St. Anne: a vibrant history, a promising future

St. Anne cel­eb­rated its his­tory, and its fu­ture, on May 6. Now, the church's his­tor­ic­al com­mit­tee seeks to bet­ter un­der­stand the souls who could be bur­ied in its cemeter­ies.

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 tjply­

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