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St. William Parish (Lawncrest): Difference between revisions


St. William is a US Catholic parish founded in January 1920 in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania neighborhood of Lawncrest.[1] The parish originally served 70 households. The Parish elementary school was opened in 1924. The parish eventually expanded to include a rectory, convent, kindergarten, lower school, junior high school, day care center, parish hall and the two churches. The school, which reached a peak enrollment of 1,586 students in 1964, closed on June 15, 2012 with a final enrollment of 280 students. As of 2019, the church served 1,830 households totaling 5,080 people and Mass attendance currently averages 1,300 people, spread among the 8 Sunday Masses.

History[edit]

The 1920s & 30s – the beginnings of the parish[edit]

In the early part of the 20th century, the area currently comprising Saint William Parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was mostly farm lands and made up of the then small communities of Lawndale and the Northern part of Crescentville, and was part of Presentation BVM Parish in nearby Cheltenham, Pennsylvania which was under the leadership of Rev. William A Motley. When the Diocese began planning for a new parish in the developing part of Lower Northeast Philadelphia, Archbishop Dennis Dougherty asked Rev. Motley if he wished to remain at Presentation or would he like to lead a new parish?…his answer was clear and on January 20, 1920, St. William Parish was officially founded under Motley’s leadership named in honor of the Italian Hermit; William of Vercelli.

Immediately, a worship location was secured at the Germania Maennerchor Hall (**) at 514 Devereaux Ave with the first mass being held on Jan 23.[2] The new Parish comprising 70 families, spread out within the boundaries of; Cottman Ave to the North, Tookany Creek to the West and Roosevelt Boulevard to the South and East. A Rectory was established at a home at 415 Levick Street (still standing) that included a small chapel. In 1922, a move to 909 Levick street would be prompted by need for additional space.

(**) Some 60 years later, this same building was bought by the Parish and converted into the parish day care center. It was sold in 1999 and is now St. Mary’s Orthodox Church.

In 1921, ground was broken for the combination Church/School at Rising Sun Avenue and Robbins Street. Built of local Bethayres stone. It was dedicated on Nov 27, 1921 by Bishop Michael Crane.[3] In 1923, the parishes of St. Ambrose and – St Martin Of Tours were established which ate up a large portion of St. William’s Southern and Eastern parts. New (and current) boundaries were Magee Ave to the North, Phila/Mont.Co Twnshp Line/Philadelphia, Newtown and New York Railroad/Newtown Branch of the Reading Railroad Company to the West, the Oxford Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad now Pennway Street/Air line through the Naval Supply Depot to the East and Allengrove Street To the South.

In 1924, the St. William elementary school opened for 104 students under the direction of the Sisters of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order.[4] The two sisters commuted from St. Joachim’s Parish in Frankford each day and converted the church interior for school use during the week, using the pews as desks and kneelers as seats.[4] In 1925, fundraising was begun to build additions to the chapel/school, and by 1929 two additional floors were built to the existing building to give a total of 12 classrooms for the 450 students. The Chapel was eventually converted into a hall, once the new church was completed. This addition to the school was dedicated on October 5, 1930 by Cardinal Dougherty.

A new “basement church” was constructed closer to Devereaux Avenue, completed in 1927, also of Bethayres stone construction with a traditional gothic look on the interior. The Main Church was to be built atop this structure once enough funds were raised and other ‘priority building’ was completed. A new Rectory was also built in 1927. In 1948, construction was begun on a new convent building. Up to this time the Sisters had been housed in a group of row homes behind the Lower School on Robbins Street where the current Memorial Hall now stands.[5] Most of the buildings of the Parish built between 1920 and 1948 were designed by the Henry D. Dagit & Sons Firm.

The 1940s and World War II[edit]

During this time, as the country was in the midst of the Second World War, people who lived in St William sold war bonds, collected scrap metals, served as civilian air raid wardens, and grew food on available land. In May 1943 a party was conducted under the Holy Name Society for returning service personnel from the parish. Twelve men killed in the war were honored with a bronze plaque at a special mass on May 30 of that same year.

317 names appeared on the Roll of Honor of St. William parishioners who served in the armed forces during World War II.

The 1950s and 60s – times of change, and growth[edit]

The postwar years of the 1950s and ’60s saw many changes…



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