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St. Francis of Assisi can trace its roots back to the 1920’s, when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia realized the growing need for another Catholic Parish in Norristown. Cardinal Dougherty established our Church on June 9, 1923 and appointed Reverend Francis J. Ross, D.D. as the first rector. Our first Mass was celebrated on the front lawn of the Charles D. McAvoy residence. The need for a more permanent place of worship was soon realized, and the Hartranft Family was generous enough to allow a barn on their property to be converted. On July 1, 1923, by the grace of God and the skills of the good men of the parish, we had our first church. This structure remained until December 1923. On September 27, 1923, ground was broken on the corner of Marshall and Buttonwood Streets for a new church. This purchase was made from the Fornance Estate for $22,000. Pews & kneelers were made by the boys from the Proctory. One side altar was donated by the BVM Sodality, the Stations of the Cross paid for by various parish families, and a small pipe organ was donated by St. Patrick’s. The first Mass in the new chapel was said on December 23, 1923. In September 1924, the cornerstone for the school was laid. The school, located on the middle floor, was opened on September 7 1926, with 176 students in 1st through 7th grades. St. Eleanor’s parish sent their students to our school until they were able to build their own. Mother Henrietta was the first Superior of the school, which started an association with the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which lasted until 2014.
The convent, which was then located at 572 Noble Street, was moved to the top floor of the new building. Reverend Denis A. Coghlan succeeded Father Ross in 1927, and led the parish until July of 1944. In July 1944, Father Charles J. McGovern was assigned to our parish. With a driven enthusiasm and a vision of the future, Father McGovern began building. In 1951, the present convent was opened. During the dedication ceremonies, Bishop Hugh L. Lamb, who officiated, remarked that a new church could be on the way, thus initiating the next phase of parish development. Father McGovern laid the cornerstone for our present church in 1954. One of the major attractions during construction was the placement of the Moses statue. Traffic was stopped, and the school children were allowed to go outside to watch a giant crane lower the statue (one of only two in the world) into place. On Sunday, November 13, 1955, Most Reverend Edwin V. Byrne of Santa Fe, New Mexico, dedicated our present church. Father McGovern directed his estate to pay off the debt left on the church after his death in 1964. Father McGovern lies next to the main entrance of the church he loved so much.
Monsignor Howard Flood succeeded Father McGovern in 1962. Msgr. Flood was responsible for the construction of the School Annex (now the Early Learning Center) in 1968. He also commissioned the mural of our Patron Saint in the church. Father Paul Maloney became our Pastor in August 1969. Fr. Maloney was instrumental in the placement of the windows in the choir area, installed fans in the church, and would remain our pastor until November 1986. Father James F. Cassidy took up Father Maloney’s flock in 1986 but was stricken by illness shortly after. Father George P. Ettorre was assigned to SFA in 1988. Father Ettorre started the October celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis, the renewal of our Forty Hours Devotion, and a renewed commitment to our RCIA Program. He began repairs to the Rectory and Convent. At Father’s request, donations were secured to replace the wooden doors of the church with doors depicting the significance of the Saints in our lives. The bell tower was also restored, along with the pews. Father Ettorre began the Pre-School and CARES Programs. Father Kevin G. Trautner followed Father Ettorre in 2002 as the Pastor, but was here as Parochial Vicar when our 75th Anniversary was celebrated in 1998. Father Ettorre passed in 2002, and was succeeded by Reverend Kevin C. Trautner.
Father Trautner had been an assistant at SFA since 1993, and celebrated his silver jubilee in the priesthood while at St. Francis in 1999. Father Trautner formed the parish-based Knights of Columbus Council, and was the Chaplain of the Norristown Police Department and Norristown Police Department. Father Trautner passed away unexpectedly on March 13, 2007. At his funeral, Bishop Cistone said he had never seen so many parishioners come out for a priest’s funeral in his life! The Norristown Fire Department gave Father an impressive escort to the Cemetery. In addition to his devout service to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Father Trautner was also active in the St. Patrick's Day Observance Association of Philadelphia, the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Norristown, Notre Dame Division, and the Valley Forge Council Sons of Italy.
Reverend Vincent F. Welsh, JCL., MA., M.Div. succeeded Father Trautner as Pastor. His installation was on the 18th anniversary of his Ordination, May 20, 2007. We were truly blessed to have Father Welsh as our pastor for five years. In 2012, Father Christopher Cooke was appointed Administrator of SFA. Father Cooke held this position for one year, and was then assigned to St. Charles Seminary to head the Spirituality Year program for men entering the Seminary. After Father Cooke’s departure, Father James E. Goerner was appointed pastor in June 2013. Early in 2014, the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph approached Father Goerner and told him that the three remaining Sisters in the convent would be moving to Villa St. Joseph in Flourtown. It was a sad day to see the Sisters of St. Joseph leave our Parish. The order had been a presence here since 1927. In September of 2014, the convent was officially renamed “The Meetinghouse”. The building is used for a multitude of things, mainly for meetings of our various groups. In July of 2020, Reverend Richard J. Smith, M.Div., became Parochial Vicar of Saint Francis of Assisi. He was Installed as Pastor in August of 2022, and began to make preparations for the 100th Anniversary of the Parish - Our Centennial - which began this June! There has been a rich history here at SFA, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead.