Last month I posited the question, raised by Project reader Tom Lochhead, of the reason behind the name change of West Kesington's excellent Visitation BVM, which started out as St. Cecilia.
Why was the name changed? Tom provided one far-from-definitive answer, as did another Project reader, Donna Di Giacomo. Not content to leave the issue unresolved, Tom ventured to the Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center (PAHRC), and found the following:
I was in Philly yesterday and stopped by St. Charles to view the booklet produced by Visitation for its 100th anniversary. The following is from "Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church : A Century Together in Christ" published in 1974.
"On the fourth anniversary of the founding of the parish, Sept. 22, 1876, Archbishop Wood blessed and laid the cornerstone of the proposed new church which was to front on Lehigh Avenue"A Spiritually-Inspired Name " It was also at this time that the name of the parish was changed to Our Lady of the Visitation.
The reason for this change is said to be an eerie happening on one stormy night, after Father Barry had retired. He was awakened by his housekeeper who had said that she had heard the bell in the sanctuary ringing. He told her that she must have been dreaming, but she stoutly denied this and bade him listen. Sure enough, they soon heard the bell ringing with great urgency. Thinking there must be burglars in the church, Father Barry dressed hastily, took a light, and boldly entered the building.
To his surprise, he found kneeling before the altar two small, poorly clad children, their faces wet with tears, who seemed to have been praying. When asked what they were doing there at such an unearthly hour, they replied that their father was dying in Episcopal Hospital and that they had come for the priest to administer the last Sacraments.
Father Barry took the name of the dying man and went in haste to the hospital. When he explained his errand, the superintendent expressed great surprise. He said that there was a patient of this identity dying in the hospital, but that no one had been sent for the priest. Father Barry was taken to the side of a cot on which lay a man with a wan, wasted face. 'Who are you?' the man asked him. Father Barry explained that he was a priest and asked if he had sent for him a few moments ago. 'You are mistaken,'the man whispered. 'I did not send for you. I have no one to send - I am all alone in the world - I am dying' '
That is strange,' replied the priest, 'for I found two children in the church. They had rung the bell and they told me that their father lay here dying and gave me your name.' 'That is impossible,' gasped the man, pulling himself up in the bed. 'What did they look like?' Their appearance was described in a few words, and as the man listened his head drooped upon his bosom. Tears poured from his eyes and he tried to speak. At last, with great effort, he cried:- 'They were my children - the children buried - come back from heaven to help save my soul.'
With this, he fell back dead. Work progressed so rapidly after that, that the basement was opened as a chapel for Devine Service on the first Sunday of the following December. The dedication ceremony was performed by Reverend Cantwell, later Right ReverendVicar - General of the Archdiocese. Reverend John J. Ward, Rector of Sacred Heart Church, preached the sermon. This dedication marked the cessation of St. Cecelia's Church and the beginning of the Church of Our Lady of the Visitation." Case closed!
Congrats to Ms. Di Giacomo for nailing it, although Tom's "urban legend" version was close to the mark. It's a somewhat fantastic tale, but the Project doubts nothing. There are more things in heaven and in earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Also of interest to the Project is Tom's discovery that Visitation's unique side-step entrance, with front lower-church doors, is not original.
...the church was built with steps fronting Lehigh Avenue as depicted in the architect's drawing that I sent to you. Lehigh Avenue was dug out (lowered) to facilitate the construction of the Frankford El bridge over it. This necessitated the step change which was done in 1914 as per the marker between the doors of the lower church.
Here is said drawing, for your consideration.
I've actually seen a photograph that backs this up, but I'm not able to reprint it here. The drawing is close enough, though. I did wonder what the 1914 date was in reference to.