ON A FOUNDATION OF FAITH – SAINT JOSEPH CHURCH, AMBLER
January, 1920, Reverend Joseph T. McDermott arrived in Ambler, PA, sent by the Most Reverend Dennis J. Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, to found a second parish in Ambler in the name of St. Joseph.
Father McDermott found neither church nor rectory awaiting him so he obtained a hall in the Ambler Opera House for use of Sunday worship.
The First Mass
On Passion Sunday, March 21st, he celebrated Holy Mass for the first time in the entertainment palace owned by Keasbey and Mattison.
The first Easter collection yielded seventy-five dollars. The weekly collection plate was between seven and eight dollars.
Father McDermott was able to solicit $10,000 in one year. In July, he rented a house at 808 Rosemary Avenue as a temporary rectory. The first fund-raising event was a carnival that year. The carnival was a tradition in the parish for many years. The first carnival netted $2,700.00. This sum is almost beyond belief considering a cigar and mug of beer only cost a nickel.
The Early Years
Father McDermott was soon able to purchase the land at what is now known as 16 S. Spring Garden St. The rectory was located at 27 S. Spring Garden Street.
In the first fifty years of our parish over 3,189 children were dedicated to God in the saving waters of Baptism and 851 couples shared their love their at our humble altar in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony.
The first group of parish children received their First Holy Communion on June 4, 1921. At the end of the summer of 1921, Father McDermott was able to obtain the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill.
The Building of the Church and School
On Sunday, June 10, 1923, the parishioners received news from Father McDermott that a contract had been let for the construction of a church; the cost $16,480.00, for a building of brick and concrete. There was a basement auditorium for parish socials (today it is the parish gym). The new building was completed by December of that year. The new church was dedicated on December 16, 1923, by the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, the Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph A. Whitaker, who officiated in the name of the Cardinal Archbishop. Two weeks after the church dedication, Father McDermott was transferred to St. Joseph in Ashland.
Father McDermott’s successor, Reverend Jeremiah F. Coyle, was able to purchase the rented house at 28 S. Spring Garden Street. On March 18, 1928, ground was broken for a church-school building. The building was completed at a cost of $64,000.00.
A convent was built on the property in 1955 and fully paid for by 1959. In 1962 a cornerstone for a new school building was laid; it was completed on May 19th of the following year. It had cost $171,166 and was fully paid for by February, 1970.
Our Church Today
St. Joseph’s parish has weathered may storms. During the last century our parish survived depression, wars and enormous changes in society.
Our current church was dedicated in 1976. Our stain glass walls reflect our Catholic Heritage and that of Ambler, including the depiction of the train crash that changed the name to Ambler, after Mary Ambler the heroine of that crash.
We have had three young men ordained to the Holy Priesthood, Father Charles J. Bernhardt, Father John McDaniel and Father John Rotelle, O.S.A. We continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in the prayer of the faithful and our Religious Prep program.
On the Poplar Street side of the church there are two mosaic pictures depicting St. Francis of Paula – Patron Saint of Maida, Italy, whose feast is celebrated annually by the immigrants and their descendants from the little town in the province of Calabria.
We are grateful to the many pastors who have led our faith-filled community. Their pictures and the dates they served can be found in the hall leading to the Heritage Room, which once served as the church. The old social hall, now called the Heritage Room, has since been renovated and is the now the site for Hospitality Sunday as well as other events planned by the parish Fellowship Committee.