My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Sunday, July 21, 2013

SATURDAY'S STRUCTURE - St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The original St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
site of the wedding of Thomas and Charlotte McCaffrey - 1853
On Monday, August 15, 1853, Thomas Joseph McCaffrey (1832-1896) and Charlotte Elizabeth McCluskey (1838-1917), my 3x-great-grandparents, were married. Next month marks the 160th anniversary of their wedding.

They were married at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in her hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Thomas was 21 years old; Charlotte was just 15. They were married by Reverend Patrick Rafferty (1791-1863). Their witnesses for the ceremony were Henry Donahue (1830-1890) and Isabel Maddon.

The McCluskey family lived less than four blocks from the church, in the Fairmount area of the city, on Hamilton Street.

History of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
[taken from]

Interior of Old Church
NOTE: Joseph & Charlotte took their wedding vows here
"Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred Thirty Nine. At the time of its establishment the diocese of Philadelphia was only a little more than three decades old and included all of Pennsylvania, western New Jersey and the state of Delaware.

The new Saint Francis Xavier Church was only the seventh Catholic Church to exist within the city. The site purchased for the new church was at the southwest corner of 25th and Biddle streets -- not far from the grand front steps of today's Philadelphia Museum of Art. The erection of the new church was directed by (the first Pastor of the parish) Father Michael O'Connor. At least part of the money used to build the church was raised by a city-wide collection. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on June 10, 1839. Mass was celebrated there for the first time on Sunday, December 1, 1839.

Portrait of Rev. Patrick Rafferty
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In 1842, Father Patrick Rafferty was appointed pastor of Saint Francis Xavier Parish. Father Rafferty took up residence in a small house at 402 North 25th Street, very near to the church. In 1844, during the anti-Catholic unrest which afflicted the United States, two Catholic churches and the homes of thirty Catholics were destroyed by fire in Philadelphia. Because of the unrest, by order of Bishop Kenrick, on Sunday, May 12, 1844, Catholic churches in the city were closed. Various accounts of the parish history indicate, however, that in spite of that situation, Mass was celebrated by Father Rafferty in our church on that day. During the month which followed, the church was guarded day and night by militia sent by the civil authorities, and by a number of parishioners who volunteered their services.

In 1845, Father Rafferty opened Saint Francis Xavier School in the basement of the church. Father Rafferty died in March of 1863.

Father James Maginn was appointed pastor of Saint Francis Xavier Parish in 1863. Prior to being appointed Pastor he had served for eight years as an assistant to Father Rafferty, and for a brief period after Father Rafferty's death he served as Administrator of the parish. Almost immediately upon his appointment as pastor, Father Maginn began to make improvements to the parish property. He had erected a new rectory just south of the church; he added transepts, stained glass windows and a dome to the church. He also enlarged the galleries of the building. In spite of all the improvements, it soon became obvious that the rapidly expanding parish was outgrowing its church, and especially, its school. In the late 1860's Father Maginn had constructed a three story brick school building at the southeast corner of 24th and Green streets. He also purchased two adjoining houses which would eventually become the first Saint Francis Xavier Parish convent for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).
Map of second church location

The idea of a new church became imperative when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad decided to change the grade of its track which ran near the church at Biddle Street. Because tunneling was involved in the project, the blasting of rock was necessary. That process resulted in significant damage to both the church and the adjacent rectory. Father Maginn then purchased the land at 2321 Green Street, where he constructed a rectory (this building is now the residence of our Oratory of Saint Phillip Neri community). As soon as the rectory was completed, Father Maginn began to negotiate the purchase of property to the west of the new building. That site would be the site of our present church. Father Maginn had secured three of the four properties needed when he suddenly became ill. On July 25, 1890, Father Maginn died at the new rectory.

Immediately after the death of Father Maginn, Reverend Michael Gleeson was appointed pastor of Saint Francis Xavier Parish. Father Gleeson wasted no time in taking up the work of constructing a new church. The purchase of the final ground needed was completed by 1894; the ground was cleared and the digging of the new church's foundations began that same year. On October 6, 1894, the corner-stone of the new church was laid by Archbishop Ryan. On December 18, 1898, the now completed church was dedicated by Archbishop Ryan and a Pontifical Mass was celebrated by Bishop Prendergast. At just about the time of the church's dedication, Father Gleeson was afflicted with a form of paralysis that was finally to cause his death on January 25, 1904, after a long, painful illness. In March of 1904, Father Thomas F. Shannon was appointed the sixth pastor of Saint Francis Xavier Parish.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
(current church - built 1898)

It would be Father Shannon's task to rally the parish in one of its most difficult moments. On March 31, 1906, a building then located at 24th and Wallace streets caught fire and was completely destroyed. During that event the fire managed to leap to the newly opened church at Green Street and it too was severely damaged. The roof of the church was completely destroyed, and a great deal of damage was done to the interior when the roof fell. [See newspaper story of church fire below.]

Almost immediately after the fire, reconstruction of the church began. A temporary alter was erected in the school on Green Street and Mass was celebrated there until the Church reopened on April 5, 1908. The cost of the reconstruction had been one-hundred thousand dollars."

To get a complete 360 degree view - top to bottom - of the present church please go to,-10.07,69.6 at 360cities website. It is simply awesome. The church is described here: "St. Francis Xavier is a striking asymmetric Romanesque church at 24th and Green Streets near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia.  It was originally built in 1893-1898 to designs by architect Edward Durang, extended to its present size in 1906, and rebuilt in 1908 after being damaged by a fire that started in a nearby hat factory.  Unlike many Catholic churches, it did not modify its old High Altar following the liturgical reforms of Vatican II in 1962."

St. Francis Xavier - The Oratory
Fire Ruins Beautiful St. Francis' Church
[from The Philadelphia Inquirer; April 1, 1908; page 1-2]
Priests Risked Lives Saving Valuable Contents of Roman Catholic edifice That Ignited From Hat Factory Blaze

    "The beautiful interior of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Francis Xavier, at Twenty-fourth and Green streets was swept by a spectacular fire yesterday afternoon that originated in the hat factory of Henry Roelofs & Co. adjoining the rear of the edifice.
     When the firemen, after a hard battle of nearly three hours, finally had the flames under control, only the walls and the steeple of the church remained standing, the hat factory had been destroyed, and several residences nearby had been badly damaged. The total loss was estimated at $150,000. 

    The fire was replete with sensational incidents. Again and again the firemen bravely risked their lives in their efforts to subdue the flames, scaling the burning and treacherous roof of the church with lines of hose, dodging falling masses of debris and narrowly escaping being buried beneath toppling walls. Three of them were badly bruised and cut as one of the walls of the hat factory fell. They were taken to the German Hospital. They were Asst. Fire Chief Waters, Charles H. Porter, Jr., assistant foreman, and Robert McClellan, both of Engine Company No. 4, Seventh and Sansom streets. Other firemen received various minor injuries, but all refused to leave their posts while there was danger of the flames spreading eastward to the residences on Green street.
     Remarkable courage was shown by Rev. John J. Fleming, acting rector of the church aided in carrying many objects ices, vestments and other articles of value that were in the sacristy or on the altar when the church caught fire. Rev. Mr. Fleming risked his life by running into the smoke-filled edifice and bearing away from the altar the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the men parishioners of the church aided in carrying many objects of value from the burning structure until the quickly spreading flames made further efforts of that sort too hazardous.
     The fire started at the storehouse of the factory of Henry Roelofs & Company, 609-19 North Twenty-fourth street. There were fifty men at work in the factory at the time, all of whom got safely out.
     The flames spread throughout the factory with remarkable swiftness. The south wall of the two-story brick structure was but three feet from the rear of the church in which were five large stain glass windows overlooking the sacristy. These glass in these windows were shattered by heat of the flames that rose from the burning factory. The wind was blowing toward the windows and through them the flames swept into the church. In vain did the firemen try to save the church, an immense granite pile upon a high terrace.
     The wind fanned the flames and they swept along the walls of the church and up through the slate roof. From the top of nearby house the firemen poured streams of water upon the burning structure, but the wind was so strong that at one time grave fears were entertained for the safety of the immediate neighborhood....

Page 2
    As great tongues of flames shot through the roof of the church , above which rolled great clouds of smoke, the rays of the setting sun seemed to intensify the glare. Now and then the bells of the church steeple, probably as a result of the vibration of the walls or of water descending upon them, would peel forth melancholy notes with weird effect.
     Although the interior of the church was wrecked a large crucifix over the altar and one or two effigies of saints remained unbroken. The $6000 organ was ruined while several pains were broken in the circular stain glass window in the front of the church, which was a gift of Archbishop Ryan...."

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