"There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven: a time for giving birth..."|
In 2002, Saint Stephen's Parish celebrated its 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee.
The following excerpt of the story of St. Stephen's was taken from our
commemorative Jubilee Book, released on October 19, 2002.
On June 6, 1952, Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, Bishop of Camden, incorporated
St. Stephen's as a Parish. Reverend John O'Brien was named Pastor. The parish
was made up of portions of St. Joseph's Parish in East Camden and St. Peter's
in Merchantville. The place of worship for the parishioners was a small chapel
on Woodland Avenue that had originally been used by the Highland Fire Company,
purchased with a loan from St. Joseph's Parish.
The present tract of land was a farm tilled by Rudolph Bingham on Browning Road.
Years after the farm was vacated, his desolate and unpainted home stood by the road
as a reminder of another era. The land that once filled the physical needs of the
community was now going to fulfill the spiritual needs of the community.
Monsignor Fallon of St. Peter's Church originally purchased the present tract of land.
Monsignor Fallon wanted it for the purpose of building a Merchantville Catholic
High School. However, since it was determined later that Camden Catholic High School
was to be built just a mile away from the site, Monsignor Fallon's dreams were put
aside and St. Stephen's parish acquired the land.
Mass was said at the chapel, which the people helped to reconstruct and refinish making
it a suitable place of worship. Pews were acquired from Cape May and refurbished in a
local garage. The basement was made into a meeting room for the different organizations,
which were forming at the time.
With nowhere for Father O'Brien to live, he was housed in the home of a parishioner.
The parish was then assigned three sisters from the Sisters of St. Joseph of
Chestnut Hill. The founding sisters of our parish were Mother Gertrude Helene,
Sister Eileen Immaculate and Sister Rose Letitia: they also lived in a parishioner's
house until the convent was completed.
Permission was granted to build a school and multipurpose auditorium and ground was
broken for this purpose on April 1, 1962. When the parish grew too big for the chapel
on Woodland Avenue, we started to hold Mass at the Camden County Vocational School.
Many families remember the days of covering the gym floor with canvas and putting
up the chairs to help protect the gym floor. This lasted for just a short time until
one Sunday the Congregation was locked out of the vocational school. Everyone returned
to the unfinished building that was under construction and prepared for the first Mass
in the auditorium. With no doors on the building, the men of the parish stood on night
watch for weeks until the building was secured.
The school opened late the first year. The classrooms were makeshift cubicles set
around the auditorium with painted chalkboards on the side. One by one the classrooms
were completed and the auditorium was readied to become the place of worship until the
church was built. The school is a tribute to the men of the parish that devoted their
weekends and many nights to putting on the finishing touches in order to save money
and to have a quality building. The school was dedicated on March 31, 1963.
There was an addition of eight classrooms in 1965.
A parish house was purchased on September 1, 1961 at 4477 Burwood Avenue across the
street from the parish property. This was an old house and many additions were put
on to accommodate the increasing staff. In 1987 we built a new Rectory on the front
part of the parish property. At the present time it is home for three priests. It also
houses the parish offices and a room for meetings. The parish has been home for six
pastors in the last 50 years. Rev. Msgr. John O'Brien, Rev. Msgr. Edward Kennedy,
Rev. Arthur Anderson, Rev. Msgr. Joseph O'Connell, Rev. Msgr. Joseph Downing, Rev. Msgr. Dominic Bottino, Rev. Stan
Witcoskie, Rev. Vincent Orum and at the present time, Rev. Daniel Rocco. We have also had many wonderful associate
pastors, associates-in-residence pastors and deacons over our 50 years as a parish.
The sisters moved into their own home on Holy Thursday in 1963 with the opening of the
convent. By this time the spirit of the parish was electric with so many things being
accomplished in such a short time. The sisters have been faithful to our parish with
teaching our children and all of us about the love of God and the caring they have
for our parish community.
The school had its first graduating class in June of 1966. Every year since the beginning
we have graduated classes that have benefited from the quality education received at
St. Stephen's. Our school had been blessed with many great teachers over the years.
We have also had seven principals over the 40 years of our school.
Mother Gertrude Helene, Sister Marie Anise, Sister James DeSales, Sister Catharine Dolerine,
Sister Regina Byrne, Sister Beatrice DeSantis and our present principal,
Sister Kathleen Boyle, along with the many sisters that we have been blessed with to help
our community to grow both spiritually and physically.
After many years celebrating Mass said in the school auditorium, permission was granted
to build a church on the grounds off Browning Road. In 1978 our church became a
reality and the days of the folding chairs and gymnasium atmosphere were a thing of the past.
The cornerstone of the church was blessed and set by Bishop George H. Guilfoyle on
October 26, 1979. Our church is the product of many hours of hard work by the people of
St. Stephen's Parish, great carnivals and the generosity of all our parishioners. This makes
St. Stephen Parish an ideal house of worship in the community of Pennsauken.
In the last couple of years we have spent many hours in repairs and upgrading of our parish.
The school has added a computer room, art/music room and many new programs for our children.
The Church dedicated a new cross in the sanctuary with the old one being returned to the
school where we can all see it as we come on to the church property. We have replaced the
old doors in the church with doors having stained glass window and the old carpet is
gone and replaced with a lovely tile floor. We will also be dedicating the new bell tower
on the church to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary.
In retrospect, we can be very proud to have come so far in the last fifty years since
the formation as a parish in 1952. We have gone from a pioneering state, a small
chapel and a nomadic tribe to a parish family with mortar, bricks and alot of hard work.
But, more so, with the spirit of togetherness in God's love for all of us.
The Symbolism of
Our Stained Glass Windows
The following is an explanation of the stained
glass windows of St. Stephen's Church.
After arriving at a design, a committee interviewed several
artists and decided on Willets Stained Glass Studio of Philadelphia.
The completion of the stained glass represents the completion of
St. Stephen's Church in its original design. The Church stands
as a tribute to the faith community of the Parish of St. Stephen's.
The artist has expressed two themes in our stained glass design:
that of the Old Testament and New Testament, and that of the
Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit.
The creating hand of the Father reaches down into the lower
windows of the left side of the church in which we see:
--The symbol of God's Covenant with Noah; the rainbow and
ark after the flood.
--Moses receiving the stone tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai.
--David, King of Israel, from whose genealogy Christ was born.
--the prophesy from Isaiah: In the New Jerusalem, the lion and
lamb feed together in the Peaceable Kingdom.
The Spirit, from whom all life issues, sends us his grace
through the sacraments, the most important of which are:
--Baptism, symbolized by all the scalloped shell with
water flowing from it, and
--The Eucharist, symbolized by the wheat and grapes.
The two large windows on the right depict New Testament themes:
--The mystery of the Incarnation, Christ's Nativity, and
the Resurrection in which the angel tells the woman,
"He is not here. His is risen."
Above the vestibule is the triangular window which represents
God the Son. He is the umblemished Lamb of God whose victory
over death assures our entry into the New Jerusalem.
The circles in bright gold represent the eternal nature of
the Trinity and carry through the two triangular abstract
windows on either side of the church.
The blue glass throughout reminds us of the gift of the
waters of creation, of the great flood, and of the
sacraments of salvation; while the tan coloring, here
and there, tells of the desert experience through which
God led Israel out of slavery to be an image of His holy people.
The Chapel windows represent two major saints of the
New Testament and our patron saint:
--St. Peter: the keys, the rock and the inverted cross;
--St. Paul: the sword, the book and the boat;
--St. Stephen: Rocks used to kill him surround the figure.
The Reconciliation windows represent:
--Jesus writing in the sand after the woman caught in adultery
was taken to Him;
--the Prodigal Son.
The sacristy window contains symbolism which represents the
People of God and their relationship to the Trinity.
...Our stained glass windows,
as well as our entire church,
are dedicated to the Honor and Glory of God.