Monsignor Henry C. Schuyler Council # 1333 History
(as written by the 50th Anniversary Committee in 1958)
It was historically fitting that West Chester, site of the pioneer Catholic Church in Chester County, should be the pioneer Council of the Knights of Columbus in our county. As we look over the past 100 years since that historic May afternoon in 1908, we realize suddenly that many pages of local history have been written. We are suddenly proud, too, that our pioneer Council, whose birthday we now celebrate, has had a hand in writing so many of those pages.
“Columbus Knights Flock to Town” was the headline in the Daily Local News on May 19, 1908. The bold print captioned an article which heralded our birthday, the occasion of the institution of our Council No. 1333 on May 17, 1908, and its initial functioning on the following day.”
May 18th had been a beautiful, sunny day, but unseasonably warm at 85 degrees shortly after noontime. The Pennsylvania Railroad carried an unusual number of men, both on the Media Line, and on the spur from Frazer, and a veteran conductor had noted that the men had folded their coats very carefully across the seats. Too warm, he thought, for jackets, but apparently all heading for an affair “too special” to be seen without suit jacket and vest. And not only were the best “stick-pins” in evidence in every cravat, but quite a few of the passengers proudly displayed a lapel emblem bearing the crossed sword and anchor. Without realizing it, he was conducting an historic train into our town.
But to the borough itself, the crowds of men milling into the center of town was no surprise. “The Knights were coming.”
As the Daily Local News proclaimed it its readers on the following day:
“Knights of Columbus to the number of 700 or thereabout enjoyed the freedom of West Chester yesterday. They came to institute West Chester Council No. 1333, and if they should come again, they would be welcome.”
“They are as fine a looking body of men as has come to town in a long while. On the street they had the appearance of being neat, genial, progressive, orderly, and in their secret work, they proved intelligent and efficient. At the supper tables, they did their full share. Some of the more representative business men of the town welcomed them to West Chester. Bevies of the prettiest girls in St. Agnes parish waited upon them at the supper hour.”
“Following the principles of Charity, Unity, and Brotherly Love, which are exemplified in their degree work, they teach lessons of loyalty and patriotism at every meeting, and in one of their odes they sing, ‘We have a mission great, True to our church and state.’”
“Work in the first degree and second degree was exemplified by officers of DeSoto Council, the following men taking active part: Grand Knight, John O.H. Borman; Deputy Grand Knights, John A. Davis, John E. Baney, Edward I. Cullen.”
“The West Chester Council was instituted by State Deputy Patrick H. Lynch; District Deputies Rahilly, John V. Loughrey, Joseph M. Smith, Rev. Father Markee, Chaplain of Lansdowne Council; Frank Maguire, Bernard Quinn and others also took a leading part.”
“Officers of the new council include: Grand Knight, Frederick J. Wahl; Deputy Grand Knight, Frank J. McGraw; Treasurer, P.H. Corcoran; Financial Secretary, Edward J. Farrell; Recording Secretary, William J. Corcoran, Jr.; Chancellor, William Moran; Inquisitor, Robert F. Anderson; Lecturer, Michael J. Murphy; Advocate, Patrick J. McCormick; Warden, Joseph P. Finegan; Inside Guard, Michael Flanigan; Outside Guard, Daniel Donovan. Trustees, Thomas F. McLaughlin, Thomas J. Treston, William A. Glenn, Paul Ferron, James McDonough.”
“Charter members: Michael J. Murphy, William J. Corcoran, Jr., John A. Farrell, M.D., Thomas F. McLaughlin, Edward J. Farrell, Laurence E. Haley, William A. Ford, William J. McCormick, Daniel J. Donovan, Joseph A. Farrell, William J. Haley, Louis F. Cosgriff, Joseph P. Cuddy, Rudolph Lind, Michael A. Powers, John J. McCormick, William A. Glenn, Patrick J. McCormick, John R. Finegan, Joseph P. Finegan, Thomas J. Treston, Joseph J. McDonald, W.V. Gallery, Patrick McDonald, Edward M. McFadden, Joseph J. Slattery, Joseph Pribula, George Dougherty, John Skelley, Jr., James J. Skelley, William Connor, P.E. Rowan, Patrick H. Corcoran, Timothy Lane, Martin E. Welsh, Paul L. Ferron, Thomas Joyce, Charles A. McFadden, M.A. Flanagan, William Morgan, Lawrence Hickey, Daniel Hickey, Frank J. McGraw, J. Norman grant, Harry F. Webster, Fred J. Wahl, William A. Brown, William J. Corcoran (West Chester), Rev. John Martin, Frank Walsh, J.B. McLaughlin, Prof. R.F. Anderson, William J. Corcoran (West Whiteland).”
“Because of the extended program in Memorial Hall (now the Chester County Historical Society) supper which was served in McCormick Hall, East Market Street, was delayed. Ready hours before sundown, the tables stood until 7:40 o’clock.”
“The coffee was hot, the milk cold, rolls and butter just right, jellies and preserves sweet as you please, pickles not too sour, served with ham and saltines. Mrs. Mary E. O’Connor was in charge of the assistants.”
“After the supper, Rahilly sprang upon a table at one end of the room and made a brief but jolly speech of thanks. Waving a pickle dish to emphasize his remarks, he thanked the ladies, the committees in charge and everyone in West Chester, and in conclusion the group sang ‘Good Night Ladies.’”
Many of the names mentioned above in the lists of our first officers and chartered members continued on for many years, molding our foundation, guiding our progress, and directing our early years in supporting our pioneer parish, aiding in the growth and development of our school, and standing behind our government at the county, state, and national levels in the best traditions of our Order.
Over the past 100 years, the Knights have watched with pride the growth of our parish, and have traditionally been the strong “lay” arm whenever there was a job to be done. We have seen the steady growth of our congregation; witnessed the erection of our present church, known far and wide for its beauty; and seen several periods of expansion of our school which has, in ever-increasing importance, furnished the finest in educational opportunity for the children of our growing parish, and shouldered an ever-increasing share of the burden of education, to the benefit of our entire community.
During the pastorate of Fr. Spaulding, who took over the reins of our parish in 1885, our Council was chartered, and its Charter Members joined wholeheartedly in the drive for a school building fund which had been in progress. The names of Frederick J. Wahl, Frank J. McGraw, Patrick H. Corcoran, Dr. John A. Farrell and many others were numbered among Fr. Spaulding’s committee members. During the year when construction was begun on the new school, members of the congregation were urged to give “a dollar each and every month.” The result brought the following announcement in October of 1911:
“The school collection last month amounted to $106.25, being the largest taken up since this collection was started. The pastor returns his best thanks to the congregation for this generous contribution.”
With the advent of Fr. Henry C. Schuyler as pastor, our Council, in the words of our parish history “continuing its habit of loyalty, immediately encouraged the new head of the parish and gave him their unqualified support in his undertakings.”
In the first few months of his pastorate, Father Schuyler made an important announcement. The erection of a new church would begin, God willing, within five years. And so was born the “Building Fund Association” in April of 1920, and as during Fr. Spaulding’s days, the Knights of Columbus joined into the campaign across the length and breadth of our parish, and within the drive period, accumulated a sum of fifty thousand dollars, assuring a sound financial backing for the program. On August 9, 1925, the Knights were present for the blessing of the cornerstone, and the next year saw the architect’s drawing realized in the classic Gothic Church of St. Agnes which we all love so well today. The membership turned out in full force for the dedication ceremony, performed by Rev. Francis L. Carr, delegated by his late Eminence D. Cardinal Dougherty, assisted by Rev. A. J. Farrell.
In the third year after Father Schuyler assumed his duties as rector of St. Agnes, he confided his wish that the parish have an athletic field for the use of the congregation. It was in response to this appeal from our pastor that the next meeting discussed this need, and shortly thereafter purchased the plot of ground on West Gay Street, fenced it in, graded it, and made other necessary improvements. As William Schuyler’s book records it, “a flag raising and celebration took place on Columbus Day, 1922. This field for many years was used, not only for sports but also for other activities, such as carnivals and suppers.”
After playing the role of “gypsies” for our first six years as a chartered Council, our Home Association, in 1914, purchased the property which we now occupy as our Home, at 110 West Market Street. The property had been purchased as a residence in 1908, the year of our birth, by one of our charter members, Patrick McCormick, from the estate of Evan Rogers. The property was subsequently sold to Mr. McCormick’s next door neighbors, the firm of Rakestraw and Walter, who had a dealership for Overland Automobiles, and were interested in the ground adjacent to the dwelling. Retaining the ground, the new owners sold the dwelling to our Council, and we “had a home” of our own.
We immediately changed the third floor into a meeting room, and this room still retains the echoes of sessions which have helped to write so many of the pages of our history over the span of years.
Our mortgage was a considerable weight for a time, and we were content, for a while, with a comfortable meeting place of our own and a wall on which to hang our charter. Further improvements were as the saying goes, “tabled for the moment.”
But there were dreams, and then there were plans, and then the plans took form. On October, 12, 1924, our renovated home was formally opened and blessed by Father Schuyler. Our “new home,” together with later improved facilities, was to see countless scenes of activity on the athletic, social, and spiritual levels. The plans for the extensive renovations to the building, including the Auditorium, with its stage and balcony, were drawn by local architect, William J. Corcoran, Jr., charter member and first Recording Secretary of our Council.
The formal opening was in 1924 with Fr. Schuyler presiding. The spacious new room, filled even to its balcony, with members and their families and guests, and the walls banked high with sprays of autumn flowers, tokens of congratulations from our many well-wishing friends from far and wide. Grand banquets and dinner, when our membership was addressed by some of the most prominent speakers in the land over the years; leaders in every field of the government, business and religious world. Our Communion Breakfasts for the Knights, for our Ladies, for our children, for Father and Son. Our Degrees with participants from every corner of the District. Casey’s Minstrels, when laughter rocked the walls and brought memorable nights of fun, not only to our members, but to countless friends who looked forward to “Minstrel Night” as one of the big events on the “fun calendar” for the year. Dances, parties, raffles. Basketball games, Bingo Parties, dinner meetings, St. Patrick’s Night, New Year’s Eve.
We hurriedly flip through the pages, and regret that we cannot pause longer to recall each scene. We see Past Grand Knight Daniel J. Healy and his committee readying preparations for the formal dedication of our “new home.” Further on we hear Past Grand Knights John Donnelly and Walter A. Herley, Esq., in the early thirties, making plans to spur activities which had taken a “jolt” along with the “crash” on our national scene. Past Grand Knight Arthur Lewis, who held the reins during the period of ’34 to ’37 period, plugging the “Bingo Parties,” with their awards of a “basket of groceries worth $1.48” and special drawings each meeting night, when the prize was “one quarter’s full paid dues, $1.50, but members must be present or forfeit the award.” Humorous? Not especially, in those days. Past Grand Knight J. Herbert Chambers, Jr. was next in line for original ideas on the promotion of activity in our struggling home during the 30’s. Many meetings in those days of “professional pessimism” in other societies were like planning a funeral. But what were “Bertie’s” plans? Our bulleting “Voice of the Council” asked “Did you ever Roller Skate,” and announced the opening of our auditorium for all the “good skates” in the membership. Bill Quill and Joe Hanselman were numbered among the “Skate Committee.” Past Grand Knight Henry P. Corcoran held the chair at a meeting during which we effected several important “deals” which ultimately proved the salvation of our home, and possibly our Council. Daniel J. Gallagher, and in 1942, Robert F. Jackson, guided our Council during the early years of World War II, followed by John B. Shay in 1943 and Joseph E. Moore in 1945. Those years, and those that followed, under the leadership of men like Jimmy O’Neill, Bill Bray, Phil Corcoran and Wally Sheller, we think as our “Reconstruction Period.” Our Council provided leadership in a crusade of prayer during the war years, as well as the focal point of Catholic hospitality for those in the service “passing through,” and those stationed for a time in our locality. It also represented a time when, emerging from the economic stranglehold of the 30’s, our concerted membership drives began to pay dividends, and our rolls began to swell in an encouraging resurgence that ushered in one of the most prosperous and successful era in our history. Percy C. McCormick was one of the leaders of the membership drive which in those years proved among our most successful campaigns on record.
Our emergence from the “dark 30’s” was no accident. It was a tribute to all the men who guided us during those days, as well as to the Knights who put their programs into effect. To these men, most of whose names are not recorded here, but who will always be remembered, go the thanks not only of the Knights who celebrate our anniversary today, but the gratitude of the generations of Knights who will follow us in their noble tradition. They showed good-humored optimism when the rest of the nation was wallowing in despair. They knew they had something worth preserving in that concept and traditions of our Order, knew what our Council meant to our parish, to the membership and to our community.
It is in paging through the 1930’s that we come upon a chapter during John J. Donnelly’s first term as Grand Knight telling of the beginning of the greatest single outside assistance our council was ever to enjoy. Early 1931 witnessed the organization of our Ladies’ Auxiliary. There is no choice of words that can adequately describe the role played by our Auxiliary since its inception in 1931, no phrases that can properly convey the measure of our gratitude and sincere appreciation for their immeasurable contribution to our Council, to our parish, and to the entire community. Perhaps the simplest phrase, repeated on scores of occasions, sums it up best:
“What would we do without the Ladies – God Bless Them!”
The close of the 1940’s was climaxed at a banquet on Monday evening, November 1, 1948, which commemorated the fortieth anniversary year, and featured that long-awaited ceremony of “Burning of the Mortgage!” It was during the term of office of Laurence B. Ford that this important scene took place, and the festivities of that historic occasion are among the most treasured in the annals of our Council.
We were quickly into the fifties, and with the new decade came many new faces, new names among our Council officers, new members of our home association. Names which, together with those which for the previous ten years or more had guided our progress, were to form a new alliance of a veteran and “rookie” combination.
Our Home was in need of redecorating and modernization, and our basement Game and Grille Rooms are the result of the fruition of this group’s planning. Many other rooms in our home were extensively modernized, the most recent being the 3rd floor meeting room.
And, as at several other periods in our history mentioned previously, our parish was on the threshold when major expansion and remodeling had reached the stage of critical necessity. Initially, a Building Fund instituted by Father William C. Faunce, who had been delegated by the Cathedral Office to assist our Pastor, Fr. Schuyler, with the ever-increasing duties which were becoming a greater burden with every passing month. Many of our members responded, in the fashion that had been their tradition, and made their regular monthly call on the parishioners. Our Rectory and Convent, long in need of remodeling, but always bypassed because of more pressing need for funds elsewhere, were restored to the conditions which our priests and sisters had so long deserved, but had been willing to sacrifice over the years. Our church, too, which had begun to show signs of the passing years, as the greatest of building must, was returned to its original beauty as the architects and Father Schuyler had planned and erected it years ago.
The growth of our parish had been indicative of the general period of expansion felt throughout the county during the post-war period, and in 1955, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop John F. O’Hara, C.S.C., began his search throughout the county for a suitable site for what what was to be the first Diocesan High School in Chester County. It had long been the hope of our membership, and of all parishioners, that when the time came to build the first such high school in our county, that West Chester, where St. Agnes High Parish High School had kept burning the light of Catholic secondary education in the area as its pioneer, would be chosen as the locale.
In October 1955, the Cathedral Office contacted the St. Agnes Rectory, and indicated its interest in the plot of ground owned by the Knights of Columbus. The rectory contacted our Council, making known the wishes of our Most Reverend Archbishop.
An historic letter, penned by our Grand Knight Thomas A. Delaney and the president of the Home Association William D. Gallagher, went out to each and every Knight, announcing an important general meeting, at which a question of tremendous importance to the Knights of Columbus, to St. Agnes Parish, to the Catholics all over Chester County, and to every resident of the County would be discussed.
The results of that meeting are history now. A decision that was later to be heralded by Catholic and non-Catholic alike as a tremendous contribution whose benefits would be shared by all for many decades to come.
The Knights of Columbus donated their “Athletic Field” to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for the purpose of building a new Catholic High School.
Many of the Knights who had been present at that flag-raising ceremony back in 1922 stood with Grand Knight Gallagher as the cornerstone of the new school building was laid, and again at the impressive dedication ceremonies of the new Bishop Shanahan High School. And all of the Knights, who had treasured memories of the “old field,” and remembered the past it had played in the lives of many of our members and parishioners, were proud and grateful that it could now make its greatest contribution to parish and community life.
(as written and added to our Council history by the 75th Anniversary Committee in 1983)
The 50th Anniversary celebration proved to be an overwhelming success. Dignitaries, members and friends joined together to exalt our Council’s first 50 years. Many families boasted two or even three generations of Catholic gentlemen celebrating their Knighthood and the birthday of the Council they all loved.
When the festivities were over, it was back to the business at hand. A rejuvenated enthusiasm was evident throughout the ranks. The council continued its ongoing work with St. Agnes Parish as well as beginning relations with the new arrivals of Sts. Simon & Jude, Sts. Phillip & James, and Sts. Peter & Paul.
The main attention of the Knights of West Chester began to focus on the youth of our area. A Squires Circle was organized and invested. Scouting troops (boys and girls) were sponsored and supervised. CYO activities were given much attention as well as financial support. The primary motivation was, as always, charity; however, we knew that the future of our church, country, and council were heavily dependent upon the young people around us. This focus on the youth has continued until present.
In 1963, a motion was made to officially change our council’s name from West Chester Council #1333 to Monsignor Henry C. Shuyler Council # 1333. As our past history points out, this was not an empty guesture. It was and is thought by many that the Monsignor, the long-reining Pastor of St. Agnes Parish, was perhaps the best friend our council ever had. Needless to say, as we all know, the motion was seconded and carried. Columbus Day 1963 set the scene for the official celebration of our name change to its present form.
In addition to the youth involvement, the council made continuing efforts in the area of church and the community. In 1966, at a regular meeting, a first reading of an application bearing the name of Monsignor Laurence F. Kelly was voted upon. The Monsignor was approved and remained an active member.
Throughout the sixties, seventies, and into the eighties, the Council has on numerous occasions sponsored scholarship funds for the grade schools as well as Shanahan High School. In addition to scholarships, competitions concerning academics as well as athletics have provided students with opportunities to excel in various areas. Among these have been the Forensic competition (public speaking), cross country tournaments, free throw competitions, and in the early seventies as well as the past, three very successful years of Holiday Basketball Tournaments.
The late 60’s and 70’s saw a substantial decrease in membership. During these years, several local councils were born. Exton, Downingtown, and West Grove Councils were chartered. Needless to say, membership in our Council suffered. In 1979, the Council found itself in the precarious position of listing only 140 members. However, between 1979 and 1983, membership rebounded to well over 325 active, dues paying Knights. It claimed Star Council Awards over the last three years of that period, and the Council increased its presence at State Conventions and other Knights gatherings. It was also during this period that Fourth Degree members from our Council took an active role in the institution of the Chester County Fourth Degree Assembly.