The cathedral-like Our Lady of Hope Church on North Broad Street in Philadelphia will host a 110th anniversary Mass at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, with a reception to follow.
But for many of those who come to the Mass, it is still Holy Child Church, the name it had for the first 84 years of its existence. The 200 or so people expected to attend the Holy Child Alumni Reunion and Anniversary Celebration are all proud graduates of the former Holy Child School, according to Cynthia Arlene Brown, a principal organizer of the event, which is also a benefit for the parish.
The parish itself was founded in 1909, taking territory from the then-surrounding parishes of St. Stephen, St. Francis of Assisi, Incarnation of Our Lord and Holy Angels.
Because of changing demographics the first three parishes no longer exist and Holy Angels is an exclusively Korean personal parish that doesn’t offer Mass in English.
The now-closed Holy Child School predates the building of the church, which was dedicated in 1930 and is really the glue that holds the former parishioners together. It was founded in 1915, with the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Brown, who is a graduate of the class of 1971, still commutes to the parish for Mass from her suburban home. She remembers in her day there were about 100 kids to a classroom, and she was taught by nuns for all but one year.
How many children passed though the school, Brown isn’t sure, but based on confirmation records she knows of more than 5,000. Most live in the suburban counties now but reunion attendees come as far away as Florida and California.
“All of my teachers were wonderful,” Brown said. ”We are what we are because of the teachers we had and that’s why we come back to help the Grand Old Lady of North Broad Street.”
When she was a child, she was one of just three African Americans in her first grade. But it was maybe 15% or 20% African American by the time she graduated. In those days the neighborhood was mostly Irish, German, Italian and Jewish. Now the school is closed and most members of the worshiping congregation at Our Lady of Hope are African American, Hispanic or Filipino.
Jim Costello goes back further than Brown, he is a 1956 graduate of the school. “It was a good place to grow up and I have a lot of fond memories of it,” he said.
One of his memories was meeting Bishop Fulton Sheen, who often stopped at Holy Child when he was visiting Philadelphia.
“We were playing baseball when he came, and we went into the rectory and he shook our hands,” he recalls. Now that Bishop Sheen’s cause for canonization is heating up, Costello may well someday say, “I shook hands with a saint.”
Joe Reifsnyder, class of ’66, also has wonderful memories of his school days and the almost legendary pastor for decades, Msgr. Charles Borromeo McGinley, who would hand out boxes of candy every Christmas.
Reifsnyder remembers the impressive May processions, and his favorite teacher was Sister Joan Christi in the second grade. “She was very young, but a wonderful teacher,” he said.
But for the past 26 years Holy Child has been Our Lady of Hope, and the current pastor, Father Efren Esmilla, and his parishioners have been writing equally exciting new chapters with equally fond memories for the future.
For more information on the anniversary celebration, contact Cynthia Arlene Brown at 267-725-7228.
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