This is the tenth article in a series. Here are the links for the first nine parts:
Our Founding: June 12, 1953
The First Parish Meeting
Our First Christmas
The First Rectory, Part I
The First Rectory, Part II
The First Convent
Church and School
The New Convent
In typical fashion, our Founding Pastor, Rev. Francis J. Hennegan, who always thought of himself last, had to be almost forced into realizing that the rectory at 101 Hilldale Road could no longer accommodate the needs of a growing parish as well as the other two priests who were now living with Father Hennegan. So in 1965, Father Hennegan undertook another building program – the construction of a new rectory. In July 1965, the preliminary sketches for the new rectory drawn up by the architect Mr. Peter Getz were approved and on October 11, 1965, the bid to build the rectory for $110,000 was awarded to the builder, and parishioner Mr. James J. Clearkin. By April 1966, the former rectory at 101 Hilldale Road was put up for sale. (Not to worry – the original rectory has “remained in the family” – first by the Rogers Family and currently by the Duffy Family.) By July 1966, the new rectory was ready for occupancy.
In the meantime, Father Joseph Collins, who had endeared himself to all at Saint Joseph and who on two occasions had acted as Administrator of Saint Joseph during the times Father Hennegan became seriously ill, was appointed by Cardinal John Krol, the Archbishop of Philadelphia since 1961, as adminstrator of St. Gregory Parish in West Philadelphia. However, Father Collins served Saint Gregory Parish for a short time, for on December 26, 1967, he died.
During this time also, Father Hennegan had the willing and able assistance of Rev. Msgr. Frederick Helduser who at the time was a priest-professor at Roman Catholic High School. In September 1965, Rev. (later Msgr.) H. Glenn Bennett was also appointed a resident priest at Saint Joseph while he taught at Cardinal Dougherty High School. In June 1965, Msgr. Helduser was appointed to the faculty of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, leaving just Father Hennegan and Father Bennett at the parish until a new assistant, Rev. Francis W. Gallagher was appointed in September 1966. Because of Father Hennegan’s failing health, he was unable to be as involved in the parish as much as he had been formerly and the Cardinal Archbishop felt that this zealous pastor needed more help, so he appointed Rev. (later Msgr.) Francis Menna, then the Assistant Controller of the Archdiocese as a resident priest in June 1969.
After serving God and His people as a priest for 38 years, the man who had burned out himself for the love of souls and particularly the people of Saint Joseph Parish, Rev. Francis J. Hennegan, priest forever of Jesus Christ, closed his eyes on this world to see the glory of God on August 1, 1969.
Saint Joseph Parish had lost its first pastor, although his priestly spirit would always remain with the people and parish he loved so dearly. The bronze plaque in the church vestibule is a reminder of this great priest. Although erected by the Holy Name Society, the plaque reflects the feelings of all the parish for this man of God. The Reverend Francis J. Hennegan had performed over him those same ancient rites of Christian Burial that he himself had done for so many of his parishioners. The words that he often prayed in the Preface of the Mass – “life is changed not ended” – were now his own personal experience.
Excerpts from the Saint Joseph Church, Cheltenham, Silver Jubilee Memorial Book
(written in 1978 by Rev. John B. DeMayo)
Next week: A New Pastor