The History of
Saint Richard of Chichester Parish
It All Began with a Letter...Our parish was founded on August 15, 1924, when then Cardinal Dennis Dougherty informed Rev. Richard F. L. Hanagan, then pastor of St. Rose of Lima, in North Wales, that he was to be the founding pastor of St. Richard of Chichester Church in South Philadelphia. Having founded St. Rose of Lima parish five years early, Fr. Hanagan not only had the skills and experience necessary for the Cardinal's task, but the personality as well.
The new parish was carved from the parish territories of St. Monica (1895) and St. Edmond (1912). It consisted of 350 families comprising about 2000 souls. In 1924, the landscape looked nothing like it does today. Instead of homes, ballparks, and highways, the area was dotted with farms and these farms constituted the bulk of the territory for new parish. They were farmed by families such as the Youngs, Brooks, Shetzlines, Dilkes, Peltzes, Bastians, and Simons. The boundaries at that time were bounded by Broad Street to the Schuylkill River, and from Oregon Avenue to the Navy Yard.
The parish celebrated its first mass on Sunday, September 7, 1924, albeit in the school hall of St. Monica's, for construction had yet to begin on the new church. The first recorded baptism took place a mere nine days after the parish was founded, when Richard Leicht received the sacrament eight days after being born.
The parish raised money for the new church through a great deal of fundraising, which included block parties, dances, suppers, carnivals, and numerous donations from the parishioners of St. Richard and St. Monica. Fr. Hanagan secured a temporary residence to use as a rectory at 17th & Shunk Streets. They were able to finally break ground on Sunday, November 1, 1924, for the construction of a chapel that would serve the spiritual needs of the parish community until enough funds were raised to build the church. The grounds for the new chapel were purchased from a parcel of land belonging to Charles M. Wielde. The original chapel measuring 44 feet by 97 feet was completed in eight weeks and included a stone basement for meetings. Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Whitaker, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, dedicated the new chapel on December 21, 1924, just in time for Christmas!
On February 18, 1925 an additional parcel of land was purchased from the Girard Estates expanding the grounds of the parish to a lot sized 448.5 feet by 170 feet. Later that year, the rectory was relocated to 1827 Pollock Street, directly across from the church so that the priests would be more accessible to the people and to better safeguard the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the chapel. The parish would continue its fundraising efforts to build the new church through 1925.
Unfortunately, the year 1926 proved to be a sad one indeed as the beloved Fr. Hanagan who was stricken with cancer of the throat the year before, died on May 5, 1926, at the young age of fifty. On May 22, 1926, Rev. George P. Boyle was appointed the second pastor of St. Richard Parish.
The Building Era Begins...
Fr. Boyle, characterized as a "mover and shaker," took the reigns of his new parish in earnest. He was determined to "put St. Richard's on the map." He would not only undertake the continued effort to build the church, but also a school, and new rectory as well. This required a great deal of capital, but Fr. Boyle was a skilled organizer and fund-raiser who had a remarkable business sense about him. These were grand plans for a country on the brink of a Great Depression!
Fr. Boyle initiated semi-annual carnivals, competitive block parties (where one street vied with another to see who could raise the most funds), bazaars, parties, cake sales, and a great deal more! Through the generosity of the parishioners and the creative efforts of Fr. Boyle, the parish broke ground for a new school building and rectory on Sunday, April 21, 1929. Henry Dagit & Sons was the architect and he provided this description of the new school building on April 20, 1929:
"The new school will be built of red variegated face brick, trimmed with genuine Indiana limestone, two stories in height, containing eight classrooms on the second floor, with an auditorium seating eight hundred on the first floor. The building will be so constructed that a third floor may be added in the future should conditions necessitate such an addition.
The building has been designed in modern Romanesque style...Its beautiful details, characteristic of the style, have been carried out with dignified originality, In its construction and appointments, this school is modern in every respect. The auditorium will be equipped with a wardrobe, with disappearing doors and backboards. A fire-tower at the end of the building, adequately provides for the safety and convenience of the children. The entire building will be constructed of the best materials and workmanship available.
The building will rest on foundations of concrete pilings, constituting a difficult engineering project."
Henry Dagit & Sons was also responsible for the construction of the new rectory. The architect provided the following description of the rectory:
"St. Richard's Rectory, which is to be built at the same time, will be of brick and Indiana limestone trim carried out in the same style as the school. Its appointments and finish will be of the latest and most up-to-date character.
The floors of the Rectory will be supported by steel columns and beams providing additional strength and durability to the building in accordance with the best practice. All windows, will be equipped with steel casement sash following the wooden trend in residence construction. The limestone fireplace, in the Rector's suite, is another outstanding feature of its design.
Each suite of rooms will have a bedroom, tile bath and study. Nothing has been spared to make the Rectory as commodious and comfortable as possible.
These two buildings are outstanding in construction and design. They will be economically constructed and maintained throughout their many years of service, owing to the permanent construction employed."
The new school was completed in the fall of 1929 and dedicated on Sunday, November 24 of that year by Rev. Msgr. Thomas F. McNally. The school was under the direction and care of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the I.H.M.s). Sr. M. Albina O'Donnell was the first principal. The school opened with 245 children. How was the cost of the education for these 245 children paid for back then? By collecting twenty-five cents from every employed person in the parish on a weekly basis! To accommodate Sr. M. Albina and the five other sisters who taught at the school, the residences at 1827 and 1829 Pollock St., were converted from the former rectory into a new convent.
Fr. Boyle has accomplished a great deal during his nine years as pastor, but then word came on January 30, 1935 that he was named pastor of St. Joseph Church in Frackville, Schuylkill County. That same day, Rev. William Norman Killian was named to succeed Fr. Boyle. Fr. Killian knew upon his arrival that it would be his responsibility to oversee the construction of a new church to replace the aging wooden chapel that had been serving the needs of the worshipping community for the last 11 years.
The Parish Experiences New Growth
Fr. Killian continued to raise money for the new school via socials, plays, and many other community building events. However, the US entry into the Second World War impacted the parish both positively and negatively. As many able bodied men went off to war, their wives and family members took up work in defense plants and factories. As a result, there were far fewer socials. On the other hand, the parish saw a great influx of parishioners during this time as the families of service men and defense workers moved into newly constructed government housing. School enrollment increased significantly putting a strain on the parish school and parish resources. Fr. Killian was forced to sacrifice the parish hall and convert it into classrooms to accommodate the flood of new students.
Shortly after the conclusion of the War, Fr. Killian managed to break ground for the new church on November 13, 1949. The construction of the new church proved challenging given the condition of the land upon which it was to be built. Having been used primarily as farmland, coupled with the fact that just beneath the topsoil was a layer of rubbish and debris, the ground wasn't exactly sound enough for construction. To compensate, the builders had to dig the foundation 17 feet deep to get to a solid vein of clay. The church was constructed out of various shades of brick accented by Indiana limestone. The new church was blessed on Palm Sunday, March 11, 1951, by Bishop Hugh L. Lamb. Four years later, the parish installed a new Allen Organ to enhance the liturgical celebrations.
Fr. Killian would remain at the helm of the parish until 1965 when failing health resulted in his petition to then Cardinal Krol, to accept his resignation as pastor. The Cardinal accepted his resignation and appointed Reverend John Joseph Morley as the fourth pastor of St. Richard Parish on June 1, 1965. Fr. Killian died later that year on September 9, 1965.
The Building of a New School
Shortly after arriving, Fr. Morley realized the need for a new school building. The original building was woefully inadequate for the burgeoning enrollment. He established a fundraising campaign to collect the $300,000 it would take to build a new school. To make room for the new building, the old original church would need to be demolished. In August 1966, the old church came down. The following month, on September 11, Fr. Morley broke ground for the new school building. Construction took almost an entire year from start to finish. The corner stone was laid on June 10, 1967, by Rev. Msgr. Aloysius F.X. Farrell, who was pastor of St. Monica at the time. The building was blessed on November 19, by Bishop McDevitt, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.
Fr. Morley was not only an innovator in building and parish planning, he was also responsible for initiating many parish groups during his tenure. He started the Home & School Association, established a chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, fostered the Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops, the Senior Citizens Club, and many others.
Fr. Morley would be instrumental in organizing the parish Golden Jubilee, which would culminate in a week-long celebration ending with an anniversary Mass on Sunday, October 27, 1974. He would also go on to oversee the Golden Jubilee of St. Richard School on November 24, 1979 and even his own Golden Jubilee of his Ordination to the Priesthood on May 23, 1982. Then after nearly 18 years of fruitful pastoring, Fr. Morley celebrated his final Mass as pastor of St. Richard on April 24, 1983, marking his retirement. The mosaic of Our Lady of Knock that is found over the doors of the church's main entrance was dedicated by Fr. Morley in memory of Princess Grace of Monaco on May 7, 1983 when it was blessed by then Auxiliary Bishop De Simone. He would remain pastor emeritus for the next 20 years until his death in 2003 at the age of 95.
Continued Growth & New Traditions
Following Fr. Morley's retirement, the Reverend William J. Mooney was appointed by John Cardinal Krol as the fifth pastor of St. Richard Parish on May 27, 1983. Fr. Mooney was at the held of the parishes 60th Anniversary, which was celebrated with a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving on October 28, 1984 with Bishop De Simone presiding. He would go on to spearhead a capital improvement drive and a church renovation fund, the latter of which raised $120,000 in pledges and memorials that were used to renovate the church. Fr. Mooney served the parish faithfully for seven years until he took ill in April of 1990 whereupon he retired to St. Joseph's Villa in Darby. He would remain at the Villa until his death on October 30, 1990.
On May 22, 1990, then Cardinal, Anthony J. Bevilacqua, appointed Reverend Joseph J. Gallagher as administrator of St. Richard Parish. Fr. Gallagher would continue to serve as administrator until December 14, 1990 when Cardinal Bevilacqua appointed him the sixth pastor of St. Richard Parish.
Fr. Gallagher instituted caroling on the Feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13th) in 1991, which has remained a strong and vibrant tradition in the parish since its inception. Families gather each year to go caroling at the homes of the parish's homebound parishioners bringing small gifts. Afterwards they return to the parish for refreshments and fellowship. He also initiated the yearly celebration of the St. Joseph Triduum in March of the following year. These were among many traditions begun by Fr. Gallagher during his tenure as pastor. Father would lead the parish in the celebration of its 75th Anniversary. The "Big Day" was celebrated on October 10, 1999 with a solemn pontifical mass celebrated by Bishop Martin N. Lohmuller and presided over by Bishop De Simone. A lovely banquet hosted by Williamson Caterers was celebrated at Merion Mercy Academy in Gwynedd, PA.
Fr. Gallagher would lead the parish for 17 years, creating many traditions and celebrations that have gone on to become annual favorites at the parish. He was succeeded by Reverend William C. Kaufman, who came to us in 2006 after serving as pastor of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia, for nine years.
As the seventh pastor of St. Richard Parish, Fr. Kaufman served with charity and compassion for nearly six years. He increased devotion in the church with a Liturgy of the Cross and Lenten Wood Chips that became a popular devotion during Lent and Holy Week. He moved the annual May Procession from inside Church to a procession that encompassed the immediate neighborhood surrounding the Church, and he also encouraged the establishment of a Liturgy of the Word for Children during the Sunday 10 AM Mass, and Living Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Father Kaufman also fostered the use of the Little Black Book for Lent and Little Blue Book for Advent, which became annual favorites among parishioners.
Among his greatest achievements during his short time as pastor was the successful appeal of the Archdiocesan Blue Ribbon Commission's decision to close St. Richard School and have students attend a regional school at the site of former Stella Maris School. Father successfully appealed that a regional school be formed here at St. Richard School between the parishes of St. Richard and Holy Spirit instead. Sadly, St. Richard School would need to close in June 2012 at the end of the school year, but the building would reopen in September to students from St. Richard and Holy Spirit Parishes as St. Pio Catholic Regional School. Another wonderful achievement of Father Kaufman's was the restoration of St. Richard Church. Beginning in January of 2012, Father had the interior of the Church repainted, the Stations of the Cross refurbished and restored, the Church roof repaired, the stained glass windows restored with many of the window frames and all of the casements completely replaced, and the terrazzo floors of the Church refinished. While his time here at St. Richard was sadly short, his work ensured that the Church and School community would continue and flourish for years to come.
On July 2, 2012, Fr. Michael J. Reilly, would be appointed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, as the eighth pastor of St. Richard Parish. Ordained to the priesthood in 2001, Fr. Reilly served the parish community for six years until his reassignment in June 2018.
On June 18, 2018, Fr. John R. Weber, would be appointed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, as the ninth pastor of St. Richard Parish. Ordained to the priesthood in 2009, Fr. Weber comes to us after having served as parochial vicar for St. Pius X Parish in Broomall, PA. We look forward to his pastoring us for many years to come.