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.