OLA Parish History
Like other dioceses in the United States, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was founded and sustained by immigrants who came to the shores of the New World, seeking religious and political freedom and economic independence. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was established in 1808 and settled by English, Irish, and German Catholics. In the 1840s and 1850s, many other individuals from southern and eastern Europe sought refuge in America, many of whom were Italian. Many of these immigrants uprooted because of political, military, and economic events came in droves to the new “Promised Land.”
A fundamental point of intersection for Italians with the larger community was the church. In 1852, St. John Neumann founded the first Italian Catholic Church in the United States, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi in Philadelphia.
As the Pennsylvania Railroads “Main Line” pushed farther and farther westward from Philadelphia, towns and villages began to grow with Italian railroad workers, construction workers, and masons. For quite some time, the Italians who settled along the Main Line had no church or Italian-speaking priest to minister to them. St. Katherine of Siena Parish was founded in 1893 in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and St. Monica Parish was founded in 1897 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. However, these two parishes had no priests who could hear confessions in Italian. Although many Italians walked miles to these two churches for Mass, they did not feel at home because language was a great barrier.
Realizing the great need for an Italian-speaking priest and knowing the possibility of losing faith was a grave danger to many of the Italian immigrants, a very humble, quiet, hard-working Christian woman named Rosaria Cimini DiLorenzo decided to do something about the situation. At the age of 27, Mrs. DiLorenzo wrote a letter to Pope Pius X explaining the plight of Italian Catholics in Philadelphia’s Main Line area. Not knowing how to send her letter to the pope, she sent it to her maternal uncle, Monsignor Ferdinando Ciceroni Grilli, who was stationed in Rome at the time, asking him to hand-deliver the letter to the Holy Father.
As a result, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (under which the church in the United States remained as a mission country until November 3, 1908), wrote to Archbishop Ryan, the archbishop of Philadelphia at the time. After looking into the matter, Archbishop Ryan appointed the first pastor of a new Italian parish to be founded in Strafford, Pennsylvania.
Father Aemilius Landolfi, the founding pastor of the new “national” parish, was born in Nusco, Italy, where he was ordained on December 22, 1900. After teaching for a few years in the seminaries at Nusco and Piedmonte d’Alife, Father Landolfi immigrated to the United States and worked among Italians in St. Louis, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Camden, New Jersey.
In deference to Mrs. Rosaria Cimini DiLorenzo, who took care of the young pastor, Father Landolfi named the new parish Our Lady of the Assumption after the church of the Assumption (Colle di Santa Maria) in Teramo, Abbruzzi, which was the parish church of the Cimini family. Also, because many of the early settlers in the Strafford/Devon area were from Abbruzzi, the early church had a painting on the ceiling of St. Gabriel, the patron saint of Teramo, which is still present in the church today.
Records indicate that on February 10, 1908, Father Landolfi applied for the sum of $1,500 to be used for a lot and stables in Strafford. Father Landolfi used this money to purchase land on Old Eagle School Road. Later in 1908, a frame building known as “Strafford Hall,” which had been a Protestant Sunday school, was moved on railroad ties from its location on Strafford Avenue to the new site of Our Lady of the Assumption on Old Eagle School Road. The old building soon took on the mystique of a sacred building as a wooden altar was placed at one end. Even though an old stove stood in the center of the floor and chairs replaced pews, the “church” was beautiful beyond compare. It existed for the most solemn and sacred act of worship for any Catholic took place. The people were overjoyed because the Word of God was now proclaimed and explained in their own language Italian. It is these very roots that have kept our parish alive and have produced so much good.
On the first Sunday in June 1908, Reverend Joseph F. O’Keefe of St. Katherine Parish blessed the new Italian chapel, Our Lady of the Assumption. Father OKeefe celebrated the Mass, and the choir from his church provided the music. As The Catholic Standard & Times relates, “there were about four hundred parishioners present, all of whom wore badges combining the American and Italian colors and the name of the Church.”
With his establishment of Our Lady of the Assumption, Father Landolfi began to give the Italians of the Main Line an identity and pride in their new parish. This pride is outstandingly evident to this day fourth and fifth generations of our founding families remain parishioners.
In August 1909, Father Landolfi was transferred to South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and then to Easton, Pennsylvania. Father Landolfi’s successor was Father Louis Fiorilla, who remained pastor of the parish until November 1910. Our third pastor, Father Carmine Cillo, arrived in November 1910, but he was transferred about 6 months later in May 1911, to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Our fourth pastor was Father Scialabba, who was born on August 12, 1874, in Tusa, Sicily and was ordained on May 28, 1904, in Patti, Sicily. Arriving directly from Sicily, Father Scialabba was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption by Archbishop Prendergast on August 9, 1911. During Father Scialabba’s pastorate, additional land for the parish was purchased. Our present-day church and the cemetery are located on this land.
After World War I, work began on the present church building. The contractor was James Rosato, a parishioner. On Sunday, November 20, 1921, the cornerstone was laid for the new church, which was to be built of grey stone in the Gothic style. The church continued under construction for more than one year, costing $50,000. In the summer of 1921, the parish cemetery opened and the present rectory was built in the following year, 1922.
On Tuesday August 15, 1922, Bishop Michael Crane, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, dedicated the new church of Our Lady of the Assumption. Bishop Crane officiated at a Solemn High Mass in honor of the feast day. On his arrival in Strafford, Bishop Crane was met by children of the parish carrying American and Italian flags, members of various organizations, and special committees all of whom formed a parade and escorted the bishop to the church. Bishop Crane spoke eloquently to Father Scialabba for his untiring efforts in building such an imposing structure. The bishop also praised and congratulated the great generosity of the parishioners who had made such a beautiful church possible.
After a pastorate of 36 years, Father Scialabba died on December 3, 1947. This kind, loving, gentle priest is buried in front of the church he built and loved. His successor, Father Francis Rauseo, was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption on December 17, 1947.
In October 1948, the parishioners responded generously to an appeal for funds to renovate the church. The remodeling of the church was completed under the direction of Sam Piombino, a parishioner from Devon. It was at this time that the interior of the church was given a colonial style, the exterior of the church and the rectory were painted, and the cemetery was landscaped. Father Rauseo also acquired a plot of land immediately adjoining the parish grounds between Old Eagle School Road and the end of Fairfield Lane.
On August 13, 1953, Father Rauseo was transferred to Holy Saviour in Norristown, Pennsylvania. His successor was Father Crispino DeLuca, a quiet, retiring man who served as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption for approximately 30 years. In 1955, Father DeLuca built a granite, one-floor school with eight classrooms and office space. In that same year, the parish purchased a large house on Meadowbrook Road, which served as the first convent for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart who staffed the school. In 1960, a 12-bedroom convent was built next to the school. In addition, the remaining land between the school and Old Eagle School Road was cleared of trees and converted into a 100-car parking lot.
In 1970, a fundraising campaign was undertaken to build a two-story, multipurpose addition to the school to serve as a parish hall and library. In 1972, His Eminence Cardinal Krol blessed the new library and school.
As the parish developed and the number of parishioners increased, many non-Italian Catholics began to worship Our Lady of the Assumption. These parishioners made many significant contributions to the parish and brought different perspectives. Although varying in language and culture, all the people of the parish are one as the people of God, worshipping the Lord in word and sacrifice. Sharing one faith, one baptism, and one Lord, today Our Lady of the Assumption is a multinational parish that reflects the universality of the Church of God. Father DeLuca is primarily responsible for this great transformation in the parish, and it thrives as a worshipping community.
However, grave disappointment befell the parish in 1976. Increasing costs, decreasing enrollment, and the withdrawal of the Grey Nuns of the Scared Heart forced the parish school to close. Although they were hurt and disappointed, the parishioners of Our Lady of the Assumption continued to thrive under the leadership of Father DeLuca.
On March 26, 1982, a cloak of mourning and a pall of shock spread over the parish at the news of Father DeLuca’s death. Although many of the parishioners saw Father DeLuca failing in health, no one wanted to admit that one day their pastor whom some had known for 30 years would return to the Father of us all. On Wednesday March 31, 1982 the parishioners gathered with Cardinal Krol to celebrate his Mass of Christian Burial.
On April 16, 1982, the news of the appointment of the new pastor, Father Daniel Pirolli, broke the shroud of sadness, bringing a new sense of youth and vigor and a fresh approach to Our Lady of the Assumption. The benchmark of Father Pirolli’s pastorate as he mentioned when he first greeted his people was that of service. In his simple, yet powerful sentence, “I have come to serve you,” Father Pirolli’s energy resounded throughout the parish. Father Pirolli reopened the parish school as a preschool and kindergarten; instituted extensive renovations to the rectory and the church; and continued to encourage the Our Lady of the Assumption tradition of serving God and one another.
Father Pirolli inspired the whole parish to live in Christian hope. He passed away on July 26, 1987, after a brave, 6-month struggle with cancer; he is buried in Our Lady of the Assumption’s cemetery.
Immediately following Father Pirolli’s death, Father Domenic Chiaravalle was appointed administrator, serving until August 1987, when Father Louis D’Addezio was appointed pastor. Filled with boundless energy, Father D’Addezio completed the renovations begun by Father Pirolli. The sacristy was beautifully remodeled, the finishing touches to the rectory were made, and the stained glass windows were cleaned and restored. During Father D’Addezio’s pastorate, the outside courtyard was also installed; it is used for various seasonal displays that our parishioners, community, and travelers on Old Eagle School Road and Route 30 enjoy. After only 21 months, Father D’Addezio was transferred to the Archdiocesan office building to serve as director of special projects and took residence at St. John the Evangelist in Philadelphia. Monsignor D’Addezio still serves in the Office of Special Projects to this day.
In June 1989, Father Eugene J. Carbo was appointed pastor, continuing the tradition of growth and prosperity at Our Lady of the Assumption. During his tenure, the church property was increased to include the Forrest Lane house, which serves as the office of the vicar for Chester County, and the sanctuary of the church was redecorated. Father Carbo was elevated to monsignor by his Holiness Pope John Paul II in June 1998.
During his 11 years at Our Lady of the Assumption, Monsignor Carbo was a driving force behind a number of parish efforts and activities. Foremost was that he greeted the Legion of Mary with open arms. The legion had struggled on its own without a spiritual director for many years, until Monsignor Carbo gave the Blessed Mother a place of honor in his agenda. The Legion of Mary continues to flourish today.
In addition, Monsignor Carbo accomplished the institution of the Pastoral Council, the development of a Pastoral Plan, the institution of the Archdiocesan Cluster 53, the development of the Cluster Plan 1 , and a very successful campaign for Catholic Life 2000. In 2000, Monsignor Carbo experienced a serious decline in his health and found that it was no longer possible for him to continue in his position. Very reluctantly, he asked Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua to accept his resignation as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Church. His tearful good-bye struck a sad chord in the hearts of our parishioners. Monsignor Carbo suffered a fatal heart attack on June 9, 2005.
In June 2000, Father Joseph A. Vadino came to Our Lady of the Assumption Church as pastor and joyfully exclaimed he was home. Father Vadino previously had been in residence at Our Lady of the Assumption for 15 years beginning in 1965, while he was assigned to the faculty of Cardinal O’Hara High School. Father Vadino expressed that he never desired to be a teacher, but it was through this ministry that he was chosen to serve as assistant to the editor of the English language edition of the L’Osservatore Romano in the Vatican.
Father Vadino was dedicated to scripture and always encouraged his parishioners to read the Bible. Those who attended Mass during the week were given a lesson on the reading of the day. Whether or not he wanted to be, Father Vadino was a true teacher.
In 2001, Father Vadino started the Lenten series, which were held on Wednesday evenings. The local cable network televised the Lenten series, giving the people in the community an opportunity to view them. In addition, Father Vadino was very dedicated to the Holy Eucharist, and during the “Year of the Eucharist” he placed great emphasis on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
According to Father Vadino, he was “blessed” to be pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption. It certainly was “home,” as he spent 20 of his 41 years of priesthood here. Tragically, after suffering a severe heart attack, Father Vadino died on June 12, 2005, the eve of Monsignor Carbo’s funeral.
Monsignor Daniel E. Thomas was officially installed as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption by Cardinal Justin Rigali on November 19, 2005, the vigil of the feast of Christ the King. Having studied dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, he came to us directly from an assignment to the Holy See in the Congregation for Bishops in Vatican City. In the spring of 2005, Pope John Paul II named Monsignor Thomas Prelate of Honor.
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish was delighted to have Monsignor Thomas here and appreciated his fluency in Italian. From his first day at Our Lady of the Assumption, Monsignor Thomas made it known that he was always available to his parishioners and encouraged them to seek him out. He reinstituted the youth group, accompanied the Legion of Mary on their visits to the homebound and elderly parishioners and attended their meetings, established a parish web page team, gave our Sunday bulletin a new updated look, formed a property committee to evaluate the present buildings and renovations needed, and reorganized the entire business office area of the rectory.
Monsignor Thomas also immediately went to work preparing for the 100-year jubilee of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish to take place in 2008. His 2-year plan begins with a Year of Spiritual Preparation to run from October 2006 to October 2007, followed by a Year of Centennial Jubilee from October 2007 to October 2008.
After only 8 months as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, on Thursday, June 8, 2006, Cardinal Justin Rigali announced that Pope Benedict XVI named Monsignor Thomas auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese; therefore, he would be unable to remain as pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption.
This news was bittersweet for the parish family of Our Lady of the Assumption. No one was more thrilled and happy for Monsignor Thomas on his appointment as bishop than the parishioners of Our Lady of the Assumption; however, the thought of his leaving left a void in their hearts. The transfer of another pastor in so short a time especially one so loved was difficult to understand. Bishop Thomas challenged all of us to look at all we had accomplished together as a parish and to “trust in the Lord as we are asked to welcome a new pastor and move forward as one flock united to our Shepherd toward the 100th Anniversary Year.”
The Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Thomas took place at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 26, 2006.
On Monday, July 17, 2006, Cardinal Justin Rigali announced Monsignor Joseph T. Marino as the new pastor. His assignment began on August 19, 2006. Msgr. Marino was also appointed regional vicar for Chester County, succeeding Msgr. James T. McDonough, the county’s regional vicar since the post was established in 1989.
In July 2013 Msgr. Marino became the Rector of Saint Joseph’s in the Hills Retreat House in Malvern. Father Dennis J. Carbonaro began his pastorate on July 1, 2013. Ordained in 1981, Father Carbonaro was an assistant pastor at Saint Francis of Assisi, Springfield and Holy Saviour, Norristown. From 1989 to 2006, he was on the Faculty of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, working in the Formation of seminarians, teaching theology in the College Division of the Seminary, and for seven of those years Director of the Permanent Diaconate Department of the Archdiocese. In 2006 he became Pastor of Our Lady of Consolation, Philadelphia, and was appointed by Archbishop Chaput to be Pastor at OLA in 2013.
1. In 1991, Archbishop Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, called for a 9-year period of renewal and spirit, culminating in the celebration of the year 2000 – the Great Jubilee. As part of the renewal process, each parish in the archdiocese was asked to conduct a self-study to identify its strengths and limitations. Using this information, each parish then was to develop recommendations for improvement and implement these into its long-range parish plan. Once the parish self-studies were completed, the parishes in adjacent geographical areas participated in a regional self-study with other parishes in the same vicariate. The purpose of this study was to develop a collaborative 5-year plan for all the parishes within Cluster 53, which consists of Our Lady of the Assumption, Strafford, Pennsylvania; St. Isaac Jogues, Wayne, Pennsylvania; St. Monica, Berwyn, Pennsylvania; and St. Norbert, Paoli, Pennsylvania.