A Brief History of St Eleanor Parish

From humble beginnings, St Eleanor Parish has grown to over 13,000 members in 2017. “That’s a far cry from the opening decade when there were only 20 families (swelled by summer vacationers escaping the heat of the city) and for that matter, the parish was called St. Clare. The name was changed to St. Eleanor in the 1920s to indirectly honor the memory of Catholic poet Eleanor Donnelly (1838-1917) who left $5,000 in her will for a needy parish, and it was given to St. Clare’s. The name was changed when the first church was built in 1921.

Backing up even further, as early as the 1880s, the then tiny hamlet on Perkiomen Creek, which takes its name from Ursinus College, would be visited by priests from Bally, Pottstown or Phoenixville.

When Father Thomas Sullivan arrived in 1911 to establish the then-St. Clare Parish he first celebrated Mass at what was the Commercial Hotel and Shepherds Hall. In addition to his tiny flock in Collegeville, he would travel by horse and buggy to outlying chapels in East Greenville and Green Lane.

The first little stone church was built by Father William A. Buesser at the time the parish was renamed.

One family who moved into the parish in 1939, and remembers that, before there was a school, the children would be bused to St. Francis, Norristown. In 1943, when Father John O’Neill opened a school with 77 students, it was impossible to build because of war restrictions, so it was in a converted dwelling. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur led by Sister Helena Julie lived on the top floor while the lower floor and basement had the classrooms, chapel and lunch room. Students were taught two grades to a room. A school was built when war restrictions were removed and served until the present school opened in 1992. The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary succeeded the Notre Dame Sisters in 1970, and now there is an entirely lay faculty...

...1971, when Father Francis Lennon was, pastor  the present larger church was erected, and just in time because the next several decades saw phenomenal growth – 1,686 families in 1990, 3,051 families in 2000 and 4,090 families in 2010.

Perhaps the most dramatic event in parish history occurred in the early morning hours of July 18, 1978. An electrical fire in the rectory caused the smoke alarm to go off, and Father Lennon, who heard it, notified his assistant, Father Patrick Sweeney, and with no other means of escape, clad in pajamas, they climbed out onto the porch roof, where the fire department swiftly rescued them. The rectory was gutted but thankfully no one was injured.”

An expansion of the church was completed around the year 2000 to accommodate the growing communities that encompass St Eleanor Parish.  In 2011, the Parish Office was completed and the residence for the priests was moved to the Parish House on Sixth Avenue.

Credits: Catholicphilly.com; Lou Baldwin

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