St. Cecilia's Vistation, Redux

Project reader Tom Lochhead got back to us regarding the mysterious name change of Visitation BVM.

He says:

A little Viso folklore follows:

We were taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. One of them (don't remember which) told us that the parish was originally St. Cecelia's but that it was changed after the following: Seems an elderly widow was dying in Episcopal Hospital and her daughter went to the rectory to arrange for the priest to visit and to administer Extreme Unction (an oldie but a goodie) to her. The priest went to the hospital and did this. As he was preparing to leave, the woman asked how he came to visit her and the priest told her that her daughter had come to the rectory and requested such. The woman replied that this was impossible as her daughter (an only child) was dead. The woman had a old photo plate of her daughter and the priest confirmed that that was the woman. The widow always prayed to the Blessed Virgin and it was proposed that Mary had interceded and made a Visitation to the priest on her behalf. Spooky, eh? Kept us in line for weeks.

I asked my dad (91 years old, Viso '33) about this and he said that he knew the parish name was once St. Cecelia's but wasn't sure about the story. However, he did remember that Viso published a pamphlet on the 100th anniversary of the parish which he could not find. I checked with the Archdiocesan Historical Center and they have it - "Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church: A Century Together in Christ" published in 1974. I'll be in Philly in a few weeks and I'll check it out.

Now, a bit of a confounder regarding the date of the name change.- the Philadelphia GeoHistory Network has a website ( www.philageohistory.org ) that has an interactive map viewer which allows you to look at old maps and atlases on line. Two atlases available are a 1875 one by Hopkins and a 1910 one by Bromley. The 1875 one shows the Viso property as a vacant lot owned by Price Pallon but the 1910 shows the church and school and they are clearly labeled as St. Cecelia's RC Church and school. Would/could a city atlas be wrong? The St. Cecelia's on Rhawn St. was founded in 1911.

My family genealogy research shows our first American born child being baptized at Viso in 1888. Of course, they would have just changed the name on the parish record book when they changed the parish name.


Interesting, no doubt. The Project looks forward to what your PAHRC visit reveals. In the meantime, of course, alternate theories and evidence are encouraged.

Oh, and P.S., that GeoHistory Network is one of the coolest things the Project has seen in a long time. Tom is right, though. The 1910 map does says "St. Cecilia." If the maps were created by the city, then yes, they quite possibly could be wrong. The Project doesn't trust the city to tie its own shoes, let alone make accurate maps.

(We do trust the City Planning Commission, but only so much.)