By Lou Baldwin

When then-Archbishop John Krol founded the first parish in his administration, SS. Simon and Jude in West Chester, on May 31, 1961, he appointed Father Joseph A. Cavanaugh pastor. It must have been a popular choice, because when Cardinal Rigali visited on May 22, he might have noticed the parish buildings are located on “Cavanaugh Court.”

Other pastors are remembered, too. During his visit the Cardinal will dedicate the new social hall and meeting rooms in the lower level of the church, which will be named in honor of pastor emeritus Msgr. Francis X. Meehan.

The property, 15 acres and a farmhouse, was purchased from the McDaniel family, which still has descendants active in the parish. The farmhouse remains the parish rectory. {{more}}

Father Cavanaugh first celebrated Sunday Masses at Goshen Firehouse, with daily Masses, baptisms and other devotions celebrated in a temporary chapel in his dining room.

Within six months ground was broken for the first church and parish school, which opened in 1962 with 260 students, under the direction of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

By 1978, the parish had 1,467 families with school enrollment more than doubled to 575, not counting the 700 children enrolled in C.C.D. (now P.R.E.P.). Some respite to the growth came with the 1986 foundation of St. Maximilian Kolbe in West Chester, and more than 500 families transferred to the new parish.

Although many newcomers were moving in, the founding families weren’t leaving. Brian Mears, a direct descendant of the McDaniel family, still lives on land his great-grandmother purchased. He recalls his grandfather was a great friend of Father Cavanaugh, and he himself went to SS. Simon and Jude School, where his eldest son, Patrick, is in kindergarten. “I graduated in 1987, and we had 60 children for each grade,” he recalls. “I especially remember Sister Dorothea in the fifth grade; she stands out.”

Helene Donahue has been a parishioner for 35 years, and while she did not attend SS. Simon and Jude School, her four children did, and most of her grandchildren do. “It’s a wonderful school; we are blessed to have it,” she said, adding Sister Christine Mary in seventh grade was a great teacher, but so are the lay teachers who now mostly staff the school.

Over the years the various buildings of the parish complex were expanded to meet growing needs, and construction of a new church with a capacity of 11,050 began in 2004. It was dedicated Nov. 20, 2005. Stained glass from the first church was incorporated into a new Sacred Heart Chapel, which is the site for SS. Simon and Jude’s well-attended Perpetual Adoration. There, parishioners pray before the Blessed Sacrament all day and night.

“It’s a very vibrant, active parish,” said parish services director Marty Harris, who has been a member since 1991. “It’s very welcoming, and we do what we can to get people involved in the Church and deepen their faith.”

A list of social outreach activities include collecting items to send to the military serving overseas, helping out at Women of Hope, collecting meals for Aid for Friends and visiting nursing homes.

“We are still growing at the rate of about 125 parishioners a year,” said Msgr. Francis W. Beach, pastor of SS. Simon and Jude, who estimates he has 11,000 parishioners in 3,700 families. The thriving parish has five weekend Masses, and there are 406 children in the school with another 480 in P.R.E.P., and “a lot of other children go to private Catholic schools,” he said.

In all, Msgr. Beach estimates SS. Simon and Jude has 56 different ministries, and the most important is Perpetual Adoration. “(It) is the center of parish life and literally has hundreds of people coming to it,” he said.

There is also an excellent C.Y.O. program, where each sports team must also provide some service to the parish or community. SS. Simon and Jude is a sister parish to St. Veronica in North Philadelphia, with many exchanges between the two, including music ministry.

Not to be forgotten, Msgr. Beach said, is the staff, a real blessing whose “vitality and skills enhance the parish.”