The History of

Saint Teresa of Avila Parish

Even before Washington and his troops braved the long, cold winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, Jesuit Missionaries passed through the area ministering to the hardy Catholic settlers.  While the region continued to develop well after colonial times, it wasn't until later that the Philadelphia Protectory for Boys (Saint Gabriel Hall), founded under the auspices of the Christian Brothers, made its institutional chapel available to the Catholics of the immediate neighborhood.  Father James J. Gildea, who served as chaplain of the Protectory, realized that some provision should be made for Catholics scattered throughout the Valley Forge area.  He was successful in obtaining permission from the Most Reverend Archbishop Prendergast to open a mission church in a vacant storeroom adjoining the former Garnett's Grocery in Port Kennedy. Thus, on August 24, 1918, a congregation of fewer than twenty parishioners attended the celebration of the first Mass as the tiny chapel was dedicated to Saint Teresa of Avila.

A few months later, a larger room was obtained on the second floor of the Taylor Fibre Company factory. This room had formally been used as a storage area for scenery and effects of America's first moving picture industry at Betzwood where the surrounding terrain afforded splendid settings for many western dramas!

While somewhat larger than the original site at Port Kennedy, the mill chapel was still quite small. The twelve by fifteen foot room was barely large enough to accommodate the approximately seventy-five parishioners. Marriages and other services were still performed in the chaplain's quarters of St. Gabriel Protectory. Indeed, the bond between the Protectory and the tine parish grew quite strong as the Christina Brothers supplied the organist, choir, and altar boys for Mass, and the Protectory band presented concert music for many of the parish gatherings.

In 1948, Father Charles D. Collum made an appeal to His Eminence Cardinal Dougherty for permission to organize a campaign to collect funds for land purchase and building expenses. The campaign was successful, and on November 12, 1951, ground was broken for the crypt of the proposed parish church. Six months later, the cornerstone was laid for a church which would be considered a memorial of Catholic participation in the history of America. The Most Reverend Joseph McShea, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia presided over the ceremony.

On Sunday, August 2, 1952, the first Mass was celebrated by Father Collum, attended by an initial congregation of over four hundred and fifty persons.

The aim of the program was to add one section after another until the total edifice was reality. Unfortunately, Father Collum died in 1958 before additional work on the memorial could be completed.  Today, his remains lie beneath the cross-shaped monument in front of the crypt on Trooper Road, beneath the outstretched arms of the Sacred Heart.

His successor, Father Raphael C. O'Brien was assigned as pastor on July 15, 1958, and he began the formidable task of building the parish school.  Prior to that time, children from St. Teresa attended either St. Ann School in Phoenixville or St. Francis of Assisi School in Norristown.  The cornerstone for the school was laid by Father O'Brien in 1959.  In September of 1960, St. Teresa School opened for its first session with ninety-six students.  That same year, a home which was to be used as a convent was purchased on Cedar Grove Lane in Betzwood.  The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, staffed St. Teresa o Avila's School.

All religious services continued to be held in the basement chapel until 1965 when the church hall was added to the school, and the open end of the school completed.  Sunday Masses were held in the hall, and daily Masses were said in the chapel, which was refurbished by parishioners in 1971.

In 1974, Father O'Brien retired, and Father Thomas F. Walsh became Pastor.  Born in Philadelphia, Father Walsh attended Holy Cross School and St. Joseph Preparatory School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.  He was ordained in 1945 and his assignment included St. Gabriel Parish, St. Timothy Parish, and St. Anne Parish. he was also a faculty member at Southeast Catholic High School, and chaplain at the U.S. Air Force stationed in Korea.

During his 16 years as Pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church, Father Walsh worked tirelessly to pay off the debt incurred by past building expenses. Once this was accomplished, he began planning for the erection of a new House of Worship worthy of the parish. On August 27, 1983, Father's dream became a reality as the first Mass was celebrated in our present magnificent Church. Before long, he had paid off the entire debt and had built a new addition to the school.

Father Walsh retired in 1990, and later became a resident of Villa St. Joseph in Darby, where he died in 2004 at the age of eighty-five.

With Father Walsh's retirement, St. Teresa welcomed Father Francis E. Kelly as pastor.  Father Kelly grew up in Norristown and attended St. Patrick School and LaSalle College High School. Upon his graduation from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Father was ordained in 1955. Over the years he was stationed in a number of local parishes, including St. Anslem and Holly Innocents, both in Philadelphia, St. Anastasia (Newtown Square), St. Francis (Norristown), and St. Mary (Schwenksville).

In no time it became clear that once more St. Teresa had been blessed with a pastor under whose kindly guidance we continued to grow in size and grace. In 1998, Father Kelly was assigned as Senior Priest to St. Aloysius in Pottstown. Presently retired and living in Skippack, Father continues to assist his fellow priests at St Paul Parish in Norristown and St. Mary Parish in Schwenksville.

Monsignor Andrew Golias received his appointment as pastor of St. Teresa of Avila on November 2, 1998, the anniversary of St. Teresa's entrance into the Carmelite Monastery of Avila. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he attended St. Marin of Tours Parochial School and went to the high school at St. Joseph Prep.  Father entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary after his graduation, but didn't enter the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) because he felt his vocation was to a parish ministry and not to the classroom. Yet, he came  to our parish after fifteen years as a member of the Seminary faculty and nine years as the director of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program. Here at St. Teresa, Father Golias enjoyed teaching religion to the children, Scripture to the adults, and Latin to the fifth and sixth graders of the parish school. Father Golias was Installed to Saint Teresa in December 19, 1998, which was the anniversary of his very first Mass.

In 2012, Father J. Jerome Wild received the assignment to Pastor of St Teresa of Avila Parish in 2012. Father Wild was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1981 by John Cardinal Krol. Prior to his life here at Saint Teresa, Father Wild’s first assignment was Assumption BVM Church in Feasterville, PA from 1981- 1985.   In addition to serving as the Parochial Vicar at the parish Father also served as a chaplain at Archbishop Wood High School and served on the Archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal.

 

In 1985, Cardinal Krol, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, assigned Fr. Wild to post-graduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in Italy to pursue a degree in Moral Theology.  Fr. Wild completed this S.T.L. degree in 1988 and returned to priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

 

Throughout his ministry as a priest, Father Wild has taught Theology and various courses in Christian Ethics at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Gwynedd Mercy University and Villanova University.  In addition, Father has served in various positions of priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as a Parochial Vicar, Campus Minister at Temple University, Parochial Administrator and Pastor.

Father Wild considers the parish to be the privileged place where the faithful concretely experience the Church.  Each parish is a worshiping community of faith. It is where the Gospel is preached, the sacraments are celebrated and where most people learn what is means to be a Christian community.

 

Consequently, Father Wild is fully committed to continuing to lead St. Teresa of Avila Parish as it’s spiritual leader and to helping parishioners to grow in their discipleship and become more fully, living walking witnesses to Jesus.  This involves helping individuals and families to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus.   It involves further the ratifying of that faith sacramentally, especially in the faithful and reverent celebration of the Holy Eucharist and in committing themselves thereby to membership and mission for the sake of the Kingdom of God, the rule of God’s love in history.

 

As the Parish of St. Teresa of Avila celebrates the centenary of its founding as a parish community, Fr. Wild invites all parishioners to commit themselves to being “living stones” of this faith community.  This means the ongoing work of  building  a parish foundation  on the pillars of reverencing God’s holy Word, worship, community building and service in the name of Jesus Christ, our brother and our Risen Lord.

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