The History of Our Parish
The Beginning of the St. Ann's Parish: The story of St. Ann's Parish began in 1868. On the Feast Day of St. James the Greater, a group of benefactors, James Bradford, William Bowe and Edward Mahoney, met at the urging of prominent local businessman James Riddle to discuss the establishment of a church to serve the area bounded by Van Buren Street, Mt. Salem Lane, 8th Street and the Brandywine River. The happy consequence of this meeting was a decision to establish the Parish of St. James, to be located on Lovering Avenue. Construction of the new church began immediately.
St. James Chapel. In 1869, the year following the foundation of the Diocese, permission came to build the church from the first diocesan bishop, The Most Reverend Thomas R. Becket. Located on the north side of Lovering Avenue between DuPont was described at the time as a neat frame structure, tasteful and substantial, dimensions 37x57 feet, surmounted by a cupola on which was a large cross. Over the next eighteen years. St. James Chapel served the community well through its many ministries.
Train Troubles. As the new industrial age flourished, the tranquility of St. James changed. Specifically, the tracks of the new B&O Railroad were laid so near the church that, according to a parish historian, "the clanging of -the-bell, the piercing whistle, the snorting steam and crunching wheels of the vibrating trains rumbling by, shattered the rustic peace of the neighborhood and endangered the slender foundation of Saint James". As a result, it was decided the parish would have to relocate.
St. Ann's is built. Church leaders quickly settled on property located at the intersection of Gilpin Avenue and Union Street and in December of 1887, a new one-story church was built at this site. The cost of $9,911 was funded in large part by the Vicar General of the Diocese, the Very Reverend John A. Lyons. This contribution was commemorated by the renaming of the Parish after his mother, Ann. Thus, the parish came to be dedicated to St. Ann, the mother of Mary.
Growth and Change. The new parish quickly flourished. In November of 1892, a second story and a tower were added to the church. 1899 saw the building of St. Ann School and 1910 brought a new convent to house the school's Franciscan sisters. During this period the wooden steps of the Church were replaced with stone steps.
The Church is Lowered. In 1933, during the Great Depression, the church building was extensively renovated: the twenty-eight front steps were removed as was the upper church floor, so that the basement floor level became the floor of the church as well as the new entrance level. New Gothic pews were added and a new lower ceiling was added 15 feet below the old peak. The upper level doorways were converted tracery windows, new entrances were constructed and a stone wing was added to the rear of the church. The resulting edifice, looking much as it does today, was rededicated in 1935. In the midst of all of this activity, St. Ann's priests, sisters and lay ministers quietly served their flock guided by the Light Of Christ and the selfness example of the Parish Patroness, St. Ann.
More Recent Changes. The second half of the 20th century was equally exciting for St. Ann's. In 1969, a new Social Hall and Gym were dedicated, the result of countless hours of work. In 1995, a new wing was built out from the Social Hall and incorporated the then vacant convent. In addition to significant renovation to the original school building, new classrooms were built and the school was divided into two distinct wings: the Franciscan Wing, housing the lower grades, and the Taggart Wing, housing the upper grades, new specialty classrooms and parish meeting spaces. The transformation resulted in a state-of-the art facility, in which the best of both the old and the new were combined. In that same year, the Mary Mother of the Church Grotto was dedicated. In 1999, St. Ann School celebrated its centennial, marked by a year-long celebration.