An Introduction to
The Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute
At its founding, Philadelphia was above all a “Holy Experiment”, a religious colony of refuge and a reflection of the social insight of its patron, William Penn. In the 1830s Irish and German Catholic immigration to Philadelphia started to swell, creating tensions with the native-born Protestant population. Anti-Catholic Protestants saw the Catholic immigrants as less loyal to American and more loyal to the Pope.
In 1838 the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a law making the Protestant King James Bible a mandatory textbook in public schools.In 1842 Philadelphia’s Bishop Kenrick requested that Catholic students be permitted to use the Douai-Rheims version of the Bible. The School Board of Controllers ruled that children could use whatever Bible their parents wished. Nativist “Know Nothings” viewed Bishop Kenrick’s request as an attack against the true Bible, and tensions between Protestants and Catholics escalated.
In May of 1844, these tensions erupted into anti-Catholic rioting. May 7th, several hundred Nativists held a rally at Independence Hall, before marching to Kensington, where the Hibernia Hose Company, home to an Irish company of firefighters, was set on fire. Shortly thereafter, the Nanny Goat Market went up in flames, as did many homes of Catholics in the neighborhood.
The following day, May 8th, the rioting would take a turn for the worse, when 500 Protestants marched to Kensington and set fire to and destroyed the Sisters of Charity seminary. The mob then marched to St. Michael’s Church, dedicated in 1834, and burned it to the ground.
The Nativists continued their rampage and marched to Southwark and burned St. Augustine’s Church, and its extensive Augustinian religious library. Finally, with the burning of St. Michael’s and St. Augustine’s, the military realized the danger of the angry mob and guarded the remainder of the Catholic churches in the city.
Religious hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Philadelphia ebbed but would remain until the late 1850s. The challenges to church leaders in providing spiritual and economic direction to their faithful grew, as Catholic immigration swelled. The novelty of America required a new way of thinking by Church leaders.
The solution to the needs of Philadelphia’s Catholics would be a blend of ancient church practices and the new strength of American community stewardship.
Some of the new Catholic institutions include Villanova College, 1842; Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute, 1850; St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, 1851; St. Joseph’s College, 1851; St. Joseph’s Hospital, 1851; Beneficial Savings Fund Society, 1853; LaSalle College High School, 1863.
Rev. Edward J. Sourin, S.J., saw the tremendous need to help young immigrants continue their education after their “school days” were cut short to help to support their families.
On Sunday, December 22, 1850 Father Sourin met with 14 very enthusiastic young men and founded the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute. The club’s motto was “Revere the Church, the Mother, and love the Fatherland”.
Father Sourin served as Philo’s first President from 1850 until 1856 and was a strong advocate for Catholic education when Catholicism found little acceptance among Protestant Philadelphians. It was at a Philo reception to salute outgoing Bishop Kenrick in 1851, that Father Sourin and members opened the discussion of a Catholic school system in the city.
Philo members’ energetic support of the idea spurred the formation of the first Diocesan school shortly after the consecration in 1852 of John Neumann, C.Ss.R. as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. During John Neumann’s eight year tenure as Bishop of Philadelphia, he and his Vicar General, Father Sourin, were able to open an additional 16 Diocesan schools.
For over 161 years, the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute has continued to support both traditional and non-traditional Catholic education in the Philadelphia region. The Sourin Award was created in 1960 to recognize individuals who have followed the example of Father Sourin in dedicating their lives to the implementation of their Catholic faith in their family lives, their businesses, and in their social activities.