Black Catholics in Philadelphia and The Journal

A major part of the American Catholic Historical Society’s collection housed at PAHRC is its collection of Catholic newspapers. This collection contains Catholic newspapers, mostly from the early 19th to the early 20th centuries, that were published throughout the United States, as well as some foreign newspapers.  

One of these periodicals is The Journal, a weekly Philadelphia newspaper published in 1892. The paper was created by black Catholics for the African American Catholic community. PAHRC has several issues of the paper.  

July 9, 1892 issue

Black Catholics, made up of both free and enslaved African Americans, had been a presence in Philadelphia since the establishment of the city’s Catholic community. Black Catholics worshiped at the oldest Catholic churches in Philadelphia, including Old St. Joseph (1733), Old St. Mary (1763), and Holy Trinity (1788), although they worshipped separately from the white congregation. When they did attend mass with whites, blacks often had to sit in certain designated areas which were usually the back of the church or the balcony. However, researchers have recently noted that some black families were able to rent pews in the gallery of Old St. Joseph.  

The number of black Catholics in Philadelphia grew considerably during the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) when many refugees immigrated to the city. Evidence of black Catholics can be found within the sacramental registers of the older parishes, particularly Old St. Joseph. Old St. Joseph’s baptismal and marriage records include notations for those parishioners who were “slaves” or “negroes”. Most of these records do not include surnames of the family or individual.  

Old St. Joseph baptismal records from May 1796

The above baptismal records from May 1796 include the following entries:  

Josephine Louisa, negress, born March 1773, of London and Phyllis, (Ethiopian?) slaves; baptized May 1 (1796) by Rev. L. Neale  

Rachel, born March 17, 1789, of Margaret Felia and Phanice, negroes, unbelievers; baptized May 2 by Rev. M. Ennis  

Louis, negro; aged about 6 months, born of John Lewis and Ophelia, negroes; baptized May 6, by Rev. R. Houdet  

Old St. Joseph marriage record: John Louis Lindor and Louisa Rosette, negroes of the Colored Island of San Domingo were married June 9, 1801 by Rev. George Staunton; witnesses were Peter Michel and John King

The Black Catholic community continued to grow during the 19th century. The Jesuit priest Father Barbelin opened a school, Blessed St. Peter Claver, for black children on Lombard St. in 1859, which was later taught by the Sisters of Providence from Baltimore. By the 1880s, black Catholics began a concerted effort to establish a church and accompanying school for the community. In 1886, the St. Peter Claver Union, which Father Ernest Hiltermann of Holy Trinity Church had formed for black Catholics, along with the help of others within the Catholic community, most notably Katharine Drexel, purchased the former Fourth Presbyterian Church located on the southwest corner of 12th and Lombard Streets, renaming it St. Peter Claver Church. The church was dedicated in 1892.  

St. Peter Claver Church, circa 1961

 The Journal, most likely associated with the founding of the new parish, devoted its coverage to local and national news relating to black Catholics as well as news about black issues in the United States. It also covered news concerning St. Peter Claver. The top of the newspaper’s title page read “The Catholic Church is the only Liberator of the Negro.” The paper’s proprietors and publishers were Swann and Hart, located at 20 N. 13th Street. The Journal only ran from about February to September 1892. In the September 25th issue the editors note, “The Journal is having a hard struggle to keep its head above water and live, but with all our drawbacks we’ll live.”  


Early Records: Saint Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia, PA. American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1947.  

Souvenir of the Diamond Jubilee of St. Peter Claver’s Parish, 1886-1961. (PH0120)  

Willging, Eugene P.  and Herta Hatzfeld. Catholic serials of the nineteenth century in the United States; a descriptive bibliography and union list. Second series: Part Five, Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1964.

Herman Joseph Heuser Papers

As a volunteer at the Archives I have been processing the Herman Joseph Heuser papers, a manuscript collection that is part of the American Catholic Historical Society Manuscript Collections.

Herman Joseph Heuser (1851-1933) was a Catholic intellectual and prolific writer who influenced scholarly circles and clerical life in the United States and abroad through his literary work. For thirteen years he aided in the editing of the American Catholic Quarterly Review run by his mentor Monsignor James Andrew Corcoran. Heuser served as the editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review from 1889-1927, with a brief interruption from 1914-1919 when Reverend William Turner served as editor. In addition to the AER he published The Dolphin, a supplemental Catholic literary magazine, from 1900-1908. He was ordained on February 2, 1876 becoming a full time seminary professor at the time of ordination and teaching at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for over fifty years.

The bulk of the collection is correspondence, both personal and professional with the primary concern being articles in the AER or The Dolphin.  Mother Katharine Drexel,  Louise Imogen Guiney, Thomas Eakins, Leopold Stokowski, and Oliver Wendell Holmes are among some of the  distinguished correspondents of Heuser.

Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) was a nun dedicated to identifying and attending to the needs of Native Americans and African Americans and protesting the injustices of racism. Born to a family which owned a large banking fortune, Drexel used her wealth to fund missions and schools. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988 and canonized on October 1, 2000. In the letter below Drexel asks questions about the new constitution for her order.

Katharine Drexel to Herman Heuser, front

Katharine Drexel to Herman Joseph Heuser, inside


Katharine Drexel to Herman Joseph Heuser, back

Poet and essayist Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920) frequently wrote to Heuser regarding her articles in the AER and The Dolphin.  Below she asks that her piece remain unsigned.

Louise Imogen Guiney to Herman Joseph Heuser, May 15, 1912, front


Louise Imogen Guiney to Herman Joseph Heuser, May 15, 1912, back

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) was an American Realist painter. He studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and frequently painted portraits.  In this letter to Heuser, Eakins asks him to translate a phrase into Latin for a portrait of a woman who plans on giving the painting to her son who is learning Latin.  He also mentions a portrait of Dr. Patrick Garvey he has painted in 1902, hoping it has been found and hung in the (St. Charles Borromeo) Seminary.

Thomas Eakins to Herman Joseph Heuser, June 28, 1908, front

Thomas Eakins to Herman Joseph Heuser, June 28, 1908, back

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was a conductor known for his free hand style. This letter thanks Heuser for his letter about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and his hopes that performing the piece annually will inspire the public to love it as much as they do.

Leopold Stokowski to Herman Joseph Heuser, April 17, 1917

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1953) served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Count of the United States from 1902-1932. Holmes was concerned with Heuser’s work concerning Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan, an Irish Roman Catholic priest who was an author and activist. In this letter discusses Holmes reading proofs of Heuser’s biography on Sheehan, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile.

Oliver Wendell Holmes to Herman Joseph Heuser, May 1, 1917

The Other Drexel: Louise Drexel Morrell

by Shawn Weldon 

The name of Mother Katharine Drexel is familiar to many Catholics both within and outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. However, her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell is little remembered. Only the Morrell Park section of Northeast Philadelphia, which occupies the former site of her family estate “San Jose”, as well as Morrell Avenue in the same area, bears memory to her name. Yet, until her death on November 5, 1945, Louise Drexel Morrell was one of the leading Catholic philanthropists of her time.

Photograph from The Francis A. Drexel Family by Sister M. Dolores

Louise Drexel Morrell was the youngest of the three Drexel sisters. Elizabeth, born August 27, 1855 and Katharine, born November 26, 1858, were the daughters of prominent Philadelphia banker Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Longstreth Drexel. Hannah died in December 1858 from complications resulting from Katherine’s birth. Francis later married Emma Mary Bouvier in April 1860 and Louise was born on October 2, 1863.

The Drexels were one of the richest families in Philadelphia and the three sisters were raised in a style suitable to such wealth. They enjoyed private tutors and trips to Europe. However, their parents also gave them a deep spirituality and a sense of responsibility for those less fortunate.  Anthony Drexel was a leading contributor to a host of Catholic organizations and activities. Emma Bouvier Drexel was known as the “Lady Bountiful” of Philadelphia due to her charitable activities including distributing food and clothing to the poor from her Walnut Street home.

Francis A. Drexel

When Anthony Drexel died in 1885 he left an estate worth over 15 million dollars, a staggering total at that time. One tenth of this was to be distributed to various Catholic institutions. The remainder was divided between the three sisters. According to the provisions of the will, if any of the sisters died without children, her share of the inheritance would go to the survivors. When Elizabeth Drexel Smith and her premature baby died during childbirth in 1890, her share was divided between Katharine and Louise.

Katharine used her inheritance to found and support the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Louise Morrell donated millions of dollars to various educational, religious and charitable organizations throughout her lifetime. However, there were several institutions which received her special attention.

In 1888, Elizabeth Drexel Smith established St. Francis Industrial School for Boys in Eddington. When Elizabeth died in 1890, Louise took over as the major financial supporter of the school. In 1892, as an offshoot of St. Francis, Louise established the Drexmoor on South 9th Street as a home for boys who had graduated from St. Francis and were working in the city. In 1914, the Drexmoor was given to the Salesian’s of Don Bosco. Louise then became the major financial sponsor of the Don Bosco Institute which provided social services to Italian children.

St. Francis’ Industrial School, n.d.

In 1895, Louise and her husband Edward Morrel founded St. Emma’s Agricultural and Industrial School in Virginia to provide young African-American men with secular and religious education. The plight of African-Americans was an area of intense concern for Louise. She was one of the early supporters of the Catholic Interracial Movement.

St. Francis’ Industrial School, ca. 1897

Although extremely wealthy and socially prominent, Louise Morrell preferred a life of simplicity and hard work. Her former secretary, Emanuel Friedmen, relates that Louise considered useful work a blessing from God and would spend her days answering correspondence from the large number of charities she helped support and overseeing the affairs of St. Joseph’s and St. Emma’s Industrial Schools. When not working she would toil in her greenhouse or walk the grounds of her estate. During the depression she distributed food and clothing to the needy and funded a soup kitchen.

St. Michael Chapel, Shrine of the True Cross

Louise was also deeply religious. She considered her most satisfying accomplishment to be the erection of the Shrine of St. Michael of the True Cross on the grounds of the old Drexel estate at St. Michel, now the site of Frankford Hospital’s Torresdale Division. The Shrine served as a pilgrimage church and a retreat house. It later included a mission center for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Perhaps Louise’s greatest, yet least apparent accomplishment, lies in her relationship with her sister, Mother Katherine Drexel. In her book The Francis A. Drexel Family, Sister M. Dolores conveys the deep attachment between the two sisters. Louise served as a source of emotional and psychological support for Katherine during her arduous labors to establish and maintain the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. As they grew older, Mother Katharine referred to Louise as “My God’s Blessing to Me”.

Katharine Drexel

Mother Katharine Drexel is deservedly a prominent figure in the history of Catholic Philadelphia. Her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell, deserves her own place in that history.

Louise Drexel Morrell