History of St. Hilary of Poitiers Parish
Fifty years is a long enough time for many significant events to take place; and at the same time, it is a short enough time for people of a certain age to remember those events. The History of Saint Hilary of Poitiers Parish began in 1962, the same year as the opening of the Second Vatican Council. St. Hilary’s was canonically established May 28, 1962, and founded June 6, 1962, by a decree of then Archbishop John J. Krol, with Reverend John P. Cosgrove, who had just celebrated his 25th Anniversary as a priest, as the first pastor. Father Cosgrove had formerly served at St. Patrick’s Parish, Philadelphia. St. Hilary’s was his first and only parish as Pastor.
Five new parishes were established in 1962, and named after saints who were defenders of the Christian Faith. Three of them, including Saint Hilary’s, were named for Doctors of the Church. Archbishop Krol made a gift of a chalice to each of the five parishes.
Saint Hilary’s Parish property consists of sixteen acres in Rydal, Abington Township. Rydal is a small residential community which began around 1900, when its railroad station was a stop on the Reading Railroad. In addition to the railroad (now part of SEPTA), Saint Hilary’s Parish is bounded by Pine Road, Shady Lane, Fox Chase Road, Forrest Avenue, Beverly Road, Meetinghouse Road, Leopard Road, Panther Road, Washington Lane, and the Rydal Station. This territory was formed from the parishes of Immaculate Conception, Jenkintown, and Saint Cecilia’s, Philadelphia. Some of the original land had been purchased in 1958 by then Cardinal O’Hara. Additional acres were added and purchased by Archbishop Krol on December 12, 1961.
The first Masses offered for the people of St. Hilary’s Parish were celebrated in the auditorium of St. Basil’s Academy at Fox Chase Road and Forrest Avenue at 10:00 and 12:00 on June 17, 1962.
At an organizational meeting on the afternoon of June 17, the Pastor and parishioners decided to add an 8:00 Mass to the Sunday morning schedule, as Father mentioned in his first letter to the parishioners.
Father Cosgrove’s letter did not contain a word of complaint about the difficulties of his first experience as a pastor, or about the challenges of being assigned to a parish that had no buildings in place and having to build everything from the beginning. The founding members of St. Hilary’s describe an open field on Susquehanna Road, covered with low growing underbrush and weeds, including a sizeable portion of marshland. There was one tree on the property, a pin oak that still stands on the south side of the Church.
Sister Barbara Boyle, SSJ, later wrote: “Once the founding pastor . . . told me about the first time he saw the property, a former dairy farm. He and a realtor walked to the rear section, where there was a charming old barn. He thought it could be renovated and made into a lovely rectory. The realtor advised against it, telling him that no matter what would be done, the smell of cows could never be removed and would linger perpetually. It was demolished when construction on the property began.”
As the land was being developed, a row of pin oaks was planted on the parish property along Susquehanna Road. While the parish buildings were being completed, daily Mass for St. Hilary’s parishioners was celebrated in Saint]oseph’s Manor, and Father Cosgrove lived at Our Lady Help of Christians Rectory in Abington with his friend, Father (Later Monsignor) Joseph D. Shallow. Father Shallow had founded Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in 1953, and lived there until he died in 1980.
Father Cosgrove had tried to purchase a house at 1084 Old Huntingdon Pike, closer to the parish property; but his request for a zoning variance was denied; and so he stayed at Our Lady Help of Christians until December, 1962, when he rented and moved into a house at 835 Llanfair Road in Abington Township and also in St. Hilary’s Parish.
On December 18, 1962, Father Cosgrove obtained permission from the Zoning Board of Abington Township to build the parish buildings on the Susquehanna Road property.
The first baptism recorded at St. Hilary’s Parish was on July 22, 1962, when Father Cosgrove baptized Michael Thomas McCann. The first baptism in the new church was on December 15, 1963, when Father Cosgrove administered the sacrament to Joan Loretta Gray.
Also in 1962, Father Cosgrove and parishioners founded the Women’s Guild, with Mary Morron as its first President, and planned parish events that were continued each year, such as the Commemoration of the Feast of Saint Hilary, the Country Fair, the Dinner Dance in October (originally held in St. Basil’s auditorium), and the Christmas Party. Activities during the early years weren’t all work and fundraising. Rosemary Backus and Evelyn Strigle, two of the founding members of St. Hilary’s Parish, tell of the fun they had holding long and enjoyable conversations after the business meetings. The Women’s Guild started a tradition of singing carols a week before Christmas at the houses of other parishioners.
St. Hilary School’s first children’s Christmas Pageant was held in St. Basil’s auditorium, before the completion of their own School Hall and Church, where St. Hilary’s Christmas Pageants have been held in recent years.
The Women’s Guild brought families together who were formerly from the separate parishes of Immaculate Conception and St. Cecilia’s, and many of these people became friends in the process of working on parish events. They also became loyal friends of the new pastor, an outgoing, approachable Phillies fan who often stood in the driveway to greet them, wearing a sweater of bright Phillies red. While Father Cosgrove brought people together at the church, he also took time to visit them in their homes and in hospitals, bringing them the Sacraments.
As the number of parish events grew, the Saint Patrick’s Day Party would become an annual celebration.
Groundbreaking took place on March 10, 1963, with Father Cosgrove officiating. The priests with Father Cosgrove at the Groundbreaking were: Msgr. Thomas F. McNally, Vicar General of the Archdiocese and Pastor of Immaculate Conception, Jenkintown, Father Joseph D. Shallow, Pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians, Abington, Msgr. Michael Poloway, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Archeparchy, and Father James D. Keenan, O.S.F.S., who served at St. Hilary’s Parish on weekends.
The Church was completed in 1963, with the first Mass in the new Church being celebrated by Father Cosgrove on December 1, 1963.
An early picture of the parish plant shows the original statue of St. Hilary in front of the church. During the 1960s, there was a golf course on the northeast side of Susquehanna Road.
Activities during the early years of the Parish included bridge and fashion shows, bowling, quilting parties, and luaus on special occasions, the Spring Luncheon and International Festival of Costumes, the Art Auction, and the Mardi Gras.
The original Tellers pipe organ, designed by St. Hilary’s first Organist and Choir Director Eugene L. Szonntagh, was installed in 1963 to be played at the Blessing of the Church.
Archbishop Krol blessed St. Hilary’s Church on Saturday, December 21, 1963, and then celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the new Church at 10:00 AM. The Parish Choir was directed by Mr. Szonntagh and accompanied by Parish Organist Alice Bornmann.
The Church, School, Rectory, and Convent (now the Parish Center) were completed within 18 months by architect Thomas J. Mangan and contractor E. Allen Reeves. According to an article in The Catholic Standard and Times dated December 13, 1963, St. Hilary’s was believed to be the first complete parish plant in the history of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to be built all at once. Along with the buildings, the people of the parish have been unified since the beginning.
The discovery of underground springs in 1963 delayed the construction and caused the plans to be changed. Though the cost of construction was increased, the bill was soon paid in full, thanks to many successful fundraising events by St. Hilary’s Beneficial Association.
Anyone who has shared in the life of St. Hilary’s for even a short time knows that it is not just the building of the parish plant that makes this parish noteworthy, but the cooperative spirit that has been characteristic since the beginning.
Father Cosgrove officiated at the first Marriage in the new Church, between Francis Spiecker and Anna Gibbons, on February 8, 1964. Father Cosgrove’s assistant priests included Father James D. Keenan, O.S.F.S., a weekend assistant, and then Fathers John Artz, C.I.C.M., Henry G. Birkhead, Anthony Chojnacki, O.F.M., Richard M. Coolahan, S.J., William J. Genz, H. James Hutchins, David Jakubiec, O.F.M., Edward J. Kennedy, Joseph J. McLaughlin, Lawrence J. Murphy, Terrence Pinkowski, O.F.M., DePaul Sobotka, O.F.M.. and Michael Leo Walsh, who all resided at St. Hilary’s during Father Cosgrove’s tenure.
St. Hilary School’s first faculty consisted of Mother Regina Perpetua, Principal from 1963 to 1967, and Sisters William Immaculate, Anne Dennis, and Rita David, all Sisters of St.Joseph.
Originally there were four classrooms with two grades in each room. CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes for Religious Education, established by Father Birkhead and taught by lay teachers and Sisters of St. Joseph, began at the same time. St. Hilary’s first adult converts were welcomed into the Parish during the early 1960s.
The children of St. Hilary’s Parish received their First Communion on May 2, 1964. The first May Procession took place that year, and the first Eighth Grade Class graduated in June, 1964.
At Christmas, poinsettias and greens decorated both sides of the altar. A Christmas card signed by Father Cosgrove in 1964 pictures the inside of St. Hilary’s Church. At that time, the altar rail was still in front of the sanctuary. A recent view shows the improvements that were made over the years.
The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered at St. Hilary’s Church for the first time on March 12, 1965, by Archbishop Krol. This was also the year of St. Hilary’s first Forty Hours Celebration.
Also in 1965, the Young Adult Club, Epsilon Nu, was founded by Father Genz, who together with Father Henry G. Birkhead had arrived in 1963. Father Cosgrove was the Chaplain of the Young Adult Club. Father Genz was succeeded by Father McLaughlin, who arrived just after his ordination in 1966 and who served at St. Hilary’s for one year. James O’Reilly, the 1973 President of Epsilon Nu, writes that their activities included bowling, softball, swimming (when there was a country club on the other side of Susquehanna Road), and entertainment for underprivileged children. Many friendships were forged through Epsilon Nu, and some members, like James and Veronica O’Reilly (married in 1974), met their future spouses through the Young Adult Club.
It was in 1965 that St. Hilary’s School started its Volleyball Team. Shortly after the school sports program started, Betty Skinner (Mrs. Ralph Skinner) founded the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) for the children of the Parish. After an organizational meeting in Warminster, Betty brought the CYO to St. Hilary’s Parish. She coached the girls’ basketball team, and appointed coaches for the boys’ basketball and baseball teams, and girls’ softball team. The players formed a Sports Club which Betty oversaw. The teams played in a league with other schools, and their home games were at Alverthorpe Field.
In 1965, Charles Williard donated a school bus to St. Hilary’s. The same year, as soon as the Sisters of St. Joseph were permitted to drive, Mr. Williard donated a black station wagon to the sisters in the convent.
The 1965 Country Fair, chaired by Mrs. Albert Tordella, was held on the parish grounds. Mr. Ralph Skinner built some of the tents for the Fair, and both Skinners worked at the tents. The autumn Country Fairs at St. Hilary’s were often attended by celebrities. To name a few, these celebrities included the late boxer Joe Frazier (who died November 7, 2011), TV personality Sally Starr, the Mummers’ Greater Kensington String Band, comic strip creator John Lyney, who drew his famous character “Henry” for an admiring audience of St. Hilary’s parishioners, and radio personality Bill Weber.
School Principal Mother Regina Perpetua was succeeded by Sisters Mary Consolata (1967- 1973), Ann Bridget (1973-1977), and Sister Edward Kathleen (Marie St. Leger), Principal from 1977 to 1982. People who lived in St. Cecilia’s and other parishes in northeast Philadelphia remember coming to Saint Hilary’s during the Second Vatican Council to hear talks on the changes in the Church each Thursday evening. Thanks to the generosity of parishioner Charles Williard, the Church Sanctuary was remodeled in 1967 so that Mass could be celebrated facing the people. Father Birkhead versed the altar servers, lectors, and commentators (who read the introduction and announced the hymns at Mass as the cantors do now) in the new rubrics.
Music was always a vital part of the parish - appropriately, since St. Hilary himself is believed to have introduced Latin hymns into the Catholic liturgy. Father Birkhead and Father McLaughlin, working with organist Alice Bornmann (who was originally from St. Anne’s Parish in Philadelphia), made sure that the congregation learned new hymns in English, and that the music was in a key that the people could sing. The priests explained the changes in the liturgy at the Sunday Masses. As the parish grew, the Sunday Masses were increased to 8:00, 10:00, 11:15, and 12:30.
The school library was established in 1968, and located in what is now Room 7. Mrs. Pat Cass was the original librarian.
In 1970, the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Anne’s Parish, Philadelphia, donated a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be placed in front of the rectory. The statue was erected by Charles Leva, a generous benefactor in the parish.
The other statues around the rectory are of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint John, and of Saint Joseph.
Rev. Robert McLaughlin served as Deacon at St. Hilary’s Parish in 1972 and 1973.
St. Hilary’s Home and School Association was founded in 1974, while Father Cosgrove was Pastor and Sister Denis Edward was Principal. John Backus was the first President of the Home and School Association. In 1977, School Librarian Mrs. Cass was succeeded by Mrs. Betty Armbruster, the present Librarian, and the Library was moved into the school basement. All the books were carried downstairs, but they were piled on the floor at random, not sorted by section. Mrs. Armbruster and her helpers had to sort all the books according to their proper categories and put them on the shelves. As the school grew, the first grade was moved from the convent to a classroom in the school building, after the library was moved out of Room 7.
The 15th Anniversary of the Parish, chaired by Mr. and Mrs. John Backus, was celebrated on ]une 6, 1977, with a banquet and dinner dance at the Philmont Country Club. Phyllis Comly, the Parish Historian, produced the commemorative booklet, with the layout and design done by John McGahey, a parishioner and artist.
Also in 1977, Father Cosgrove celebrated his 40th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Father Cosgrove retired as Pastor of St. Hilary’s in April, 1979. After his retirement, he lived at St. Hilary’s as Pastor Emeritus, and then at Villa St. Joseph in Darby until his death on March 19, 1993.
Father Glynn came to St. Hilary’s after 20 years as an Army Chaplain in Korea and Vietnam, and four years as a prison chaplain in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Like Father Cosgrove, Father Glynn showed great care and compassion for the sick, frequently visiting them in the hospitals.
During Father Glynn’s tenure, the Church was air-conditioned.
The CYO served Parish children with a well-rounded program. Lay Eucharistic Ministers began to serve the parish in 1984. The Convent basement was renovated and used for preschool classes.
The preschool had been moved from Sacred Heart Hall in Cheltenham, and was directed by Sister Mary Pat McCrane and later Sister Carol Kelly. Sisters Margaret Mary Duncan and Kathleen Moss taught in the preschool with Sister Mary Pat McCrane. Beginning in 2012, St. Hilary’s would have its own Parish Preschool.
Sister Marie St. Leger was Principal of the Elementary School from 1977 to 1982. As soon as she became Principal, she began the process of Middle States Accreditation. On Thanksgiving morning in 1981, a few days before the school’s evaluation was scheduled to begin, both church and school were vandalized and robbed. While the incident shocked and saddened the priests, sisters, and parishioners, Father Glynn reminded the people that Jesus was still present with them in St. Hilary’s Church. Later, the police caught the thief (thanks to a tip from his girlfriend) and most of the stolen property was recovered.
Sisters Kathleen White, Mary Theresa Flood, and Marie Philomena taught in the school with Sister Marie St. Leger. These sisters were told to leave the school in 1982 by their Superior General at the Motherhouse in Philadelphia, as part of “Process Withdrawal and Recommitment." Sister Marie Philomena had left in 1981, and the other sisters on the school faculty left the convent in 1983 at the end of the school year. Sisters who lived in the Convent after 1983 worked outside St. Hilary’s Parish.
St. Hilary’s School had become accredited by the Middle States Association while Sister Marie St. Leger was principal.
The next principal was Mr. John Steck. In 1986, while Mr. Steck was principal, St. Hilary’s School was featured in the Montgomery County Times Chronicle for being ranked in the top one-third of all schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, based on the students’ high scores in standardized tests. Each year, a high percentage of the school’s graduates win high school scholarships.
One Christmas, when a parishioner donated poinsettias in memory of her sister, the practice of memorializing the Christmas flowers began.
Father Birkhead continued to serve at St. Hilary’s with Father Glynn, but left St. Hilary’s in 1984 after 21 years in the parish, to become pastor at Christ the King, Philadelphia. After retiring in 2000, he lived at Villa St. Joseph in Darby. Father Birkhead died there on April 8, 2007.
St. Hilary’s Parish observed its Twenty-fifth Anniversary in March, 1987, with a Mass celebrated by Father Glynn. Gifts were brought to the altar by married couples who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary that year. A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated November 1, followed by refreshments in the School Hall, which would later be named for Father Glynn.
On April 26, 1987, Father Cosgrove, who was ordained a priest in 1937, celebrated his Golden Jubilee in the priesthood at St. Hilary’s.
Father Glynn continued to be a part of the important events in the lives of his parishioners, celebrating the Nuptial Mass for Michelle Day and Edward Breslin on March 31, 1990. Father Glynn formed the Pastoral Council and the Finance Committee. He retired from St. Hilary’s Parish in 1994 and celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination in 1998. He died on June 9, 2002.
Msgr. Carroll was appointed Pastor of St. Hilary’s in December, 1994 and installed on January 7, 1995. While he served as Pastor, the parish began the custom of remembering deceased parishioners at a special All Souls’ Day Mass.
Also during Msgr. Carroll’s tenure, St. Hilary’s parishioners continued to memorialize their loved ones during the Christmas season by donating poinsettias to St. Hilary’s Church in their names; and later, Father Murray would expand this practice. The first Valentine’s Day Masses to honor married couples were celebrated on the Saturday near Valentine’s Day at 11:00 during Msgr. Carroll’s time as Pastor.
Father John Foster, who taught at Cardinal Dougherty High School and then at Bishop McDevitt, commuted to St. Hilary’s on the weekends to celebrate Mass, helping Msgr. Carroll and later Father Murray. Father Foster also found time to plant trees and bushes on St. Hilary’s grounds; and many improvements in landscaping have been made by the priests and parishioners through the years. Father Foster died on June 6, 2011, after 60 years of dedicated service as a priest.
Msgr. Carroll continued the highly successful Women’s Group. He founded the Liturgy Committee in September, 1995, and brought the St. Vincent de Paul Society to St. Hilary’s in December, 1995, to provide clothing and food for the needy.
In Msgr. Carroll’s words, “The joy of being a pastor can be found in the sharing of Jesus, in the Eucharist and in the Word, with the people of the parish—each day.” Each year, when it was time for the Parish Visitation and Block Collection, the phone lines were especially busy. Parishioners would call their neighbors, alerting them that Msgr. Carroll was on his way.
In 1997, St. Hilary’s own sports field was built and dedicated to Father Cosgrove. Also in 1997, Msgr. Carroll held an appreciation dinner in the church basement for Eucharistic ministers, lectors, and volunteers. While Msgr. Carroll was pastor, the church basement was renovated to become the Parish and School Hall and dedicated to Father Glynn.
Like all St. Hilary’s pastors, Msgr. Carroll fostered a welcoming spirit in the Parish. John A. Oldynski, a lector at St. Hilary’s and President of the Spirit Club, remembers the kindness which his father received when they moved to St. Hilary’s. Mr. John J. Oldynski, John’s father, was in a wheelchair at that time, and began coming to Mass at St. Hilary’s because the church is handicapped accessible. The parishioners and priests welcomed both father and son from the beginning. One day John’s father fell while being transferred from his wheelchair to the car. Father Kennedy quickly came to help John lift him into the car. Msgr. Carroll, and later Father Murray, showed great kindness toward the elderly man. Just before Mr. Oldynski died in January, 2005, Father Murray assured John that his father had smiled when Father came to visit him.
In the year 2000, Msgr. Carroll implemented Catholic Faith and Life 2000, an Archdiocesan program for spiritual renewal, on Pentecost Sunday. To celebrate the new millennium, the late Phyllis Comly who died in 2013 (Parish Historian and Second Vice President of the original Women’s Guild) and Jim Rutledge who died several years ago (1966 Chairman of the Country Fair) produced a DVD telling the early history of St. Hilary’s in photographs, commentary, and live interviews with Father Henry Birkhead and Father Joseph McLaughlin, who shared their memories of St. Hilary’s on video. Phyllis (Mrs. Elwood H. Comly) had kept a scrapbook of pictures and newspaper clippings that featured St. Hilary’s.
St. Hilary’s welcomed Deacon John Hunter in 2002, to assist in the celebration of the Liturgy and contribute in many ways to the Parish.
Deacon John had been ordained a Deacon by the late Archbishop Bevilacqua on June 9, 2002. He serves on St. Hilary’s Pastoral Council, Finance Committee, Capital Campaign Committee, Jubilee Committee, Church Decor, and on the Liturgy Committee, which was founded by Msgr. Carroll. He also acts as the School Tuition Administrator. Deacon John also organized the Parish Pilgrimage to Rome.
Mr. Steck continued his tenure as principal while Msgr. Carroll was pastor, and he continued to serve as principal until 2008, when Jane Rowles succeeded him. He started St. Hilary School Peace Program in 1994, and was awarded a Connelly Technology Grant for the school in 1997. St. Hilary School received the Young Heroes Award while Mr. Steck was principal. Mrs. Eileen Fagan, who was to become the present Principal, was the Third Grade Teacher at that time.
During Msgr. Carroll’s ten years as Pastor, the CYO expanded from basketball for boys and girls to additional sports and activities for high school and grade school children of the Parish, even before St. Hilary’s got its own home field. Up to 1997, St. Hilary’s Boys’ Basketball Team practiced at Alverthorpe Field, on Forrest Avenue across from Manor College. The early uniform jerseys, with the SH logo in the form of a basketball, were designed by John McGahey. St. Hilary’s School Television Station, WSHS, was founded in 1999. The Peace Program in Saint Hilary School continued with renewed devotion after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Students with exceptional achievements in conflict resolution are awarded the Peace Prize. The Parish Newsletter, called The Leaven, was founded by Msgr. Carroll. It contained information about the many accomplishments of the parish and school. When Msgr. Carroll announced his retirement in May, 2004, his letter to the parishioners appeared in The Leaven.
Parish music at St. Hilary’s continues to follow the guidelines in the Church’s recent documents. Joseph Henry, a member of the Parish Adult Choir, became its Director in January, 1994, with Debbie Forbes Baylets as the Organist. Mr. Henry continued as Choir Director until February, 2001, and is now a regular cantor at weekend liturgies. Mrs. Baylets was Organist and Choir Director from 2001 until August, 2008. In 2008, Msgr. Carroll co-authored L Faith-Filled Heritage, a history of the Philadelphia Archdiocese from its beginning in 1808 up to its Bicentennial Year of 2008. Other contributors to this history were Father Gregory J. Fairbanks and Father Stephen D. Thorne, who have often celebrated Mass at St. Hilary’s. Msgr. Carroll is now the Director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. His 50th Anniversary as a Priest was celebrated in May, 2011.
In June, 2004, Rev. Kevin P. Murray was appointed the fourth Pastor of St. Hilary’s. Father Murray began a review and an evaluation of all areas of parish life, most especially the spiritual life of the parish. The Forty Hours Devotion was introduced as well as Parish Missions, Days of Adoration, and other spiritual activities throughout the year. Greater emphasis was placed on the participation and celebration of the Mass. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The heart and soul of every parish is centered around the Eucharist, our most important parish activity. After a review of the parish grounds and buildings, various projects began. The parking lot and driveways needed to be fixed and the parish grounds tidied up; soon the Garden Club was formed, and its members helped the new pastor beautify the parish property, thanks to the generosity of Evelyn Strigle and Marg Lawton. Randy Reichelt assumed the task of organizing the Garden Club and planting new ﬂowers and shrubs around the parish buildings.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was constructed in 2005 by Mr. Gino Primus with the help of his brother John. The Shrine is dedicated “in loving memory of Patty Plunkett Culp and all whose lives are affected by cancer.” Mrs. Culp had taught fifth and sixth grades at St. Hilary School before her untimely death from cancer. Gino Primus is a professional stonemason. St. Hilary’s Cantor Joseph Henry remembers when Mr. Primus was building a wall in front of St. Matthew’s Church on Cottman Street and Joe Henry was a student at St. Matthew’s. Joe would bring water to Mr. Primus while he was working.
During Father Murray’s first year as Pastor, Mr. Howard Fagan made wooden crosses, numbered to represent the Stations of the Cross, and placed them on the trees along the driveway in front of the church. In good weather during Lent, adults and children can be seen praying the outdoor Stations of the Cross.
Mrs. Eileen Fagan is the present principal of St. Hilary’s School. Mrs. Fagan has continued the Middle States accreditation and has led the school faculty and students to win many awards. As new technology became available, the parish and school would share information through their websites, which contain beautiful, professional presentations. Go to and you will see a picture of “The Right School for Every Child,” followed by a delightful video of Saint Hilary’s classes and activities. At the entrance to St. Hilary School is a bench donated by Mr. Bob Magliani in memory of his daughter, Susan McCardle, who had taught at the school. Mr. Magliani continues to be a generous benefactor to the school.
St. Hilary’s Parish held its first Annual Golf Tournament in 2005. The Golf Outing has become a tradition at North Hills Country Club.
By 2005 the CYO had added soccer to its volleyball and basketball programs, thanks to Colleen and]eff Long and the athletic coaches. The CYO also offers softball and track. Other CYO activities included singing Christmas Carols at St. Joseph Manor.
Then in 2006 Father Murray saw the need for a Capital Campaign, which was entitled “Come Grow With Us.” Its goal was to raise one million dollars to refurbish the four parish buildings. Years of wear and tear and weather were taking their toll on these buildings. The Church, School, Convent, and Rectory were in need of new roofs. True to their spirit of generosity, the parishioners responded most generously, raising the needed funds, in excess of a million dollars, including special gifts.
A new altar, built by Ed Schmidt, was blessed and dedicated September 30, 2006. The image of the Lamb of God, inspired by the Book of Revelation, was carved and painted by Robert McGovern, a famous Philadelphia artist, and inlaid in the front of the altar. Mr. McGovern wrote a reflection on his art work for the Dedication in 2006. The program for the Dedication shows his original sketch of the Lamb of God.
In 2006, the same year as the Dedication of the Altar, St. Hilary’s new church bells were installed and blessed. These bells were a gift from Kathryn Philipp in memory of her parents, Vincent and Marianna Guarna.
The Shrine of St. Hilary of Poitiers in the Church vestibule was blessed on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2007. Robert McGovern’s triptych in the Shrine pictures St. Hilary with Saints Katharine Drexel and John Neumann, who served the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Shrine is donated and dedicated “in loving memory of Martha and William Wheeler.”
The statue of the Resurrected Christ displayed at Easter was donated by Rosemarie Duffy in loving memory of John Duffy. The Statue of the Sacred Heart was donated by Mrs. Rita Steinmetz and Family in loving memory of John V. Steinmetz.
The Sisters of St. Joseph left St. Hilary’s Parish in 2007, and plans began for the Convent building to be renovated and transformed into a Parish Center. This would provide much-needed space for social gatherings and parish organization meetings. Mr. Robert Sawyer, a parishioner and local contractor, oversaw the project. In September of 2009, the former Convent was dedicated to, and named for, the founding pastor, Father ]ohn P. Cosgrove.
Sister Ann Byrne, R.S.M., a Sister of Mercy, was Director of Religious Education from 2004 to 2009. The Adult Faith Formation Committee, founded by Sister Ann and later called the Faith Enrichment Team, has promoted spiritual enrichment activities, especially during Advent and Lent. Sister Dolores Smith, C.M.S., a Camboni Missionary Sister, served as DRE from August 2009 to September 2010. Sister Dolores returned to St. Hilary as DRE in 2012.
The Bereavement Committee was formed by Jim McErlean to help families plan the funerals of their loved ones. Parish annual Retreat Days take place at the Holy Redeemer Provincialate on Moredon Road. In September, 2008, Vincent DiFrancesco, Jr., became the new Organist and Choir Director. Vince started St. Hilary’s Contemporary Choir.
In the fall of 2008, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia launched a major Capital Campaign called the Heritage of Faith Vision of Hope Campaign, which continued until early in 2011. The goal of the Archdiocese was to raise 200 million dollars. Each parish was given a set goal by the Archdiocese. Monies from the Campaign were to be used to support Catholic Education, various Catholic Charities endeavors, and renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. St. Hilary’s Parish was given a goal of $675,000.00. Thirty-five percent of all monies contributed went to the Parish. Once again the generosity of our people was extraordinary, especially in the light of our own Parish Campaign, begun in 2006. Income from these donations was used to purchase a new boiler for the Church and School. Future donations when available would be used for new lighting around the property, new walkways, and renovations of our school. The continuing generosity and good will of our people, especially in these difficult financial times, is a great grace and inspiration.
In the summer of 2009, a Yamaha electric grand piano was installed in the choir loft and connected to the sound system. . The next parish music minister was Sister Marie Gavigan, a Sister of Saint Joseph, who began serving as Organist and Choir Director at Saint Hilary’s in September, 2009. In November, 2009, the Church sound system was upgraded by Joe Kline, of the STK Company. Shortly after the improvements in the sound system, new and brighter lights were installed by parishioner Don Rossi in the choir loft. On December 2, 2009, our Parish Adult Choir sang for the Advent Lessons and Carols, a celebration of Advent readings and music. Advent traditions include the Giving Tree and the lighting of the towering spruce tree outside the rectory.
During the fall of 2009 a very important milestone in parish history was being planned. The families of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Henry and Mrs. Agnes Mulroney decided to make the generous gift of a new organ to Saint Hilary’s Church. Early in 2010, Father Kevin Murray, Deacon John Hunter, Agnes Mulroney, Joe Henry, and Marie Gavigan, S.S.J., began to meet with representatives from different companies. They had the opportunity to see the organ at Saint Rose Church, North Wales, where Father Murray’s brother, Msgr. Daniel Murray, is the Pastor. Rudolph A. Lucente, an internationally-known organist and the Music and Liturgy Consultant at Saint Rose, demonstrated the sounds of the electric organ in Saint Rose Church. The group from ‘ Saint Hilary’s then visited Good Shepherd Church in King of Prussia, where Steve McBride of R.A. Daffer Church Organs, Inc. demonstrated the organ in that church. Steve recommended for Saint Hilary’s an organ similar in size and design to the one in Good Shepherd.
The Rodgers organ was the model which was chosen to be purchased for Saint Hilary’s Church, thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Henry and Mrs. Mulroney. It has a beautiful sound as well as the latest technology. Steve’s demonstration proved him to be an accomplished organist, but it was not till May of 2010, when he sang a solo at the Dedication Ceremony, that our parishioners would hear the beauty and power of his singing voice.
In April of 2010, on Easter weekend, Father Murray announced the good news at all the Masses. The new organ would he installed in May, and dedicated on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010. The removal of the original organ, and the installation of the new organ, were two parts of a huge undertaking. On May 10, 2010, Steve Beddia, who had graciously agreed to provide a new home for the old Tellers organ, and who also gave a donation to Saint Hilary’s Church, arrived at the Church to dismantle the pipe organ. Representatives from the Daffer Organ Company came with him that morning to help remove the old organ and to install the new one. On May 12 and 13, Rudy Lucente and Steve McBride adjusted the voicing of the new organ, playing music using different stops and fine-tuning each sound with the others, thus preparing the organ to be played at the Dedication Ceremony. Music for the Dedication was provided by St. Hilary’s Adult Choir, directed by Sister Marie Gavigan, and St. Hilary’s School Choir, directed by Marlena Rudzinski, with a vocal solo by Steve McBride, and an organ concert by Rudy Lucente. In 2011, Rudy was elected Dean of the American Guild of Organists, Philadelphia Chapter.
In 2010, John Oldynski and Rose Sylvia McDonald, in cooperation with Deacon John and Father Murray, organized the Spirit Club for ages 55 and up, with John Oldynski, Rose Sylvia McDonald, B. J. Verdon, and Bridget McErlean elected as Officers for the year 2010. The Spirit Club quickly grew to a membership of 80 people.
In November, 2010, St. Hilary’s Parish welcomed Mrs. Elizabeth Field as Director of Religious Education. Mrs. Field brought her gifts of leadership, compassion, and direction to the Bereavement Team, the Adult Faith Enrichment Team, and the Parish Religious Education Program (PREP).
Maintenance of the physical plant continues through the years. In July, 2011, the original heating system, consisting of one oil burner for the Church and School, was replaced by two separate gas heaters from the Lima Company (Lima’s Bob Powell is a parishioner) for the Church and School, and one backup unit. The Church crucifix, statues of Mary and Joseph, and Stations of the Cross were restored by Matthew Szczepanowski, of the Conservation Studio for Art in Philadelphia, while Father Murray was Pastor. In 2011, Mr. Szczepanowski was commissioned to restore the statue of Saint Hilary in front of the Church. He and his co-worker Adam Jarzabek removed the statue on July 19 to begin the work of restoration. On July 26, the bushes that had been around the statue were cut down. On August 31, 2011, the newly renovated statue was restored to its place in front of the church.
St. Hilary’s Parish has a strong tradition of promoting respect for human life. The late Alice Woodward started the practice of donating supplies to Birthright, an organization founded in 1967 to help young parents who are struggling financially and give them alternatives to abortion. St. Hilary’s Parish is represented on Birthright’s Board of Directors. Each year, a baby shower for Birthright is held in memory of Alice Woodward, who died in September, 2009. After the 8:00 Mass on weekdays, the Prayer Group says the Rosary to pray for an end to abortion and for the many intentions of our parishioners. In 2011, some parishes in the Philadelphia area have displayed a memorial to the victims of abortion, in the form of crosses in front of the parish churches. During the week of August 3, 2011, this memorial was at St. Hilary’s Church.
St. Hilary School continues to lead the way in technology. During the summer of 2011, the scho0l’s WSHS TV Studio was upgraded. Students have the capability of broadcasting over their own TV Station, making movies, and taking advantage of the latest computer technology. The Student Council and Class Representatives are known for community service. The School Outreach Program involves visiting hospital patients, serving at the soup kitchen, and helping children with special needs. St. Hilary students are often seen at parish events, giving help wherever it is needed. Care and concern for the environment are demonstrated by the herb garden, planted by second and third grade students in conjunction with Holy Redeemer hospital. Its brightly colored decorations include prints of little helping hands.
The tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 was observed with a special prayer service at St. Hilary’s Church. St. Hilary’s School Choir, directed by the School Music Teacher, Mr. Nicholas Pignataro, led the congregation in Evening Prayer and Benediction, enhanced by the music of Taize.
The 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Neumann in the year 2011 was observed in a special way at St. Hilary’s Parish. The homilist at our annual Forty Hours Devotion on October 16, 17, and 18 was Father ]ohn M. Hamrogue, C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist priest like St. John Neumann. Father Hamrogue is stationed at the shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia.
On the evening of November 8, 2011, while St. Hilary’s Adult Choir were practicing for the upcoming Veterans’ Mass, they had the privilege of seeing a beautiful new pulpit being installed in the church sanctuary. It was built by Ed Schmidt, a skilled furniture maker who had attended St. Luke’s School with Deacon John Hunter. It was donated in memory of Mrs. Margaret Hunter, Deacon John’s mother. On the next day, the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, Father Murray blessed and dedicated the new pulpit at the beginning of Mass. The plaque later placed on the pulpit reads “Go Teach All Nations.” Deacon John Hunter, in his homily, reminded us that St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope, and that St. Hilary’s Church is “our own personal cathedral where we come to seek our Lord.” How proud Margaret Hunter would have been to see her son that morning! But we are confident that she was looking down at him from heaven.
Our Parish Choir sang at the 5:00 Mass on November 12, 2011, which was a Liturgy to honor our Veterans and members of the military. Trumpeter Daniel Orlock played Taps after the Blessing of the Veterans.
During the year 2011, almost fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, St. Hilary’s Parish offered a thorough catechesis on the New Roman Missal, in preparation for the changes in the Mass which took place starting in Advent, 2011. Once again, St. Hilary’s did especially well in preparing its people for changes in the Church. Older members of the parish were reminded of the late 1960s, when a wealth of information about Vatican II was available here.