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A Brief History of St. Christopher Parish

Following the great commission of Jesus Christ to: “Go into the whole world and tell the Good News”, generation upon generation of Spirit-filled Christians have echoed His command. From a small group of frightened disciples, hiding behind locked doors to a worldwide Catholic community numbering in the billions, the faith that has carried us through the centuries continues to flourish in our midst.

Here in the Somerton section of Philadelphia and areas of adjacent Bucks and Montgomery counties, God saw fit to gather His people into a spiritual community rooted in the love of Christ and neighbor and bound by the Eucharist which we share.

Our parish was founded on November 3, 1950. Before that time, priests from the Maternity B.V.M. Parish served the Catholics of this area in a variety of locations. In 1914, area Catholics leased an upper room in the sub-station of the twenty-seventh police district. There were forty-three persons at the first Mass offered in the Bustleton Avenue sub-station.

In 1916, a three-story house located at Byberry Road and Lewis Street was purchased with funds from various generous benefactors, to become Saint Edward Chapel. Sixty-seven persons were present for the dedication of this chapel. By 1942, while the nation was struggling with the dawn of the Second World War, the Catholic population in the Somerton area was becoming larger and stronger. Under the direction of the Rev. John Wright, pastor of Maternity B.V.M. Parish, reconstruction on the tiny chapel Zealous parishioners worked from morning until late at night, often interrupted by the war measures of “blackouts”. There was, however, a light that would not be extinguished...the flame of faith burning in the hearts of this growing faith community. The Blessed Sacrament was permanently placed in the chapel at this time and the practice of monthly Holy Hours was begun.

In 1950, Saint Christopher Parish was canonically established by Cardinal Dennis Dougherty, who appointed the Rev. Christopher L. Purcell as the founding pastor. Thanks to the generosity of the Joseph Trainer family, their quiet, beautiful piece of farmland on proctor Road would become “home to not only the parish church, but subsequently to Saint Christopher School, convent and rectory.

Saint Christopher school was dedicated in September, 1053, and staffed by the loving and dedicated Sisters of Mercy, with Sister May Esther, founding principal and her staff of three sisters and one lay teacher. Saint Christopher school opened its doors to welcome 319 students. Following the construction of the school, the convent was built and dedicated in 1954. In 1999, under the leadership of our present pastor, Monsignor Joseph P. Garvin, the Parish Office was relocated from the rectory to the convent building.

Once the new school and convent were erected, the parish gained even greater momentum. Families increased to such an extent that Saint Christopher parish spilled out in almost every direction, even including parts of what are now Saint Anselm and Saint Martha parishes. In 1956, the structure now identified as Trainer Hall was dedicated as the parish church. At long last, a permanent resident for the priests who ministered in the parish was built in 9158. The present church was built in 1978, under the leadership of the Reverend Joseph F. Smith. The original church was converted to a hall, and re-named as Trainer Hall.

This Parish was dedicated under the patronage of Saint Christopher because the name literally means: “Christ-bearer”, which expresses the common vocation of all who call themselves Christian, to carry Christ within themselves and bring Him to others.

The parish has flourished under the loving and dedicated leadership of the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with assistance from the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Franciscan Order of Minor. It has been generously served by the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and in recent history, in collaboration with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill. Countless lay men and women have selflessly given of themselves for the benefit of this parish and for its continued growth during the past half century. We are ever grateful. Truly, it is the faithful families of Saint Christopher parish, in conjunction with its leaders, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who have sacrificed their time, talents and treasure to take up the mission of being “Christ-bearers”. It is evidenced by their involvement in the sacramental life of the parish, in its many outreach programs and in its commitment to education, faith formation and respect for life at every level. We, the members of Saint Christopher Parish, stand together in Christian love and proclaim from the bottom of our hearts: “For all that has been...THANKS, and for all that will be...YES.”

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