Written by Joseph P. Heenan, January 2019
Philadelphia Friendly Sons of St. Patrick member Christopher Fallon, who constructed an impressive octagonal mansion on the site in 1850, originally owned the tract of land upon which Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High Schools were built. The house was named “Runnymede” after the Fallon family seat in Roscommon County in Ireland.
In 1882, Philadelphia Friendly Sons of St. Patrick member Anthony J. Drexel purchased the building. The mansion stood on what was at that time called the hill of Drexel, and consequently the surrounding area became known as Drexel Hill.
In 1917, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia purchased the 33 acres for $57,000 and County Tipperary native and Philadelphia Friendly Sons of St. Patrick member Archbishop Edmond Francis Prendergast, announced the construction of an orphanage for five hundred orphans to be operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The orphanage replaced one demolished to allow the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was named St. Vincent’s Orphanage. Paul Monaghan was employed as architect and commissioned to build “one of the finest buildings in the diocese.” Work on the project was slowed by the war, and Archbishop Prendergast died before the work was completed.
On May 9, 1920 the dedication took place. 40,000 people, accompanied by bands and musicians, walked from 69th Street to the dedication. Another 20,000 walked from the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Lansdowne, and 65,000 more arrived by motorcar or by trolley from 69th Street. Archbishop Dennis Dougherty and Governor Sproul spoke to the 125,000 well-wishers gathered on the front lawn and along Garrett Road.
St. Vincent’s functioned as an orphanage for over 30 years. By 1952, the number of children needing care had dwindled, and the Most Reverend John F. O’Hara decided to move the remaining orphans to a smaller building in Saint David’s and convert the facility into Archbishop Prendergast High School for Boys, to meet the increasing demand for a Catholic high school in the expanding western suburbs. Three years later, the Archdiocese constructed a new building on the same tract and named it Monsignor Bonner High School in memory of Reverend John J. Bonner, the former diocesan Superintendent of Schools. Bonner then became a school for boys and Prendergast was designated as a school for girls.
On Friday, February 24, 2012, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that Archbishop Prendergast High School and Monsignor Bonner High School were to remain open as a merged co-educational high school due to immense support from alumni and the surrounding community.
It is interesting to note that Friendly Sons of St. Patrick member Anthony J. Drexel was the founder and benefactor behind Drexel University. His sister Mary married John Lankenau and together were the philanthropists behind Lankenau Hospital. Anthony J. Drexel was also an uncle to Saint Katherine Drexel.
Data extracted from the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick Archives