Presentation BVM Parish Community
1891 – Presentation BVM parish founded
1925 – Sisters of St. Joseph moved into their new convent (and have been in the parish ever since)
1926 – Opening of the parish school: 4 classrooms with two grades each – 79 students. This old building still serves the students as pre-K, kindergarten, library and music room.
At this time there were anti-Catholic incidents involving burning crosses on our church property and “anti-papist” literature was being distributed. Throughout the city and county there apparently were legal efforts to stop the building of Catholic schools. However, the parish went on to establish many usual Catholic societies – The Catholic Club, Junior Catholic Club, Sodality, Holy Name Society, Presentation Drama Club, Altar Society, League of the Sacred Heart, Women’s Parish Society, the Rose Hawthorne Circle and others.
The parish continued to thrive and, by 1960, it was necessary to enlarge the parish buildings:
1960 – September: opening day of new school; 4 more classrooms were added; the old Church was demolished and Masses were celebrated on what is now the first floor of the school.
1967 – Dec. 24: the first Mass in the new Church, accommodating 1,100 people.
1968 – the full school is used for classes due to increased enrollment and parish population – by 1969 there were 800 students enrolled (its highest numbers ever).
Beginning in early 1990’s, the population began to shrink: people moved out for a variety of normal reasons and the new population had only a small percentage of Catholics. In 2000 the parish was twinned with St. Joseph, Cheltenham. The population continued to shrink, loosing about one- third (700 families) by 2007. In 2000 there had been 1800 families.
2002 – Opening and dedication of the Adoration Chapel; this is used for daily Mass and is opened, presently, Mon. thru Sat. for adoration.
I mentioned all the groups listed above because they were the social life-blood of the parish. This population shift had a dramatic effect on the parish. Many of the “doers” and the regular participants of the parish were gone and the social fabric of our church community was shredded. Today, we are trying to rebuild a sense of community through prayer, study and programs that will bring people together in a new sense of community.
This populations shift has diminished school population (about 260 students this year) but our school still has a great track record with the Catholic high schools. The principal, Nancy Scharnikow, and staff are excellent and dedicated to Catholic ideals. Our CCD (PREP) staff, under the great leadership of Mrs. Carol Beausoleil, are equally dedicated to the truths of the faith and are generous “to a fault” in the time and effort they give to our children. Together, these two educational programs will enable our children to mature in the faith and take their place in the world. There, they will be able to bring the Gospel to all manner of situations and transform the world as God would have it. You can’t get a better future than that!
We have a very active CYO program that insists on all aspects of the Archdiocesan program. Other active organizations are: Boy Scouts, Pastoral Council, Finance Council, Respect Life-Gabriel Project, Nursing Home visitors, Bereavement Ministry, Parish Wellness Ministry, Parish Spiritual Life Committee and various liturgically oriented organizations.
We are now dealing with a smaller population who do not really know each other, new families who want to register but are not really into church life, and a continually shrinking financial base along with the rising costs associated with parish life. Also, the parish is gradually becoming multi-cultural. Hopefully, these and other organizations, plus better means of communicating with those who do not get to Church, will knit together a new social structure that will help people to associate their lives with one another in the light of belonging to and “owning” Presentation BVM Parish.
Our Adoration Chapel is a key to our future. This is not meant as a simplistic solution. We are convinced that prayer and the necessary growth in spirituality are the essentials for our future. (This is not to diminish the good that other programs can accomplish but without that growth in spirituality we are not much more than a pleasant group of people who do nice things.) For example, each Tuesday evening we gather from 8:00 to 9:00 PM to pray for the parish. We have adoration each day (Monday thru Sat.). However, our volunteers are fading away. We are having some difficulty in bringing others to volunteer their time.
We have increased our educational programs and are concentrating on Scripture study.
Regarding the school:
- Our school has a very fine reputation among the Catholic High Schools and our children are well prepared to participate in that next stage of education;
- We have begun a financial assistance fund which is funded by generous parishioners and others who value Catholic education;
- By establishing better communications and public relations we will share this good news with the neighborhood and beyond. Other children can have the great opportunity of receiving their education here.
- We will continue to advance the excellence of our programs, establish an alumni association and educate the local businesses about the Pa. tax credit programs and other ways of drawing in financial help.
Regarding general spiritual parish life:
- A decline in participation at Sunday Mass “seems” to have leveled off;
- Various spiritual devotions and programs have not only attracted interest but also seem to be growing;
- A dedicated group of individuals have taken a dynamic interest in encouraging participation among all the parishioners and our Pastoral Council is very active.
All in all, I am very hopeful for the future because I can see that the parish may be smaller in numbers but more spiritual in the quality of life. May God continue to bless this holy family of Presentation BVM.