The grand dame of Lehigh Avenue, St. Anne, put on her Sunday best May 6 to kick off the first in a series of social events honoring its history and role in the development of Kensington and Port Richmond.
And what a great history it has.
St. Anne’s cornerstone was blessed and laid on July 4, 1845. It was a place of Catholic worship for the Irish who migrated from the coal wharves of Gray’s Ferry seeking employment with the Reading Railroad in Port Richmond.
Nearly 167 years later, she is still a thriving cornerstone of the community. St. Anne is one of the oldest parishes in Philadelphia, and her grounds have played host to many significant individuals and events.
At the May 6 celebration, local historian Ken Milano discussed the background and evolution of St. Anne, which provoked thoughtful reflection from many of the parishioners.
Claire Gardiner, a fourth-generation parishioner and choir member called the church “a vibrant place” filled with personal memories.
“I remember running down to the front steps of the rectory to shake the hand of John F. Kennedy,” she said. “I will never forget that.”
During the event, over 100 parishioners and church supporters crowded into the social hall to enjoy delicious food and Irish music by Gerry Timlin.
The Rev. Edward Brady, St. Anne’s recently appointed pastor, said the event was a celebration and a fundraiser to help maintain the parish and restore its former glory. The first step, he said, is to use the event’s proceeds to put a new roof on the convent.
“I am not only committed to this parish, but am excited about its future,” Brady said. “We have a core nucleus of people who are faith–based and energized to make a difference through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Brady has initiated several other projects to maintain and enhance the value of St. Anne. He founded and oversees the
Parish Advisory Board, and the St. Anne Historical Committee (SAHC), which began operations in January.
SAHC’s first goal is to better understand the background of the souls who are buried in the two cemeteries adjacent to the church. The cemetery project is underway and some interesting discoveries have already been made.
What’s known is that there are over 50 Civil War soldiers buried in the cemetery, and some were members of Pennsylvania’s Fighting 69th, an Irish regiment. Phil Duffy, a job-broker who helped immigrant Irishmen find work in America, is also buried there along with his offspring. Duffy’s Cut, a tract of railroad in Malvern, is named for him.
Local Philadelphia politicians, other Irish immigrants, and those involved in the “Know Nothing” riots of 1844 may also call St. Anne their final resting place.
Phase one of the cemetery project may wrap up by the end of the year. Once the project is completed, the church will hold another ceremony; it may be a re-enactment by the 69th, a city ceremony, or commemorative celebration—it’s all based on the findings of the project.
It’s clear that much excitement lies ahead for the church.
One celebration attendee said, “I can’t wait to come back for the in the series. It is such a worthwhile cause, and I’m blessed to be part of it.”
St. Anne extends the invitation to everyone to attend the next event.
If you have information to share or would like to get involved, contact Tom Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.