The History of the Philopatrian
By George Tomezsko
First Sprouts – The Early Years
For a short while after its founding, members of the baby organization met in rooms adjacent to St. Mary’s Church, or at St. John the Evangelist Church, located on 13th Street near Chestnut. Its members also met in rooms in the Union Library Company, then on Walnut Street near 6th. Judging from old and yellowed records dating from that time, its members took an active interest in the management of the organization. In 1851, an effort was made to keep the Institute open on Sundays from I to 5 o’clock in the afternoon. This idea was hotly debated at many meetings, but the proposal was finally defeated. It was not, wrote McClarren, until years later that such an “innovation” was finally introduced. Late in 1852 the Institute opened its first library and reading room in the old Athanaeum Building, located 6th and Adelphia Streets. McClarren notes that it was here that the young organization “really began to increase its membership and activities by leaps and bounds.” Lecture courses were added to its list of activities and were provided without cost to members. The lecturers included eminent men of that day, both Catholic and non-Catholic, many of whom were members of the Philadelphia Bar. These included Thomas B. Florence, then a congressman from Philadelphia; Joseph E. Chandler, a prominent lawyer; Fathers Ryder and Moriarity, two eminent priests of that era; and Bishop Kendrick of the Philadelphia Diocese.
But larger quarters were soon needed, and in 1854, the Institute rented a hall in a building on Arch Street near 8th, that had housed the Harmony Volunteer Engine Company. After this, growth during the next forty years came so thick and fast that the Philo relocated a number of times during those several decades. In 1857, still larger quarters were needed, and the Institute obtained a hall at 10th and Chestnut Streets, then moved yet again to the southeast corner of 6th and Pine Streets. The Philo remained at this location until 1861, when it moved to 8th and Walnut Streets. Eight years later it went to 923 Sansom Street, and two years after that (in 1871) to 1017 Walnut Street. But the membership realized that a more permanent home was desirable, so that year a property was purchased. The building purchased was at 1227 Locust Street, a site formerly used by the old Schuylkill Volunteer Hose Company. But an even more roomy site was needed, and after only eight more years (in 1879), the Institute purchased an elegantly beautiful old Philadelphia house, three stories high, with a side yard. The address was 211 South 12th Street. Here the Philo stayed until 1892, when it sold the property to the S. S.
White Dental Manufacturing Company. The Institute moved to 1612 Arch Street, occupying several floors in a double building. But before the Nineteenth Century was out, the Philo found it necessary to move yet again, settling in 1899 into the former Hotel Whilden at 1411-13 Arch Street. This was the home of the Philo through the first quarter of the next century.
The Institute did not become a chartered organization until 17 years after it was founded. The state legislature had passed an act granting the Institute its charter in 1866, but the governor vetoed it, possibly because of lingering anti-Catholicism. The legislature then failed to override this veto. In the following year, a lawyer for the Institute applied to Common Pleas Court for a charter which was subsequently granted.
One of the Institute’s proudest achievements during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century was the role it played in the establishment of the city’s Catholic school system. Bishop Kendrick, at a reception held by the Philo’s membership for him in 1851, publicly discussed the creation of a Catholic school system for the first time. The Institute enthusiastically extended its support for the plan, for here at last was the vehicle to ensure that Catholic children could receive a proper education. The Philo soon took an active role in the development of Catholic education throughout the city. Through the financial support of the Philo, the facilities of Catholic schools enlarged and improved, most notably in the first Catholic high school of girls in the city. At this school, the Institute established and endowed a department (or “chair”) of English literature.
It was during the 1850s that a young Philadelphia priest, Father John Neumann, joined the Philo to promote its works of charity. Long afterward, in another Century, he was declared a saint by the Catholic Church, and may now arguably be regarded as the most prominent individual to ever serve the organization. And, in 1858, the Institute took a stand against racial discrimination aimed at African Americans. The occasion was a meeting held to combine all the literary organizations in the city under a common name, the Literary Union. However, the delegates sent by the Philo to the meeting were denied entrance for religious reasons. The Bannake Institute, an organization of African-Americans, also sent delegates, but these were refused admission because of their color. When the Philopatrian delegates were finally admitted, they pleaded so persistently on behalf of the black delegates that they, too, were allowed to enter.Under the original by-laws of the Philo, only a priest could be president of the Institute, but this was changed in the early 1870s to permit any qualified member to seek that office. The first layman to serve as president was Elias Molineaux, who served from 1870 to 1871; he served as president once again in 1883 and 1884.
When President James Abram Garfield was assassinated in 1881, the Institute’s headquarters were draped in mourning and the members held a meeting to honor him. Hubert Horan, who was president of the Commercial Exchange and who was active in the Institute for many years, offered a resolution (which was adopted by those present) expressing the sorrow of the Institute’s membership, and extending their collective sympathy to the President’s family. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII had named Cardinal Satolli as the first Apostolic Delegate to the United States, and this meant that the Cardinal needed a home in this country. The Philo rose to the challenge, and promoted a successful movement to purchase a home for the Cardinal in Washington, DC. The Philo also made the first financial contribution to the fund which was raised for this purpose.
All throughout these early years, as the organization grew in membership, public standing, influence, and resources, the charity of its members grew in likewise proportion. The Institute played an important role in the relief of needy families of soldiers during the Civil War, and during the financial panics of 1874 and 1892. Funds for such purposes were taken from the treasury of the Institute, and were augmented through special solicitations, concerts, balls, and other means.
One concert sponsored by the Institute at the Academy of Music on 20 November 1893 raised some $700, a large sum of money in those days. It was donated to the Citizen’s Relief Committee of Philadelphia. Those in attendance at that concert included Edwin Stuart, then the mayor of the city, Rabbi Krauskopf from Keneseth Israel Synagogue, and members of the Relief Committee.
During the 1890s, Father Francis X. Wastl, a priest at St. John’s and a Philo member, had amassed a library of some 4,000 volumes, which was kept in the rectory and which he made available to members of the Philo. But this valuable resource was destroyed in a fire in 1899. During the night of February 16 of that year, a fire started in a row of stores and warehouses located near the rectory. Firemen were called, but the blaze soon spread to the rectory. Bittercold and a blizzard made fighting the fire difficult, and the rectory and its contents could not be saved. At the height of the fire, one of the burning buildings collapsed, killing three firemen. Early the next day, the church itself suffered severe damage when embers from the smoldering ruins of the rectory ignited its roof. Members of the Philo took an active part in efforts to rebuild St. John’s church and rectory, and to replace the lost books. They also took up a collection to aid the families of the firemen who died that night in the line of duty.
In 1900, not long after the Institute moved into the former Hotel Whilden, another controversy erupted within its ranks. It was proposed that the Institute open a “sideboard” (that is, a bar) to serve liquid refreshments. Feelings were so strong both in support of and in opposition to the proposal that it almost caused a permanent split among the membership. After a great deal of hot debate at many meetings, the proposal was finally approved. However, another controversy quickly arose. The first Philo Ball had been held in 1870 and by the turn of the century it had become an outstanding social event in the city. In 190 I, Admiral George Dewey, the hero of the Spanish-American War, was to be the guest of honor at that year’s Ball. Tickets were eagerly sought after, and were, therefore, sold at a premium. But Dewey failed to appear, apparently without giving prior notice. Perhaps because tempers were already short over the “sideboard” dispute, bad blood soon surfaced again. Wild charges were made and some members thought the event was a hoax. Many members simply quit the Institute. Tempers remained so hot that the Ball was not held for the next eight years! But this rift was eventually healed, and, in looking back from this day, it may justly be concluded that by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the acorn planted by Father Sourin half a hundred years earlier had, all things considered, taken an energetic and enthusiastic root, and that the young tree was firmly anchored. It would not be wrong to conclude, given the role of the Philo in the founding of the city’s Catholic school system, its support for many parishes in their early years, and the rise to prominence of many Catholics in the business and civic life of the city that the Catholic community in this area owes much to the Institute. History bears out that the Catholic community here very largely would not have developed as it did without the Philo.
The Drum Taps of Duty
The Philo also has a lasting and enviable tradition of military service to the United States, a tradition which began with the Civil War. When that conflict began in April of 1861, the membership organized themselves into a unit called the Home Guard. When President Lincoln issued his call for volunteers, virtually every member of the Institute who was of the proper age and physically fit for military service enlisted in the Union Army. In fact, so many enlisted that it was feared the Institute would have to discontinue. But with the financial help and co-operation of men who were either too old or not physically fit for military service, the Institute was able to function throughout the War. The members of the Institute attended the funeral of President Lincoln as a group, and at a meeting held at the Institute not long after, the Reverend Peter McGrane, then a chaplain in the United States Army, delivered an address which praised Lincoln’s virtues and patriotism in general.
When the Spanish-American War was declared in 1898 the members of the Philo rallied once again to support their country and their nag. Many of them were already members of the National Guard regiments which became part of the U. S. volunteer forces. Those who were not voluntarily enlisted in these regiments, or in regiments of the regular army. In addition, the spirit of charity, always – in Mc Clarren’s words – “pronounced in the Institute’s membership,” motivated those who could not enlist to make a donation to St. Agnes’ Hospital, to which many sick and wounded soldiers had been brought. This act of charity is mentioned in the Institute’s records, which include the following letter from the Hospital, dated 9 September 1898:
To the Philopatrian Literary Institute.
“In addition to the acknowledgment sent you by Rev. Mother Mary Agnes of your kind donation, allow us to extend to you our sincere gratitude for the same. It would be impossible for us to give the care and comfort to these sick soldier boys, if it were not for the helping hand of our good and kind benefactors, who are ever and untiringly ready to put their hand to the plough when occasion presents itself, whereby they can aid and assist us in our weak efforts to relieve and comfort the sick and suffering. “It would be a great pleasure to us if you could visit the Hospital while they are here. You would not see sadness imprinted on the face of the sufferer, but a smile of relief coming from the heart of each and every one of these heroic boys.”We have over ninety of them, fifty of whom are stricken with typhoid fever. At present they are all doing nicely and on a fair road to recovery. “Trusting that God will bless you and reward your charity, I remain,”
Sr. M. Borromeo.
Members of the Institute served in the National Guard during the border war with Mexico in 1916, and in both the First and Second World Wars so many members served in all branches of the country’s military forces that, as happened during the Civil War, the membership of the Institute was seriously depleted. An attractive marble tablet in the vestibule of the Institute’s present home (the Stotesbury Mansion) lists the names of those members who fought for America during these wars. The names of those who were killed in action are followed by a star. Many of the members who served in the First World War won great honors, and returned from Europe as ranking officers. The patriotic fervor of the Institute’s membership is perhaps most eloquently stated in the words of a toast to which members drank at an early banquet:
“To her we drink — for her we pray,
Our voices silent never.
For her we’ll fight — let come what may.
The Stars and Stripes forever.”
These words have long had a conspicuous place in the Institute’s records. Another expression of patriotism which has been carefully preserved consists of two simple lines taken from an address delivered by Archbishop Ryan to the membership on 7 January 1886:
“We are indeed proud of being Americans, Citizens of this great and glorious Nation”
By the end of the Nineteenth Century, this tradition of patriotism, coupled with the Institute’s growing reputation for effective philanthropy, had positioned the Institute to meet the challenges of the coming new century.
A Coming Of Age
When the Twentieth Century began, the hopes and dreams of many were brightened; the future seemed alive with promise, and the early years of this century were thought to be the prelude to a true Golden Age. Science promised a world of material abundance beyond all telling and wonders beyond all imagining. In Russia, scientific socialism offered the promise of a perfect social order, in which all human ills and injustices would vanish forever. Even Faith herself seemed momentarily dazzled by these strange new forces. But these dreams died in the reality of the Russian Revolution, and the two World Wars showed that science had a dark side: it could make killing more efficient than at any other time in history.
The Philo itself now faced the twin task of meeting the challenges posed by the great wars, and of maintaining its faith in an age grown both cynical and weary over promises unkept and dreams all failed. The Philo began this daunting task during the First World War, when James F. Herron, president of the Philo at that time, made the facilities of its home available at no cost to military personnel stationed in Philadelphia. When the great influenza epidemic of 1918 developed, the membership, with the approval of Cardinal Dougherty and the aid of the Sisters
of St. Joseph, transformed the home almost literally overnight into a fully-equipped hospital. Herron then offered it gratis to Thomas B. Smith, then the mayor of the city, who gratefully accepted the offer on behalf of the city. Dr. Henry A. Strecker, one of the city’s most prominent physicians at that time, was made general director of this new hospital. Drs. John M. Fisher, Ross V. Patterson, John C. Da Costa, and McCuen Smith donated their services. Philo member Thomas 1. Flannery performed yeoman service in support of this charitable endeavor.
The hospital was officially known as Emergency Hospital No.3, and was mentioned and commended in a report which covered the history of the Joint Special Committee on the Care, Sustenance and Relief of those in the Military and Naval Services. This committee was in service from 22 June 1916 to 1 December 1919. Frank P. Carr, a former president of the Philo, took note of this humanitarian effort at a dinner held by the Institute on 11 June 1925. The dinner was held to bid “farewell” to the Arch Street address, which the Philo vacated soon afterward. In his address, Carr said the following:
“Who will ever forget the influenza epidemic that swept the country from one end to the other? Again, this grand old society (meaning the Philo) rose to the occasion. It is not necessary for me to revive in your mind the sufferings of those terrible days. I would not do so only I want to tell you how the Philopatrian spirit was abroad, helping suffering humanity.” “It is a matter of history, history that should not only be local, but should be state and nation-wide that the good Sisters who were teachers in our parochial schools responded to the call of His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty, and in forty-eight hours of cleaning and ‘scrubbing, this building was turned over to the city as a complete, well-equipped hospital. After preparing the place, these same good Sisters assumed the role of ministering angels and nursed back to life and health many a boy whose parents in some far-off city were praying and hoping for him – and these same good Sisters closed the eyes in death and crossed the hands of many another poor boy who paid the price right here under this very roof, dying just as much a hero as though he were facing the enemy at Chateau Thiery, Belleau Woods, or St. Mihiel, because he gave his all. And whilst we are still upon the subject, let me remind you that not many days after more than one sweet angel of a Sister who helped nurse those boys paid the supreme price with her own life.”
Carr also paid tribute to the members would had served in the armed forces of the United States during the First World War at that dinner. He said, by way of remembrance:
“Come with me to the Roll of Honor on the floor below and I will point out our boys who trained at the different camps. You will find they served overseas, in the trenches, on submarines, on mine sweepers, or troopships, with the admiral in the Mediterranean, in far-off Russia, each one doing his bit for love of country and the honor of the flag, but as we go down that Honor List, we pause at names and bow our heads in reverence for some of the boys who never came back, but who made the supreme sacrifice.”
We may feel certain that all present at the time considered those words a gallant and fitting tribute to the members who served in the armed forces, and to the patriotic tradition of the Philo, which those members had enriched immeasurably. It was an appropriate way for the Institute to close out its stay at the Arch Street address. This building had been sold to the Institute earlier in 1925 to the United Gas Improvement (UGI) Company, which wanted the property as an addition to its building at Broad and Arch Streets. Pending the purchase of a new home, the Institute relocated to the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel after it left Arch Street. Late in 1925, the Institute bought a new home, and prepared to move to its present site, the elegant Stotesbury Mansion at 1923 Walnut Street.
The Story Of Stotesbury Mansion
The Stotesbury Mansion, which is now the home of the Philo, is a Philadelphia landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1870 by architect Wilson Eyre, Jr., who had been commissioned by Thomas McKean to build a lavish home for his son, Henry, as a wedding present. Thomas McKean was a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Henry McKean died in 1890, and upon his death, Edward T. Stotesbury purchased the home with the intention of making it an addition to his residence, which adjoined the McKean home. At the time of this purchase, the press referred to the McKean home as the largest and grandest townhouse on the entire East Coast.
But Stotesbury, who at that time was one of the most wealthy residents of the city, would make this grand townhouse yet more elegant, spending more than $1.5 million on renovations.
In 1911, in anticipation of his upcoming wedding, he commissioned Sir Joseph Duveen, a famous designer who had served in this capacity for several prominent American families, such as the Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers. A Tiffany glass skylight was placed above the grand staircase (it has since been removed) and the marble entryway was added. Dolly Madison’s fireplace from the White House, which had been purchased by the soon-to-be Mrs. Stotesbury in 1890, was also installed, along with the squash court on the fourth floor The court was added as a present for Mrs. Stotesbury’s son by a previous marriage, James H.R. Cromwell. Some years later, he married one of the richest women in the world, Doris Duke, and became the American ambassador to Canada.
The planned renovations were completed in 1912, in time for the wedding of Mr. Stotesbury to the widow Mrs. Lucretia Roberts Cromwell. The wedding was held at the townhouse; among those in attendance were Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Morgan and William Howard Taft, the nation’s 27th president (he served from 1909 to 1913). Mr. Morgan was a frequent visitor to the townhouse because of his banking partnership with Mr. Stotesbury. Stotesbury had been a partner in the Morgan banking houses since 1882, then later became the president of the investment brokerage firm Drexel and Company. As a result for his financial acumen, Mr. Stotesbury accumulated a personal fortune valued at $500 million.
The new Mrs. Stotesbury catapulted Mr. Stotesbury into the elite of Philadelphia society. Prior to his marriage, he had been something of a recluse, rarely attending any social or public functions except for serving as president of the Union League and The Racquet Club. But due to the influence of his wife, the couple soon became the most popular hosts in the city. In fact, they became so popular that by 1914 Mrs. Stotesbury felt that the townhouse needed a ballroom for entertaining Her husband commissioned Lord Joseph Duveen once again for this project. They decided to import a Georgian ballroom located in a manor in England piece by piece, then reassemble it in the townhouse. It took 500 craftsmen over a year to accomplish this task; the cost was over a half-million dollars. Among the fixtures imported were the crystal Louis XV period chandeliers, the 14th Century Italian marble fireplace, the gold ceiling panels, the Beauvais tapestry (this represented abundance and was hung over the fireplace), and the marble Corinthian area (called a “fiddler’s booth”) installed above the two entrance doors to the ballroom, for the private entertainment of the guests. At the entrance to the ballroom, a fountain splashed softly, and guests could pause for a moment on small granite benches to enjoy the effect.
When the ballroom was opened in January of 1916, the Public Ledger noted that “Madame de Pompadour had come to Walnut Street bringing her good taste and passion for elegance.” The ballroom soon became the scene of many brilliant social functions. On one occasion, former President Taft, who was in town to attend a party at the Union League, came to a midnight dinner with several opera stars from the old Hammerstein House. These after-opera parties were quite frequent and brought together many notables, including Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and General Douglas MacArthur (who later married Mr. Stotesbury’s daughter).
In addition, the Stotesburys, to enable themselves to entertain wealthy families during the Prohibition era, installed a mirror maze and hidden doors to prevent authorities from raiding their extravagant affairs (at which, it may safety be presumed, considerable quantities of illegal spirits were served and consumed). The mirror maze continued to function as a device for foiling burglars until 1958, when the Philopatrians had it disassembled. It then became the hall of mirrors, which still exists in the mansion.
But as the Stotesburys began to entertain more often, Lord Joseph Duveen convinced Mrs. Stotesbury that her “petit palais” no longer suited the grand dimensions of their new life. Mr.Stotesbury then purchased 300 acres of land outside of Chestnut Hill to build what would become known as Whitemarsh Hall. It took three years and $3 million to build this estate, which consisted of 146 rooms. Upon the completion of the home in 1921, the Stotesburys spent little time in the townhouse. In 1922, Mr. Stotesbury placed the townhouse up for sale, but due to the exorbitant asking price, the home did not sell until October of 1925, when the Philo purchased a portion of it for $400,000. Thomas Logue, Esquire, a long-time Philopatrian, negotiated the deal with Mr. Stotesbury. The Philo also purchased a large portion of the priceless collection of paintings kept in the townhouse. The Institute then sold their clubhouse at 141 1-13 Arch Street to the U.G.I. Company and moved into the Stotesbury Mansion in March of 1926.
Perhaps it is supremely ironic, or the will of God, that a building which had long served the pleasures and indulgences of the idle rich now came to serve the critical needs of those much less fortunate. The social functions held by the Philo in the old ballroom would, down to this day, be dedicated to expanding the many charitable enterprises undertaken by the Philo throughout the city. And, the Institute would, like all good homemakers, set about making their new home comfortable. One of the most popular additions made by the Philo to its new clubhouse was the Billiards Room. The Philo brought their Brunswick, Balke, and Callendar Company pool table and billiard’s table from their old clubhouse on Arch Street to the new location. These tables date to 191~ and are longer than the regulation tables of the present day. In fact, the pool champion” Minnesota Fats” often played with Philo members and at pool exhibitions held at the new clubhouse. The first social event held by the Philo at the mansion was a debutante ball for a member’s daughter, Betty O’Brian, from Newtown Square.
Down through the intervening years, this imposing brownstone symbol of Philadelphia’s age of elegance has been kept in excellent condition by its new owners. In fact, the Philo even managed to keep Dolly Madison’s fireplace when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy tried to purchase it in 1961 when she renovated the White House. In the Spring 1995, the Philo celebrated the 125th anniversary of the building of its truly elegant clubhouse, which is located on Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square. The officers of the group meet in the Grand Ballroom monthly. As a kind of a tip-of-the hat to the old mansion, the theme of the annual Philo Ball, which was held in April of 1995 to celebrate both the 145th anniversary of the Institute and the 125th anniversary of the Stotesbury Mansion, was Return to the Age of Innocence, the Elegant 1870s. The event was attended by over 200 persons, and was held in the Rittenhouse Hotel in Center City Philadelphia. Almost from the beginnings of the Institute, potential members were offered classifications of membership based on age. This feature, which McClarren termed “somewhat unusual,” enabled two or more generations in a family to hold simultaneous memberships. Young men between the ages of 17 and 25 were considered Subscribing Membership; those between the ages of 25 and 30 years were considered Contributing Membership; and those over 30 years were considered fully-paid members. Annual dues varied between these classifications, ranging from (in the early part of the Twentieth Century) $5.00 for the youngest members to $35.00 for the oldest. Membership in the Philo, from its beginnings until well into the Twentieth Century, was open only to male members of the Catholic faith. The Philo remained an organization of Catholic men until the late 1980s, when the membership, bowing to changing social mores, voted to admit women as members. Membership is now open to any practicing Catholic; the facilities in the Mansion, including the squash court, the health club, and the ballroom, are available to members at no cost. The doorway of Stotesbury Mansion is carved in stone with the figure of a lion on either side of a circle at the top. This entrance was added by the Stotesburys after they moved into the property. A sketch of this doorway has often been used as a symbol on literature, letterheads, and other documents printed by the Institute.
The Social Graces
Over the years, the Philopatrians have been active in the Catholic social life of the city. Its home, wherever it was located in the past, was the setting for a wide variety of social and educational events, including card parties, dances, forums, lectures, and dinners for members of the Institute and their friends. This fine tradition continues to this day, and the annual Philo ball is attended by many prominent Catholics and non-Catholics from this and other cities.
Dance programs which have been preserved from the early years present a remarkable contrast to those of today. These programs featured quadrilles, majourkas (plain and gallop), waltzes, and the grand march. They give us who are alive today just the merest of glimpses at an age far more elegant and refined than our own.
The Philo also has held a series of social events to mark significant anniversaries. On 14 December 1940, a dinner was held at the mansion to honor the ninetieth anniversary of the Institute. This dinner took place 90 years to the day after Father Sourin had held that first gathering in his study to plan out his idea. And, just like that long-ago meeting, this dinner was also held on a Saturday. In conjunction with this anniversary, the Philo also celebrated two other noteworthy anniversaries. One was the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Monsignor Francis X. Wastl, then pastor of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, located on 13th Street between Market and Chestnut Streets. He was also the chaplain of the Philo at that time. The other anniversary, also a fiftieth, was that of the Hon. Joseph C. Trainer, who had been a member of the Philo for that length of time. Both he and Monsignor Wastl were present that night as guests of honor. The Hon. David J. Smyth, a former City Solicitor and a long-time member of the Philo, was toastmaster.
The principal speakers that night were four other Philo members: the Hon. Harry S. McDevitt, then president judge of Common Pleas Court No.2; the Hon. Gerald F. Flood, a judge then serving on Common Pleas Court No. 6; the Hon. James C. Crurnlish, then a judge on Common Pleas Court No.7; and the Hon. Robert V. Bolger, a judge on the Orphans’ Court of this city. We of today can see from just this short list how firmly wedded the Philo had become to the civic life of the city by that date.
John J. Harrington, then president of the Institute, presided over the dinner. John F. Horstmann, representing the fourth of five generations of the same family numbered in the Institute’s membership, headed the committee that planned this triple celebration. Occupy ingprominent seats at this dinner were six Philos whose continuous membership individually ranged from 52 to 57 years. They were Ignatius 1. Horstmann, Michael 1. Coghlan, Daniel P. McKenna, Sr, James E. Moroney, Edward B. Seiberlich, Esq., and Michael Danaher. McClarren noted that dignitaries from the Church and “persons prominent in the cultural. social, business and professional life of this city and country” were also present.
In addition, members and their guests have been able, since the early 1900s, to enjoy the social atmosphere provided by athletic activities. This tradition grew up because many Philo members took part in sports of all types while students at various Catholic schools throughout the city. Quite naturally, they brought this interest in sport with them as members. McClarren writes that the Irish game of handball was a popular athletic diversion for many years. But later on, interest in that game waned in favor of the game of Squash. A court for playing this game still exists in the mansion, along with locker rooms, showers, and other athletic equipment.
Earlier in this century, the Philo had many more members than it does now. It currently has fewer than 400 members; the number was closer to 700 during the 1970s. This decline may be attributed to the fact that the membership is aging, but the organization is always actively recruiting young people. And, the number of social functions held at the Institute for its members have also declined. According to Marybeth Phillips, a member of the Board of Directors in the early 1990s, the Philo held many more social functions for its members in past years than it does now. But hard economic times and conditions coupled with a declining membership forced the Institute to rent out its clubhouse in recent years to private parties to pay for the building’s upkeep.
But despite this somber news, many members whose affiliation with the Philo is long, recall the social life it offered with fondness. Typical in this regard is Kara Givnish, whose husband John (also a member) owns the Givnish funeral homes. In 1995, she was a member of the committee to plan the annual Ball. With her, membership in the Philo has been a family affair because her mother was very involved in the organization. Givnish remembers the Philo as “a great experience growing up – it was a very social thing.” And she always regarded the annual Ball as a time when “you get all dressed up and you raise money for a good cause.” These words sum up succinctly the purpose and direction of the Philo down through the years.
A Giving Of The Heart
Besides extending charity to individuals, relief agencies, and needy families, the Philo membership also extended charity to many Catholic parishes when they were first founded, including St. Peter Claver Church, the first Catholic parish founded for African-Americans living in this city, and St. Malachy parish. This parish had been founded by Irish refugees in 1850, the very same year in which the Philo was born. These refugees had left Ireland to escape the great potato famine, which had begun five years previously, and were, no doubt, among those whom Father Sourin sought to help when he launched his enterprise. Among the many benevolent associations and institutions supported by the Philo during the intervening years were the St. Joseph’s Home for Homeless Boys, the House of the Good Shepherd, St. Agnes Hospital, St. Edmond’s Home for Crippled Children, the Archbishop Ryan Home for the Blind, the St. Francis Industrial Home for Boys, and the St. Vincent de Paul Societies in numerous parishes throughout the Philadelphia region.
In 1944 the Institute completely paid off the mortgage on the St. Ignatius Nursing Home. In 1950, the Philopatrian Scholarship Fund was established to celebrate the Institute’s 100th birthday. Scholarships have been awarded from the Fund to deserving students every year since.
In 1959, an annual award was designed to keep the memory of Father Sourin alive. The award was called, appropriately, the Father Sourin Memorial Medal, and was created to honor Catholic individuals who by achievement and exemplary life have made noteworthy contributions to Catholic beliefs and ideals. David Lawrence, the first Catholic governor of Pennsylvania, received the first such award in March of 1960. Often referred to nowadays as the Sourin Award, it has been presented to a deserving individual each and every year since.
Each year a committee of Philo members is formed to choose a nominee and to plan the dinner at which the medal is formally presented. Past recipients of the award have included prominent builder John McShain (1964), whose company built many of the structures on the campus of LaSalle University; John Cardinal Krol (1967), former head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; former Pennsylvania governor Robert P Casey (1987), who remains active in the fight against legal abortion; and former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Robert N.C. Nix (1988). In 1976, a national magazine described the Sourin Award and dinner as”the outstanding Catholic event in Philadelphia.”
The Institute also has its own logo, or Shield, which displays a cross, a harp, and several books with a candle behind them. These items symbolize the story and the purpose of the Philo. The cross represents the Catholic Church, the harp is intended to remember the Irish youth whom the Philo was organized to assist, and the books and candle represent study, or education, which was the purpose for which the Philo was founded.
In recent years, the Philo has been holding several social functions a year to raise money, and the monies raised are used to support education. In 1995, the committee to plan the annual Ball linked it to a quadruple set of anniversaries. That year the Philo celebrated both its 145th birthday and the 125th birthday of Stotesbury Mansion. The funds raised from that year’s Ball were donated to the St. Malachy Parish school in North Philadelphia. Since that parish was originally founded by Irish refugees in 1850, it also celebrated its 145th birthday in 1995. Phillips explained that this created a special connection between the parish and the Philo. “Since it (the Philo) was founded to help refugees from the Irish potato famine and the parish was founded by refugees from the famine, we see this as a parallel evolution,” she stated at the time. An additional inspiration was provided by Father John McNamee, then the pastor of St. Malachy. Phillips called him a “very spiritual man” and noted that “his inspiration is positive for the kids (the school students).” Father McNamee published a widely-acclaimed book, Diary of a City Priest, in 1994. With all this in mind, the Philo celebrated the birthday of that parish along with its parishioners. At the present time, St. Malachy is the only Catholic parish east of Broad Street which serves the city’s African-American community.
Another anniversary noted by the Philo in 1995 was the 150th anniversary of the Irish potato famine, which began in 1845. That famine caused perhaps as many as one million persons to nee Ireland, many of whom came to the United States hoping to start their lives over again.
That event, so to speak, provided, at least in part, the soil into which an acorn was planted a long, long time ago.