In 1893, Father William Heinen of East Mauch Chunk, encouraged by Father John W. Shanahan, Rector of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish, investigated the idea of providing West Philadelphia’s German-Speaking Catholics with their first national parish. The site at 43rd & Wallace Sts. together with two houses was purchased.
In September of 1893 Father Heinen officiated and preached in the parlor of the house on 644 N. 43rd St. and continued to officiate there until a temporary frame chapel was provided. On November 12, 1893 the Rev. Dr. Garvey, Rector of St. James, officiated and preached the solemn Mass, which followed the dedication of the title to St. Ignatius of Loyola. During the following spring, ground was broken for the new church, with the front on 43rd St; with a basement for school purposes with six classrooms. The cornerstone was blessed and laid on Sunday July 8, 1894 by the Most Reverend O.J. Ryan, D.D., the Archbishop of Philadelphia.
St. Ignatius Church served as the German Parish for West Philadelphia from 1893 until 1928. The Parish also included “Negroes”, a number of Irish, and a few Italians. The priests were all German born and the school was staffed by a German order of nuns called the “The Sisters of Christian Charity.”
In 1924 Cardinal Dougherty appointed Rev. Vincent Dever to establish a parish in West Philadelphia. He rented a house at 3908 Haverford Ave. and called it Holy Savior Mission. It was predominantly a Negro Parish. For Sunday Mass and Sunday school, a hall across the street was rented. In 1925, Blessed Katherine Drexel provided the Holy Savior Mission with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament who taught religion and made visitations. They took up residence at 3908 Haverford Ave. as a convent. Fr. Dever moved to 630 N. 43rd and began Mass for Holy Savior Mission in his parlor. When it became too small he used the basement of St. Ignatius Church. Blessed Katherine Drexel had previously provided Sisters to help run the Sunday school for the local Black Catholics also out of St. Ignatius basement because walking to Our Mother of Sorrows Parish was too far for many of the children. The Sunday school eventually ceased to function in 1918. In 1926 Blessed Katherine Drexel made plans to have the 1st Floor of St. Ignatius used as Church, one half of the 2nd and 3rd Floors as the Convent and the other half as school.
In 1928, following the decline of the German-Speaking population in West Philadelphia, the St. Ignatius Church was united with the Holy Savior Mission. At this time, the Negro congregation took possession of the larger St. Ignatius Church. The school and convent were moved to 644 N. 43rd St. The SBS nuns continued to conduct the parish school even after the merger of the two parishes. In 1967 a series of 12 fires rendered part of the school facilities located above the church unsafe. Auxiliary Bishop John J. Graham was the principal concelebrant of the solemn Mass preceding the groundbreaking of the new school in 1968. This new, 10-classroom facility, which included a combination gymnasium-cafeteria-auditorium, was opened in the fall of 1969.
In 2009 the school campuses for both Our Mother of Sorrows and St. Ignatius were merged and renamed as Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius School. It is currently being run as an Independent Mission School. IMS is a non-profit organization managing a network of 14 Philadelphia Catholic elementary schools. These schools provide a high-quality, low-cost education to 4,100+ students of all faiths, delivering opportunity to these children and their families.
The parish and the school have both been vital centers of missionary activity. St. Ignatius was founded as a national parish, which is a church designed to care for the special needs of one group. The jurisdiction of St. Ignatius as a parish unit coincides with that of any other parish in West Philadelphia. Many of these parishes are now predominantly Black. St. Ignatius continues to service families in the immediate area and those that live a distance away. About 400 families are still listed as parishioners of St. Ignatius.
The St. Ignatius nursing home has also made an impact on our community. The original nursing home was founded by the former pastor, Monsignor John T. Mitchell. Msgr. Mitchell, who served as the Assistant Pastor of St. Ignatius Church for seven years before being named Pastor in 1953, noted in his parish visitation logs the number of sick and elderly residents and religious who lived uncared for in attic rooms or in cold houses. Having failed in his efforts in getting help from neighbors, he decided to convert a parish – owned house, next to the rectory, into a nursing home. This building was opened in December, 1952, with three practical nurses working around the clock. With help from the Sisters of the Holy Rosary the nursing home was expanded a short time later when St. Edmond’s Home for the Crippled Children moved from 4401 Haverford Ave. to Rosemont, PA and gave its old buildings to St. Ignatius parish. The building was renovated in 1968 and the present facility opened in 1971. It is currently being supervised by the Felician Sisters.
On January 27, 2013 due to financial difficulty Our Mother of Sorrows Parish closed and merged with St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish. Our Mother of Sorrows is currently closed and property sold as of September 2018.