Saint Matthias Roman Catholic Church
At the turn of the century, as Lower Merion suburban communities developed around station stops of the Pennsylvania Railroad, so did the religious institutions conveniently locate their parish churches. Typical of this growth pattern is St. Matthias Roman Catholic Parish which was founded by Archbishop John Ryan on February 2, 1906. The first Mass was celebrated by Father Michael McCabe, the founding pastor, on February 2nd at the Lonergan home on Union Avenue and Conshocken State Road.
A New Parish. Following a generous gift of property on Bryn Mawr and Highland Avenues from John E. Lonergan, ground was broken and the cornerstone for the new parish church laid in October 1906. The church and rectory were designed by George I. Lovett and was the first example in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of the monastery church style of the 12th and 13th centuries.
The new church was dedicated on November 8, 1908 by Archbishop Ryan. It was renovated in 1931 at which time the mural paintings were placed there.
The parish school and convent for the Sisters of Mercy were later built in the same picturesque architectural style, lending themselves to the beautiful suburban area. Total enrollment at that time: 19 pupils.
In the Chapel of the Crucified Christ (on the side of the church) are buried the first two pastors of the parish: Father Michael J. McCabe, the founding pastor, served from 1908 to 1918; his brother, Father Luke V. McCabe served the parish community from 1918 to 1930.
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary was founded in 1832 by the Most Reverend Francis P. Kenrick, third Bishop of Philadelphia. The initial location of the Seminary was the home of Bishop Kenrick on Fifth Street in Philadelphia. Circumstances dictated the subsequent moves to the northwest corner of Fifth and Prune (now Locust) Streets, to St. Mary’s Rectory on Fourth Street, and eventually to the southeast corner of Eighteenth and Race Streets in Philadelphia. For an 11-year period the preparatory division of the Seminary was located at Glen Riddle in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. In 1863, Archbishop James F. Wood made the first of three purchases of property just outside Philadelphia in Overbrook. Today these purchases in Lower Merion Township comprise the Seminary campus.
Architects Addison Hutton and Samuel Sloan designed the building where the preparatory college and theology divisions were reunited in September 1871. In December 1875, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception was formally dedicated by Archbishop Wood. Subsequent Archbishops of Philadelphia have made improvements on the campus: Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan: Library (1911); Archbishop Edmond Prendergast: student residence hall; Dennis Cardinal Dougherty: the college building as you enter the main gates; John Cardinal O’Hara: indoor swimming pool; John Cardinal Krol: residence hall for theology students and multipurpose building dedicated to St. John Vianney (1971). The buildings that consist of the current Theology Division and the Ryan Memorial Library stand at the western end of the campus. The Seminary College is located at the eastern end.
Mission. The fundamental mission of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is the formation of Catholic men of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of other dioceses, and of religious communities for pastoral service in the Roman Catholic priesthood. The Seminary is committed to providing a unified college and theology program of formation in priestly spirituality, pastoral ministry, celibate witness, emotional maturity, intellectual integrity and physical wellness.
This program is complemented by personal and community prayer, a comprehensive academic program of liberal arts and theological studies, and a program of pastoral preparation designed primarily for parochial ministry.
Offering its resources to the larger church community through its Religious Studies Division, the Seminary provides a variety of academic and pastoral programs to serve the needs and interests of priests, deacons, and the religious in parochial and other ministries, other parish ministers, teachers of religion and interested lay persons. The Seminary is committed to serving the need for ongoing formation and preparation for pastoral ministry.
Structure. The seminary is a fully accredited college and graduate school of theology. It consists of three divisions: College, Theology, and Religious Studies. Potential candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood pursue a program which consists of a four year liberal arts curriculum followed by a four year curriculum within the professional school of theology. The seminary offers the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts.
Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and several other dioceses participate in the College Division’s Spirituality Year Program in Northampton, Pennsylvania as part of the normal preparation for the Theology Division. These programs are envisioned as parts of a single uniform program of formation for the priesthood which gives the Seminary its distinct identity.
In addition to its responsibility for the formation of candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood, the seminary also serves as a center of theological education for laity and the religious in the Greater Philadelphia area and around the country. Its Religious Studies Division conducts evening and summer courses on both the graduate and undergraduate levels in Catholic theology, Sacred Scripture, and related fields. The Religious Studies Division offers a fully accredited Master of Arts Degree Program. All programs are designed to foster greater knowledge and deeper appreciation of the Catholic faith and keener awareness of the religious needs of all men and women.
Within the Larger Community. The campus provides the setting for numerous activities in the course of the year. While not directly related to the Seminary program, events such as prayer meetings, clerical and professional conferences, alumni reunions, vocation weekends and a summer camp for children give evidence of the Seminary’s spirit of openness for the sake of service. In addition, a number of Archdiocesan offices have been located on campus: the Vocations Office for Diocesan Priesthood, Family Life Office, and the Office for the Permanent Diaconate and Church Ministry Training Program. The various educational projects and workshops conducted on campus together with the services that the Ryan Memorial Library extends to the larger community create a spirit of vitality and outreach for the Seminary.
St. Luke United Methodist Church
The first recorded meeting of area Methodists was in 1778, just as our nation was gaining its independence. That prayer service was held in the James Mansion House in Rosemont. A Class Meeting, in 1780, led to the founding of the log church in Radnor, known as “Methodist Hill.” A few other infant congregations shared pastors who served the “circuit.” The 1876 Centennial and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s expansion of settlement in the area led the Methodists to build a more convenient house of worship in Bryn Mawr. Dedicated in 1879, the building cost $8,700. Originally called Bryn Mawr Chapel, the church was given the name St. Luke, beloved physician of the Bible and to honor the noted family of local physicians, the Andersons. In 1962, the “new” St. Luke sanctuary was consecrated. The church continues, after 200 years, to minister to the spiritual needs and fellowship of its people and the surrounding communities.
The African American Community
For generations, African Americans have relied on the church for leadership. Black churches led the struggle for human rights when African Americans were disenfranchised, unable to rely on politicans. As blacks began migrating into the Ardmore community in the late 19th century, they were invited to worship at a local white Baptist church located at Lancaster and Woodside Roads. From 1875 to 1893, blacks and whites attended church together; children attended communal Sunday School services. As the black members of this church became more numerous, plans were made to create a separate facility; the Zion Baptist Church was chartered in 1894.
Zion Baptist Church
Late in the last century, a meeting was called at the home of Caroline Strother to organize a new church for worship by blacks. Shortly thereafter, in March 1894, Zion Baptist Church was chartered under the auspices of Mother Zion Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
Until moving into their present site (West Spring Avenue in Ardmore), Zion’s congregation met in a 10×15 foot room in a small frame building generously supplied by the First Baptist Church, located on the northeast corner of of Cricket Avenue. Later in 1894, for the sum of $1,500, a 90×263 foot lot housed a 27×60 foot building utilized for worship until 1899.
During that time, worshippers undertook a massive construction project, completing work on a $7,000 addition (quite a sum in those days). The original frame building, used as a chapel upon completion of the addition, continued to serve members until it was destroyed by fire in 1913.
Since being chartered, Zion has enjoyed the service of nine reverends and are presently led by Pastor James A. Pollard, Jr. Having recently celebrated their 100th anniversary in 1995, Zion continues as a beacon of light for the hardworking residents of South Ardmore.
Mount Calvary Baptist Church
Mount Calvary (Walnut Avenue in Ardmore) was organized during a meeting at the home of Mrs. Flora Woodson of Simpson Road, Ardmore, in January of 1906. First services were held later in that month under the direction of Reverend E. Luther Cunningham, who served for two years. The church gained official recognition shortly thereafter (April 1906) by unanimous vote of the Baptist Churches of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
Since establishment, nine reverends have accepted the pastorate. Of these men, Reverend F. M. Hedgeman had served the longest: 1913 to 1953! During his long tenure, the church grew in size and relevance in the Ardmore community; a new church was erected and dedicated (the mortgage was retired after only nine years), a new entrance and additional Sunday School facilities were added and a new pipe organ was installed.
Mount Calvary is presently led by Pastor Albert Gladstone Davis, Jr. Under his leadership, many new and successful programs have been instituted, including the Board of Christian Education, Christmas Candlelight Services, Holy Week Services and the Parents Ministry Group, which works to address issues in local schools.
Having recently celebrated their 90th anniversary in 1996, Mount Calvary boasts a steadily growing congregation of more than 300 members.
The Jewish Community
While it is true that most of the Main Line was composed of people who were both Christian and white, in time certain minorities began to grow. Here, in territory that was founded in the 1680s and was steeped in Quakerism and Protestantism, a flourishing Jewish community has emerged. Beginning in 1884, the emigration of the Harrison family from Louisiana signaled a change, a change mirrored by communities as diverse as those in New York City and Auburn, Maine. Devoted to their faith, Jews worshipped in their homes until 1936 when the Main Line Hebrew Association was chartered. The houses of worship which ensued exhibit some of the finest modern architecture in the region.
Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim (Reform). Founded in 1952, the Temple is housed in a circular structure that was designed by Matthew B. Ehrlich and Ezekiel Levinson. It is the only Main Line congregation to have been founded by a woman, Mrs. Natalie Lansing Hodes, who headed a group of 16 families. It was dedicated in 1961. The stained glass windows were designed by Gabriel Loire, of Chartes, France. The Star of David, illuminated by the roof skylight, was designed by Joseph J. Greenberg, Jr., who also created the gold leaf ark and menorah in the structure’s artistic interior.
Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El (Conservative). It was founded in 1958 by 18 families meeting in the den of Frances and Gerald Chalal’s home. Their structure, designed by Norman N. Rice, was built in 1965, dedicated in 1968. It resembles the Bath Houses in Trenton, designed by Louis I. Kahn, a classmate of Rice’s. Constructed of Bermuda brick and concrete, it consists of three squares and a dome. The interior of the sanctuary is in modified Sephardic style with the pews facing an open court.
Temple Adath Israel of the Main Line (Conservative). A rooftop cupola and a 12-sided structure serve as the centerpiece of Lower Merion’s pioneer Jewish congregation. Their roots date to March 1936, the founding of the Main Line Hebrew Association by ten local businessmen. That original charter was amended in 1947. The structure, built in 1958-59, was designed by world renowned architect Pietro Belluschi and his associate, Charles Frederick Wise. It symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel. The interior is dramatic, containing a screen on the bimah (altar) designed by noted sculptor George Kratina, an ark with sterling silver lettering and a unique candelabra. The base of the cupola forms a Star of David.
Lower Merion Synagogue (Orthodox). Founded in 1954 by a small number of families, it is the Township’s original orthodox congregation. It has always been known for “the spirit of its dedication to the perpetuation of authentic Jewish values.” Two sanctuaries are both in use; the newer one, built in 1980 and designed by Gordon K. Palmer, is simplistic, preserving the traditional conventions of Judaism. The reading desk is in the center of the room and the ark is in the front…its doors symbolizing the gates of heaven. The main floor seats the men of the congregation, while elevated areas flanking the main floor form the Ezrat Nashim…the women’s gallery, tribunal, or courtyard, like synagogues in days of old.
Har Hazaitim Cemetery. Located on Greaves Lane off Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne is Lower Merion’s only Jewish burial ground. It dates from 1893, when 15 beneficial associations purchased a site that had been a quarry to provide a dignified burial in accordance with Jewish law. The cemetery has been inactive since 1945. A nearby congregation has since assumed responsibility for it and will form a nonprofit corporation for its care.