Blessed Virgin Mary Parish
Blessed Virgin Mary Church
For over a century now, Blessed Virgin Mary Parish has stood at the intersection of MacDade Blvd. and Main Street in Darby, PA bearing witness to the compassion of Jesus among us through the loving intercession of its patroness Mary. Primarily built by hard-working, faith-filled immigrants from Europe and their descendants, and now invigorated by a new wave of devout immigrants from Africa and Asia, BVM has rejoiced with them in good times and supported them in less fortunate ones. The foundation laid by the early parishioners as they build up the church led to the rich spiritual life and sense of community that continues to be expressed by faith in action up to this day.
BVM has survived many trials over the years from wars and floods to tough economic times. Through it all, the parish has remained a beacon of hope and stability, a testimony that peopl eunited by their love of God can bear all and share all together, joyfully, in faith.
Remembering the Past
The parish began at a time that saw Darby's population growing in the early 1900's thanks to jobs from nearby mills and factories. To serve the pastoral needs of the increasing number of Catholics moving into Darby, many of them immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Italy, Germany, and England, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Most Reverend Edmond F. Fitzgerald, recognized the need to establish a new parish, carved out of St. Clements's in Philadelphia, and Holy Cross, in Sharon Hill. So, in April 1913, the Parish of Blessed Virgin Mary was established in Darby, PA, under Reverend William A. Fitzgerald who served as its Pastor until 1934.
The first Mass was celebrated on April 17, 1913, in a theater in Darby. The owner, Dr. J.W. Harrigan, was a non-Catholic benefactor of the fledgling parish and he allowed use of the theater for Sunday services until a permanent structure could be erected.
And thus began the amazing building campaign, spurred on by the tireless efforts of Fr. Fitzgerald and his successor, Fr. Vincent B. Gallagher, and their devoted parishioners. Structures were completed to meet the needs of its people every step along the way of the young parish's existence--a feat which speaks all the more to the parishioner's unflagging faith considering it was accomplished amidst the backdrop of World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.
First, in the summer of 1914, came a 2-story building on Mac Dade Blvd to house an auditorium and chapel until a permanent church could be built. Then, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, arrived at BVM and, on September 17, 1917, opened the doors of the first school in the Bunting mansion, which stood on the corner where the Church stands today. Before the church could be built though, an increasing number of students necessitated a place to accommodate them and so, in 1922, a 3rd floor with classroom space for 250 pupils was added to the auditorium/chapel building (later to become "the Old School"). In 1923, the Bunting Mansion was moved from the corner down the street 175 feet and renovated into a convent primarily by volunteer workman from the parish.
This is a picture of the Bunting Mansion next to our church on Main Street>>>
Seven years later, on March 29, 1930, the crowning centerpiece of the parish, the majestic church built in an inspiring 13th century Gothic-English style was completed and dedicated to Mary; by 1946, its mortgage had been paid.
Certificate of paid debt for parish--1946 1914--The first school building on MacDade Blvd. 1950--The newer school building.
With classes growing post World War II at a rate of 50-100 students/year, ground was broken for a new school in a lot adjacent to other parish buildings and its doors opened on November 19, 1950. A second floor was added in 1955 to accommodate the children of the Baby Boom generation, with 1,300 students being enrolled in Grades 1-8 by the 1960's.
The final major parish building fell into place when the new convent was opened in August 1954 to house the increasing number of IHM sisters required to teach the growing student population. By the late 1980's when the building was no longer needed as a convent, it was leased to the "Mother's Home" which has provided a loving Christian environment for homeless, pregnant women and their newborn children since 1988.
But buildings do not tell the whole story of a parish. It is, of course, the people who form its heart and soul and create a welcoming environment to which the faithful return week after week to meet Jesus in the sacraments and in their brothers and sisters in the pews around them and in the events and activities that the parish provides.
That welcoming environment starts at the top, and BVM has been blessed with many fine Pastors in its first hundred years:
Rev. William Fitzgerald (1913-1934);
Rev. Vincent B. Gallagher (1934-1971),
who came to the parish as the First Assistant Pastor under Rev. Fitzgerald from (1920-1934);
Rev. James Grogan (1971-1981);
Rev. Edward Conway (1981);
Rev. Msgr. Francis X. Schmidt (1981-1995);
Rev. Peter Foley (1995-1998); and
Rev. Jospeh Corley (1998-present).
Although some served longer than others, each has proved a good steward of the flock entrusted to his care, assisted by many good priests who served at the parish as well--all building up the church during hard times in the first three decades; steering it on a steadfast course through the post-World War II population boom and the changes introduced by Vatican II inside the Church in the 1960's and the assault on social mores that began then in society at large; maintaining it through the economic downturns and declining population growth of the 1970's; and upholding its beliefs in the increasingly self-centered secular world of the 1980's and the fast-paced age of technology that took hold in the 1990's.