In 1963, as part of the great migration of Catholics from the Philadelphia core to its outlying areas and the suburbs, nine parishes were founded. One of them, a spin-off of St. Anthony in Ambler, was St. Alphonsus, Maple Glen.
Its name was chosen by the founding pastor, Father Daniel Lenahan, because of his great respect for the great founder of the Redemptorists, St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
Founded June 4, 1963, with 350 parishioners, the first Mass wasn’t until July 7, and it was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Newtown Road and Limekiln Pike. This would be the site of parish Sunday Masses for the next 23 months until the parish church was built and ready for occupancy.
Meanwhile a parish school was already up and running. It opened Sept. 8, 1964, under the direction of four Religious Sisters of Mercy and four lay teachers. The initial student body was 221.
On Oct. 31, 1965, the Feast of Christ the King, Father Lenahan celebrated the first Mass at the newly built parish church. The founding pastor is also responsible for the construction of the Holy Family Grotto, which reflects the guardianship of the Holy Family over the Church.
In keeping with that spirit, Msgr. Thomas Owens, the current pastor, dedicated a new Prayer Garden to the Blessed Mother on May 26.
When Dave White and his wife Arlene moved into the parish in 1972, they quickly realized the parish had a sense of style. Their formal introduction to St. Alphonsus was the wine and cheese reception for new members.
White, who spoke at the 50th anniversary Mass celebrated on June 1 by Archbishop Chaput, recalled how his children and now two grandchildren attended school at St. Alphonsus. He also spoke about the fairs, the dances, the shows and the many other efforts to raise funds.
“I remember the wonderful people that helped make our liturgies, week after week and year after year,” he said. “The guitar group with Walt Stevenson; the lectors and cantors; floral arrangements by Jean Gretzinger; with Dolores Loftus and Eileen Taddei and the altar linens; our music programs and our outstanding choir. The many organizations, the CCD Program under Jackie Maude, the lunch mothers, Pat Kane with St. John’s Hospice. The tellers led by Jim Agnew and Gene Klaiber, the ushers, programs for our teenagers all these efforts supporting the spiritual growth of all members of our parish family.”
Msgr. Owens, who has been named pastor emeritus of St. Alphonsus effective July 1, leaves to his successor, Father Stephen Leva, a thriving parish.
With about 1,700 households and almost 1,300 in Mass attendance each week, it has a lot going for it. In addition to its children who comprise the majority of the students at what is now Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in what was St. Alphonsus School, a very large number of children from the parish attend various private Catholic schools in the area.
“I would say two-thirds of the children in the parish attend Catholic school,” Msgr. Owens said. “We have a relatively small CCD program. The family bond with the parish is wonderful.”
The Maple Glen area is mostly single homes, and many of the parishioners have come to the area perhaps after their second child to a bigger home. “It is often their second home,” Msgr. Owens explained.
In addition to the usual parish programs, for example the Morning Men’s Bible Study in its 28th year, there are newer programs such as the Interfaith Cooperation with the local Jewish Community.
Where once the men would go door to door for the archdiocesan Catholic Charities Appeal, today the emphasis is on direct outreach, especially to Our Lady of Hope Parish on North Broad Street in North Philadelphia.
“We have a lot of activities with them and we give scholarships to their kids,” Msgr. Owens said.
Not to be forgotten in all of the programs are 75 or so men and women who attend daily Mass. “They are a good community and they help a lot,” Msgr. Owens added.
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.