If you’ve ever gone to the post office on Ardmore Avenue, you’ve probably driven or walked by Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church on the opposite corner. But did you know that the church is one of Ardmore’s most historical buildings?
Saint Mary’s recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, which marks the year the main church building was completed in 1887. The church was designed and built by Allen Evans, an Ardmore resident, active member of Saint Mary’s, and partner of the famed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.
I recently had the chance to get a tour of the church from Lonnie Hovey, a member of Saint Mary’s and a restoration architect at Whitman, Requardt & Associates. It was wonderful to find out about this historic building that I’ve passed many times over the years and knew nothing about!
Saint Mary’s was established as a parish in 1886. Prior to that time, the church community was a mission chapel for the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr that served the mill workers in the Ardmore. When the parish was established, land was purchased on Ardmore Ave., at the same site where the church is located today. Allen Evans designed and built the church, the Parish House, and the rectory between 1887 and 1889. Saint Mary’s is one of just a few buildings that Evans designed on his own, without Frank Furness’ involvement; Merion Cricket Club is another.
Saint Mary’s has a long history of serving the Ardmore community. Rachel Evans, the architect’s wife, was one of the important female members of the early church community and involved in the Women’s Guild, which was established to serve women and poor children. The Women’s Guild set up Saint Mary’s Laundry, which “helped put poor women to work to raise money for their families,” according to Hovey. The laundry ran from the 1890s to the 1950s and was located on Saint Mary’s Road in Ardmore. Another important outreach effort was the Ardmore Bargain Counter, or ABC Shop, which sold “household goods and clothes for the poor.”
The church also has a longstanding tradition of educating children as part of its mission. It was one of the first churches in the early part of the twentieth century to include children in its services. In 1950, it began a kindergarten program to educate local children, which ran until the 1970s. Currently, it runs a daycare program in its Parish House. It also has a legacy of tolerance as one of the first churches to ordain female priests. Prior to its current pastor, Rev. Michael Giansiracusa, Saint Mary’s was led by a female priest who was in a committed same-sex relationship.Saint Mary’s is a thriving church community, with 297 members, that continues to serve the disadvantaged in the Ardmore area. It runs a Food Pantry to serve the local Ardmore community. For Thanksgiving, the pantry gave out 68 Thanksgiving dinners, with food for the holiday and breakfast for the day after. Twice a week, 25-50 local families take advantage of the Food Pantry. Donations are welcome during the week at the Parish Hall.
Interested in checking Saint Mary’s out for yourself? It’s a beautiful church and an important part of Ardmore history! Sunday services are at 8:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Although I’m not a member of the church, I had the chance to meet a few of the members and Rev. Giansiracusa during my tour, and they were very nice and welcoming. I’d highly recommend a visit! I’d also like to thank Lonnie Hovey who took time on a Sunday to give me the tour and share so many great details about the history of the church.