History of Our Lady of Peace & Notre Dame de Lourdes
The population of Ridley Township was expanding during the later years of the First World War. The township’s Catholic population, at this time, was serviced by St. Madeline and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parishes. By 1917, with the expanding Catholic population, a need arose for a missionary outreach to the community then known as Ridley Park Heights. However, this missionary designation was short-lived. By 1922, a need for a permanent parish in Milmont Park was evident.
Dennis Cardinal Dougherty established Our Lady of Peace Parish on June 19, 1922. While the mission tag was removed the mission atmosphere remained. Mass continued to be celebrated in the rectory until more permanent parish structures could be erected. Groundbreaking for the parish church and school – the current OLP Parish Center – occurred on November 19, 1927 with the building being dedicated in May of 1930.
Population growth continued in Ridley Township most notably in the postwar years of the late forties and throughout the fifties. While the parish was celebrating its Silver Jubilee in 1947 plans were already underway for a new church structure.
This vision was realized less than a decade later when groundbreaking for the current Our Lady of Peace Church occurred on December 8, 1954. The first Mass was celebrated at the new church on August 15, 1956.
In the six plus decades since, OLP Church has witnessed cosmetic changes to its appearance such as the relocation of its baptistery, and the addition of statuary where confessionals once stood. And it was in this beautiful edifice that the events of the past century were celebrated with an anniversary Mass on June 19, 2022 celebrated by our Archbishop, The Most Reverend Nelson J. Perez.
In September of 1929, Our Lady of Peace School opened. The school was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph. This was the beginning of an eighty year legacy of Catholic Education between the Sisters and the children of Our Lady of Peace Parish.
The original school rested on the second floor of the new Church building. Eight classrooms were on the second floor. Even before the parish’s Silver Jubilee celebration additional temporary classroom space was made available for the increasing number of students. By 1952 an addition to the original Church building was made to accommodate more classroom space. However, the need for additional classrooms was clear.
The dedication of the new Our Lady of Peace Church in 1956 afforded additional classroom space in the original school building. Yet, by the mid fifties there was a paramount need for a new school structure. Groundbreaking for the new school occurred on August 15, 1959 and the building welcomed its first students in the fall of 1960. The new school featured sixteen classrooms with a cafeteria on the ground floor level. Yet with an expanding kindergarten program, the old school building was still utilized for this purpose as well as for the overflow of the larger school population.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, with our school population slightly over one hundred students, the need for our school dissipated. Instruction formally ended at the close of the 2009 academic year and students were welcomed into Notre Dame de Lourdes School beginning in September of 2009.
A postwar population growth brought about the need for a parish community in Milmont Park, and it was the population growth of a different postwar period that brought further changes.
Shortly after the new Our Lady of Peace Church was dedicated the Archdiocese of Philadelphia determined that the population growth in the Swarthmorewood section of Ridley Township would require a new parish to meet the spiritual needs of the community. Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish was established in February, 1959. The new parish was established from a restructuring of the boundaries of both Our Lady of Peace, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parishes. On the eleventh of February 1959, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, John Cardinal O’Hara bestowed the name of Notre Dame de Lourdes upon this new parish.
While the parish structures were being conceived, Mass was celebrated at the College Theatre on Chester Road. The first Sunday collection total of $742 was an initial glimpse of the generosity to follow.
Groundbreaking for the school, and a temporary chapel occurred on December 20, 1959. Work proceeded at a rapid pace and by September of 1960 the school was ready to receive its first students. The first Mass was celebrated at the chapel on December 8, 1960, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It was this title that Our Lady of Lourdes used to refer to herself when questioned by St. Bernadette – “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
The initial vision for the parish was to have this first chapel serve as the school gymnasium, a church was to be built at the corner of the property. Topographical challenges made this infeasible and the original chapel became the parish church. In preparation for the parish’s Silver Jubilee the Church was remodeled. Masses were celebrated in Nelson Hall until the first Mass in the renovated Church was celebrated in the Autumn of 1984.
By the late nineteen-fifties the expanding population in the area saw the need for a new church and school building at Our Lady of Peace. By the end of the decade it was apparent that a new parish was necessary for the area. Thus, the establishment of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish brought with it the necessity for a school.
Groundbreaking for the school, and the current worship site structure, occurred simultaneously on December 20, 1959. It was a race to beat the clock but Notre Dame de Lourdes School was ready to receive its first students in September of 1960. Similar to the staffing at Our Lady of Peace School, the Sisters of St. Joseph staffed Notre Dame de Lourdes School.
Notre Dame de Lourdes School opened with eight classrooms and a cafeteria. Shortly after opening the need for additional classroom space was evident. Four additional classrooms were added by mid-decade. When the topographical challenges of building a new church on the corner of the property became evident, so too did the need for a new gymnasium space.
Nelson Hall, named for the founding pastor, was completed in 1965. The dedication of Nelson Hall enabled the school to have gymnasium facilities as well as to regain a cafeteria site that was being encroached upon for classrooms for an ever expanding school population.
In September of 2009 Notre Dame de Lourdes School welcomed students from Our Lady of Peace Parish to its facilities. With the extinctive union of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish with Our Lady of Peace Parish in 2014 the school remained operational. Today the school retains its name of Notre Dame de Lourdes while under the banner of Our Lady of Peace Parish.
Increases in population brought about the need to have two distinct parishes serving the Folsom, Milmont Park, Swarthmore wood, Swarthmore, and Woodlyn communities. A combination of population decreases and the sad reality of declining numbers of Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis brought about the restructuring of parish boundaries in several Delaware County communities in 2013. Our own community was eventually impacted by this restructuring when in 2014 Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish was juridically subsumed into Our Lady of Peace Parish and its parish boundaries incorporated through an extinctive union into Our Lady of Peace Parish.
While the Our Lady of Peace worship site is acknowledged as the principal worship space for our parish, Mass continues to be celebrated in both of our worship sites. Engaging and vibrant liturgies can be found at both the Our Lady of Peace, and Notre Dame de Lourdes worship sites each Sunday. Our weekdays begin with Mass at Our Lady of Peace followed by our Sodality prayers, and as each week draws to a close we gather at Notre Dame de Lourdes to acknowledge the intercessory presence of The Blessed Mother, our cherished Patroness.
As part of the celebration of the centennial of Our Lady of Peace Parish in 2022, a Corpus Christi Procession was led by Archbishop Perez. The Blessed Sacrament was solemnly led through the streets of our parish from the Our Lady of Peace worship site to the Notre Dame de Lourdes worship site. It is the Eucharist that binds us as one as Catholics and it is the Eucharist that binds us as one community of faith.
St. Irenaeus, a second century Theologian and Doctor of the Church, whose name is derived from a Greek word meaning “peace,” offered the following observation about the followers of Christ: “The believers of Christ come from many different locations but they live in one house, they have different perspectives but they share one heart, they have different personalities but they share one soul, they have many voices but speak through one mouth.”
The words of this Doctor of Unity, spoken nineteen centuries ago, still resonate through the streets of our parish. We share in the one house of Christ, we serve through his one heart, we are nourished through his one soul, and we evangelize through his one mouth.
Our Lady of Peace 100th Anniversary
RIDLEY TOWNSHIP — In celebration of Our Lady of Peace Parish’s 100th Anniversary, Archbishop Nelson Pérez will celebrate Mass, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, June 19, the exact date when the parish was founded 100 years ago.
June 19 is also the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of The Lord, commonly known as the Feast of Corpus Christi. Since Eucharistic processions are traditional on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Rev. Joseph Devlin, pastor of OLP, is planning a procession, led by the archbishop with the Blessed Sacrament, leaving from Our Lady of Peace Church, 208 Milmont Ave. in the Milmont Park section of Ridley Township and processing to Notre Dame deLourdes, 950 Michigan Ave., in the Swarthmore wood section of Ridley Township, immediately following the 11:30 a.m. Mass that day. Following Pérez and Devlin, a procession of parishioners and other guests will walk on foot and ride by bike to the destination, with cars driving at the end of the processing line.
With the assistance of police, the cars will process to the parking lot via Milmont Avenue to the Michigan Avenue driveway of Notre Dame’s property. Once parishioners have parked their cars, they’ll assemble near Nelson Hall in the Notre Dame School yard/parking lot.
When the archbishop arrives at Notre Dame in a pick-up truck, with the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the monstrance, everyone will line up, two by two, processing behind the archbishop, who will be carrying the Blessed Sacrament from the parking lot into the front doors of Notre Dame Church. Kathryn McDermott will lead the procession in song.
Once inside Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, participants will conclude the Corpus Christi procession with Benediction. Afterwards, everyone is invited to a reception with Pérez in Nelson Hall.
“It’s supposed to be a beautiful, sunny day on Sunday, so we’re hoping for a large turnout,” Devlin stated. “We hope our parishioners, former parishioners, friends and neighbors, will come out to celebrate with us on this very special day!”
Our Lady of Peace was originally a mission of St. Madeline’s Church in Ridley Park. A large frame house at the corner of Milmont and Belmont avenues was donated for use as a Mission Chapel on the first floor. The structure was dedicated on April 15, 1917. The upper floors were equipped as meeting rooms for religious education and social clubs.
The population of the area grew steadily so that there were enough Catholics to form a separate parish. On June 19, 1922, Our Lady of Peace was founded with Father Aloysius Rees as the pastor.
For the first seven years, the little chapel continued to serve parishioners until a new building was built for Our Lady of Peace in 1929. This structure housed the first church and school rooms on the second floor.
Today, this original parish building is still in use for meetings and parish shows and as a gymnasium.
Our Lady of Peace Parish and School continued to grow and expand, eventually building a beautiful new church in 1956 and school building in 1960, under the leadership of Rev. I. Walter Nall, pastor. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill faithfully served the parish school until its closure in June, 2009.
On July 1, 2014, Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish, Swarthmore, was merged with Our Lady of Peace Parish. Today, both have blended to become one parish community with two sites, the Our Lady of Peace site and the Notre Dame site. The Notre Dame site is where the parish school is located.
“While the merger and transition has not always been easy, we continue to move forward, working toward unity,” Devlin stated. “My hope is Archbishop Perez’s visit to both sites for the parish’s centenary on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, focused on the Eucharist at the celebration of the Mass and Eucharistic procession that will follow, will be a blessed and graced moment fostering greater unity for the one parish that has two proud histories.”
The parishioners began planning the year-long centennial celebration of Our Lady of Peace back in 2021. Planning committee members include Devlin, Deacon John Ellis, Sr., and Deacon Jim Basilio, with parishioners Jackie Basquill, Rosie Moran, John Ellis Jr., Barbara Walker, Diane McFadden and Anna D’Ambrosio.
“I’m very excited for Sunday,” expressed committee member Moran. “I wanted to be a part of the planning because I would do anything to help my church.”
Moran, whose grandparents were the very first couple to be married in OLP Church, received all of her sacraments there, including being married there herself. She is a 1970 graduate of Our Lady of Peace School. Committee members credited Moran with cooking and preparing most of the food for Sunday’s reception.
The 100-year anniversary celebration officially began in January, opening with a Mass celebrated by Perez at Our Lady of Peace Church. In addition to the Mass, Procession of the Eucharist, and Reception with Perez on June 19, the committee has plans for a parish picnic on Sept. 11 at Father Nall Field, a Golden Girls Mystery Theatre event in Nelson Hall in November, and a closing of the centennial celebration on December 31, with a special Vigil Mass, followed by a New Year’s Eve party.
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