I will build my church
The history of OMC is one of commitment, faith, and dedication.
Joseph Middleton was a Quaker convert to Catholicism and owned a great deal of land in Chestnut Hill, a rapidly developing but somewhat remote streetcar suburb in Philadelphia. Middleton was the father of seven children and sought a house of worship to serve both his family and his local community. In 1854, he approached Bishop John Neumann and received encouragement but little in the way of financial support.
Middleton then visited Dr. Patrick Moriarty, the Commissary General of the Augustinian Order in America and Founder and President of Villanova University. Moriarty agreed to serve the congregation if Middleton could produce a church. For $2,500, Middleton purchased a plot of land on Chestnut Hill Avenue, and on June 10, 1855, amidst a crowd large enough to fill sixteen train cars, the cornerstone was laid at the church then known as St. Mary’s. Middleton’s ninth daughter, Agnes, was baptized by Bishop Neumann at the first mass celebrated at the new church on November 11, 1855.
The parish needs a school
Catholic education was of the utmost importance to Neumann, who had established a “Committee for the Education of Catholic Youth” soon after he was installed as Bishop of the Archdiocese in 1852. In his first pastoral letter he stated that “our Catholic youth can be saved only by Catholic schools”
Initially, the pews of this new house of worship in Chestnut Hill were filled with farmers and servants, most of whom were recent arrivals to America from Ireland. As baptisms increased, so too did the need for a school to educate the children of the parish and the community. In answer to the call, the Sisters of Saint Joseph purchased Monticello, the seven-acre estate owned by Joseph Middleton, which is now the site of Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy. The Sisters established their mother house on the property in 1858.
In 1862, religious education classes began in a small tenant house on the grounds. Later, their mission to educate led the Sisters to found Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy in 1871 and Chestnut Hill College in 1924.
As early as May 1862, The Augustinian Fathers at Chestnut Hill had persuaded the sisters to open a day school. Located across the road from the motherhouse in the old home of William Dewees. [It was] an elongated two-storey house of pebble-dashed stone facing the Wissahickon on land now separated by the road from the old paper mill property. This house was included in the purchase made by the sisters, and in it they conducted from 1862 until 1881 what may be presumed to be the first Catholic “free school” in old Germanopolis and its environs. In 1881, the school relocated to the basement of the church at Our Mother of Consolation. The Sisters continued to live at the Motherhouse, riding to and fro in an old horse-drawn vehicle.
– Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, 1950 history, page 140
The parish community continued to grow and in 1881 the school relocated to the church basement. Under the supervision of their principal, Sister Flavia, the 110 students focused on recitation, reading, writing, math, and religion. Recess was held on the lot now occupied by the rectory. In 1888, the parish hall and four classrooms were built to accommodate the growing parish and school. Over the years the parish continued to thrive, and in 1904 a larger rectory was built with the school enlarging in 1914. In 1916, after a fire the year before, a new Gothic Revival granite and limestone structure was erected by local stonemasons to house the parish school.
The Oblates arrive
On June 30, 1999, the Augustinian Fathers relinquished administration of Our Mother of Consolation to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. One day later, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province were entrusted with the pastoral care of the parish and the school. The Oblates recognize the necessity of living in the present moment, the goodness of creation, and the sanctity of performing all actions “passionately well.” OMC has been blessed by their presence.
Now, as at its founding, OMC continues to serve the Catholic Community, as well as promote a faith-filled educational environment with a commitment to a 21st-century education. The fire of the Spirit that created our school in 1862 still burns today with the Oblates, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and an engaged and dynamic faculty and staff, all of whom are united to educate children in a blessed, excellent, and explicitly Catholic environment.