During one of our weekly Saturday morning meetings we discovered the below picture which was taken in the late sixties.
Blessing by Father Simon, the then-pastor of St. Matthew's Parish, of the ground on Harry Street between East Second and East Third Avenues, where a new St. Matthews grade school annex was to be constructed, circa 1966. Research provided by Mike Poniatowicz.
It occurred to me that the scene depicted in this picture has a direct connection to what occurred this month (September 2016) in Conshohocken. So to “spread the word” about this connection I thought I would write a Conshohocken Historical article. And to start the article I thought I would ask the following questions:
When and where was this picture taken?
Who is the priest, what is he doing, and why is he doing it?
And lastly the big question….how do the answers to all of the above questions connect to recent events in Conshohocken?
(For those of you so inclined, you can hum the final jeopardy music now)
Short answer….Although we are not exactly sure, we think this picture was taken in the spring of 1966. Father Simon, the then-pastor of St. Matthew's Parish, is blessing the ground on Harry Street between East 2nd and East 3rd Avenue where a new St. Matthew's grade school annex was about to be built. This building became known as the Father Kinahan Memorial Annex. Today this building is the St Matthew Parish Center which was dedicated this month (September 2016).
Long answer (and perhaps more interesting)...The story of Father Kinahan and his connection to St Matthews parish is well documented. Father Kinahan was born in Ireland and became the third pastor of St Matthews parish in 1863. In 1864 he established a catholic school in the basement of St Matthews Church but soon moved the students to a purpose-built school on Hector Street (at Ash Street) in 1870. This building housed 12 grades which included as a student my grandfather in the early 1900s.
Purpose-built school on Hector Street at Ash Street in 1870
In 1929 a new grade school was built on Fayette Street between East 2nd and East 3rd Avenues housing grades 1 - 8. The building on Hector Street (which became forever known as just the “Hector Street School”) was then converted to a high school. My mother (along with many other relatives on my mother’s side of the family) attended both the Fayette Street Grade School and the Hector Street High School. The High School was moved to Plymouth Township for the class of 1957. The Hector Street School was then reconverted for grade school use only housing grades 5 thru 8 while the Fayette Street School housed grades 1 - 4.
The story in the above two paragraphs is fairly well known. But what is not so well known is what happened to the Hector Street students in the early sixties after Father Simon became pastor of St Matthews parish. During this time Father Simon became very concerned that the Hector Street School may literally burn to the ground because of its age and type of construction. Although the exterior of the building was constructed of stone and plaster its interior was made almost entirely of combustible wooden materials—stairs, walls, floors, doors and roof. The lavatories were in a separate building and were apparently constructed in place of the original 19th century “out-houses." To make matters worse, according to one of my friends at the Conshohocken Historical Society, chemistry classes with students using open flame bunsen burners were conducted in this building through the mid '50s. A Catholic grade school in Chicago constructed in 1910 of very similar materials (Our Lady of Angels) had a major fire on December 1, 1958. 92 pupils and three nuns died of smoke, heat, fire and toxic gasses during this fire. Father Simon was extremely concerned that this tragedy could also befall the Hector Street School. He pursued the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and members of St Matthews Parish for the financing and support required to build a fireproof school building.
Because Father Kinahan was the true founder of Catholic Education at St Matthews this new building became known as the “Father Kinahan Memorial Annex." This building served the needs of St Matthews and Conshohocken Catholic Grade Schools from 1967 (I was in the original group of 7th grade students that occupied the building) until Conshohocken Catholic was closed in 2012.
Father Kinahan Memorial Annex, serving the needs of St. Matthew's and Conshohocken Catholic grade schools from 1967 - 2012. Note in the picture above the framed sculpture of the last supper hanging on the left front side of this building. This sculpture is currently hanging inside the St Matthews’ parish office entrance.
The Hector Street School building still stands and is now converted to an apartment house. However the buildings corner stone was removed and placed in front of the grade school on Fayette Street.
Hector Street School, now a converted apartment house.
Cornerstone from the Hector Street School placed in front of the grade school on Fayette Street.
Since 2012 the three catholic parishes of Conshohocken (St Matthews, St Marys and St Cosmos and Damian) plus the one catholic parish in West Conshohocken (St Gerturdes) were merged into the parish community of St Matthews. As part of this merger the Father Kinahan Memorial Annex along with the adjoining Fayette Street school building constructed in 1929 have been extensively remodeled and upgraded. These buildings will now serve as the parish community center and were dedicated and blessed this month (September 2016).
The Father Kinahan Memorial Annex and adjoining Fayette Street school building (constructed in 1929) have been extensively remodeled and upgraded. They now serve as the parish community center and were dedicated and blessed in September 2016.