.

Then, de­ci­pher­ing, de­cod­ing and ana­lys­is will un­veil the his­tory of St. Anne’s.

The group’s work­ing hy­po­thes­is is that some fam­ous and not­able people may be dis­covered bur­ied with­in these sac­red grounds.

There are sev­er­al sol­diers of Ir­ish des­cent who fought in the Amer­ic­an Civil War bur­ied here; some were mem­bers of Pennsylvania’s Fight­ing  69th, an all-Ir­ish vo­lun­teer di­vi­sion that fought for the Uni­on. Early Amer­ic­an in­dus­tri­al­ists or im­mig­rants who found their way to Phil­adelphia with a story to tell may also rest be­side St Anne’s majest­ic church.

Who knows, maybe one of your long-lost re­l­at­ives is bur­ied here?

Cer­tainly, the com­mit­tee ex­pects to find early lead­ers of the church who may have cour­ageously taken a stand against the “Know-Noth­ings” or just helped to es­tab­lish the new church in Amer­ica.

In 1844, the Know-Noth­ings — a nat­iv­ist move­ment that said the coun­try was be­ing over­run by Ger­man and Ir­ish Cath­ol­ic im­mig­rants — burned down two Cath­ol­ic churches, one Cath­ol­ic school and at­tacked Ir­ish im­mig­rants in Phil­adelphia, killing some 20 people.

The whole mys­tery is in­triguing, and a year from now, St. Anne’s may have a whole new pro­file.

Long term, as­sum­ing the com­mit­tee’s ex­plor­a­tion bears fruit, the com­mit­tee would like to have a ce­re­mony not only to re­mem­ber these past souls, but to shine a bright­er light on how im­port­ant St. Anne’s was in not only form­ing the spir­itu­al soul of this city, but in lay­ing a his­tor­ic corner­stone. ••

Ed­it­or’s Note: This art­icle was sub­mit­ted by mem­bers of the St. Anne His­tor­ic­al Com­mit­tee who wanted to share their work with read­ers.


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