Our Parish History: The First Parish Meeting

This is the second article in a series.  Click here for the first part.

The wise steward and pastor of the new Saint Joseph Parish, Rev. Francis J. Hennegan, set out immediately to become well acquainted with his people and the various situations of a parish.  To accomplish this, Father Hennegan called for a meeting of the parishioners at the Melrose Country Club for the evening of July 13, 1953.  The facilities of the country club had been procured through the generosity and efforts of several parishioners and friends.

This first meeting was an important meeting because here would be established the spirit and enthusiasm as well as the direction the new parish would take.  Parishes are built on prayer, sacrifice and goodwill.  Therefore, is was necessary that the 153 dedicated people who attended this first meeting knew full-well the great labor they were undertaking in building up the Body of Christ.  The first item on the agenda was a parish census.  Who were the parishioners of Saint Joseph and how many souls were within the parish boundaries?  It was essential for the progress of the parish to answer these two questions.

May Procession 1955 - 1

May 22, 1955. Men and boys of Saint Joseph at the start of May Procession.

In August 1953, the Archdiocese announced that a demonstration of faith was to be held in Center City Philadelphia, where His Excellency, John O’Hara, Archbishop of Philadelphia, would celebrate a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Father Hennegan, a very active and dedicated spiritual directors of the Holy Name Society, appealed to the men of Saint Joseph’s to participate in this activity of Catholic Action.  In terms of the world, this appeal of the pastor was foolish and doomed from the start.  How could a parish with no buildings, still in a formative stage, ever hope to organize a representative parish group to attend the Holy Name Rally?  However, God is not determined by the ways of man.  A parishioner, Mr. Lawrence McKenna, offered the use of his home for parish meetings.  At the first meeting only a few weeks before the Rally, 15 men led by their Spiritual Director formulated plans to purchase a Holy Name Banner and to send out an appeal to the men of the parish to join the Holy Name Society to represent Saint Joseph Parish.  After three organizational meetings, 137 men of the parish gathered in the Penn Fruit parking lot at Front Street and Cheltenham Avenue and set out in automobiles to march in the Holy Name Parade along the Parkway.

May Procession 1955 - 2

May 22, 1955. Holy Name men carrying statue of Our Lady in May Procession. Followed by the May Queen and her attendants.

Excerpts from the Saint Joseph Church, Cheltenham, Silver Jubilee Memorial Book
(written in 1978 by Rev. John B. DeMayo)

Next week: The First Parish Christmas