The Founding of Saint Philomena Parish in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania
A new Catholic parish in Lansdowne was first suggested by Father O'Brien, Pastor of Saint Charles Parish Church in Drexel Hill. The reason for a new parish was the difficulty of getting to St. Charles. The steep hill posed a problem even in good weather.
Application was made to Archbishop Ryan for a new parish centered in Lansdowne and including the adjacent areas to the East, South and North.
In January of 1898, Archbishop Ryan appointed the Reverend Francis J. Markee, who was at that time the Rector of St. Martin Parish in New Hope, Pa. to establish the new church. Father Markee chose Saint Philomena, Virgin and Martyr, to be the patroness of the new parish which would be named in her honor.
An empty house on Nyack Avenue, owned by the Hughes family, became the Rectory. The search for suitable land on which to build the church began immediately. Through the generosity of Mr. Murtha Kelly, Father Markee was able to lease an assembly room in Lansdowne Hall, on the East side of Lansdowne Avenue, for Sunday Mass. The first floor housed the Lansdowne Post Office. On Sunday February 4, 1898, the first Masses were celebrated in Saint Philomena Parish at 7 and 9 o'clock.
The land chosen for the site of the new parish was a corner plot situated directly on Baltimore Pike along which ran a single trolley line. The plot of ground in earlier times formed the Southeast section of the farmlands of Michael Gibbons. The first available record, however, seems to be a real estate transfer made to Archbishop Ryan in May 1902, by a Francis Nesmith and his wife Mary.
The architect chosen to design the new church was Mr. Roland A. Boyle, who was noted for his Catholic Institutional buildings. The style of the structure was to be Romanesque with a seating capacity of five hundred. The edifice, for a time was to be a one story stone structure with a temporary wooden roof. Auxiliary Bishop Prendergast was invited to officiate at the corner stone laying ceremony on December 4th.
By September of 1899 the church was completed sufficiently so that Mass could be celebrated there. On Sunday, May 27, 1900 St. Philomena Church was dedicated by the Right Reverend Edmund F. Prendergast, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.
The altar used in the church had been given to Father Markee by the Rector of St. Malachy's in Philadelphia, where it had been the high altar. The organ originally used in the new church was a parlor melodeon. The flat ceiling reached just above the tall side windows.
The house to the east of the new church, 41 East Baltimore Avenue, was acquired to be the Rectory.
In 1925, through the generosity of Mr. And Mrs. Thomas M. Fitzgerald, the new construction of a new Rectory began. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Convent caught fire and was nearly destroyed. The Sisters found lodging in quarters found for them by the Sisters at Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. The Sisters continued teaching at Saint Philomena School, travelling to their temporary dwellings in taxis hired by Father Markee.
The long contemplated project of completing Saint Philomena Church was finally underway. During this time, In 1924-1925, Mass was celebrated in the basement of the School building. The work on the Church was completed in June of 1925.
The roof of the Church had been raised to twice its former height. The original wood altar was replaced by a handsome marble altar designed by the Architect, George I. Lovatt, and presented to the parish by Mrs. Thomas Fitzgerald in memory of her husband. To the right and left of the main Sanctuary, Altars were erected in honor of the Blessed Virgin, donated by Dr. John McKenna in memory of his parents, and Saint Philomena, given by Mr. And Mrs Harry Farren. Father Markee, when in Rome for the canonization of St. Therese, the Little Flower, bought a statue of the new Saint, which rests on a pedestal to the right of the altar of St. Philomena.
In addition to the major donors for this project, the generosity of all of the parishioners of Saint Philomena Church was overwhelming.