St. Anne Parish—Serving God and Country Since 1845

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Caption: (above) St. Anne Parish 170th Anniversary and Tribute to First RespondersAn American flag flew from the top of the Philadelphia Fire Department Ladder Company 16 hook-and-ladder truck.

By Russell W. Wylie

Only a few weeks after the Continental Congress established the Continental Army, its commander, General George Washington, on July 29, 1775 ordered the establishment of a separate branch for army chaplains. Over the course of its 240-year history, the Army Chaplains Corps has served more than 25 million soldiers and family members.  Its motto is the Latin phrase Pro Aris et Focis meaning “For God and country” or literally “for our altars and our hearts.”

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Relatives of Pastor Mathew Hand were wreath bearers at the anniversary ceremony.

The commitment to serve God and country has been the mission of individual parishes over the course of our nation’s history. This mission is clearly reflected in the history of St. Anne Parish and the dedicated priests that have served its congregation since 1845.

The church was established as a new place of worship for the Irish immigrant populations of Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington. In April 1861, the first pastor of the church, Rev. Hugh McLaughlin, proudly raised a large American flag (24’ x 15’) facing Lehigh Avenue to show support for the Union effort in the Civil War.

The Richmond Artillerists, a pre-war independent artillery group comprised of many Irishmen from St. Anne Parish, was organized for the war effort as Company D, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery.  Rev. McLaughlin led a group of women parishioners to Fort Mifflin in May 1861 to present a silk flag surmounted by an eagle to the Richmond Artillerists. After many parishioners enlisted in the war effort, Rev. McLaughlin organized the remaining men into the Home Guard.

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Wreath bearers included keynote speaker Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, EMS Deputy Jeremiah Laster, and Lt. Patrick Moran in memory of Philadelphia Firefighters; and Police Captain George Kappe and Lt. Michael Zimmerman in memory of Philadelphia Police Officers.

Research by the St. Anne Historical Committee identified 53 veterans of the Civil War are buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery including three members of the gallant 69th PA Infantry.

By 1890, under the guidance of the first three priests at St. Anne Parish, it had become one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Philadelphia with 12,000 registered Catholics.  The school, established in 1854, had 900 girls taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and 800 boys taught by the Christian Brothers.

Rev. Thomas Barry was appointed as St. Anne’s fourth pastor in 1894.  Rev. Barry brought back a relic of St. Anne from Rome in 1898 to be placed in the church.

The dedication of the Shrine to St. Anne took place on February 19, 1899 with parishioners contributing gems and precious metals (including watches and necklaces) to create a reliquary for the St. Anne relic.  The dedication of the new school nearing completion on Thanksgiving Day 1895 drew a crowd of 25,000 people.  By September 1896, the fully equipped new school with a large auditorium was ready for use.

Rev. Matthew Hand became St. Anne’s fifth pastor, appointed on November 8, 1901.  This marked the beginning of the “Golden Era” in the history of St. Anne Parish. Under the guidance of Rev. Hand, funds were raised for the installation of new stained glass windows, retouching the frescoes, and the erection of a truly massive and beautiful main altar of which a mosaic of the Crucifixion formed a striking feature.  The renovation work was completed by November 1909.  It was only a month later that Rev. Hand celebrated his Silver Jubilee Mass on January 11, 1910 observing the 25th anniversary of his ordination.

Another successful fundraising campaign for the church was proposed by Rev. Hand in April 1920 and in a matter of seven weeks the committee, which included David Duffin (grandfather of Jane Duffin, editor of the Irish Edition), had exceeded its fundraising goal.  In October 1920, a triple celebration lasting two days commemorated the diamond jubilee of the parish, the golden anniversary of the dedication of the church, and the consecration of the sacred edifice.

It is noteworthy that there were 1,375 members of St. Anne Parish that served in World War II.  Since it began in 1845, the parish has been a powerful force in Philadelphia and an important spiritual home for generations of families from the Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington areas of the city.

It is estimated that one out of five Irish Catholics in the Philadelphia area have some connection to the parish.  There are many of the First Responders whose family members have served and who currently serve the great city of Philadelphia who have a connection to St. Anne Parish.

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Bridget Hanna and Clare Coleman standing at photo of the church after it was gutted by fire in 1947. At that time their father, Thomas Coleman, was a firefighter and was later married in the parish hall.

On October 17, 2015, St. Anne Parish celebrated its 170th Anniversary coupled with a tribute to the First Responders.  The pastor of the church, Rev. Edward Brady, is also chaplain for a number of Irish American organizations in Philadelphia as well as the PA State Police, IAFF Local 22, and provides in line of death duty services for First Responders.  Rev. Brady officiated at the prayer service on October 17 with Rev. Msgr. Joseph Anderlonis featuring Keynote Speakers Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, Police Captain George Kappe, and Historian Ken Milano. A Proclamation was presented by Special Assistant Juvencio Gonzalez on behalf of Lt. Governor Mike Stack, and a Citation was presented by Lou Ferrero on behalf of Senator Christine Tartaglione.

The service in the church and the wreath laying ceremony in the cemetery were highlighted by participation of the Philadelphia Police & Fire Pipes & Drums and the Philadelphia Police Honor Guard.  Wreath Bearers included Rev. Brady, Rev. Msgr. Anderlonis, and descendants of Rev. Hand’s sister’s family in memory of St. Anne Parish Priests; Fire Commissioner Sawyer, EMS Deputy Jeremiah Laster, and Lt. Patrick Moran in memory of Philadelphia Firefighters; and, Police Captain Kappe and Lt. Michael Zimmerman in memory of Philadelphia Police Officers.

A large American flag (24’ x 18’) flew from the top of the extended ladder of the hook-and-ladder truck from Ladder Company 16 parked in front of the church during the ceremony.

The legacy of serving God and country proudly continues for St. Anne Parish.  Rev. Brady celebrated his Silver Jubilee Mass on October 25, 2015 in a church filled with families whose members have served in our nation’s military and continue their tradition of service for the citizens of Philadelphia as the brave members of the Fire Department, Police Department, and the Emergency Medical Service.

Russell W. Wylie is president of the St. Anne Historical Committee.

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Russell Wylie is president of the St. Anne Historical Committee and a past president of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. He initiated and directed the St. Anne 170th Anniversary and Tribute to First Responders ceremonies.