Philadelphia, PA – As memorial Masses go, the Mass held recently in the chapel of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity’s Generalate in Northeast Philadelphia was tiny — perhaps 20 or so mostly elderly men who more than 50 years ago attended St. Francis Vocational School, now a much smaller St. Francis-St. Joseph’s Home for Children.
Included in the group were a few spouses and current residents, and also Trinitarian Sister Bernardine Schmalhofer, a long-time chaplain for St. Francis; Frank White, a former staff member and Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Jim Dalton, a long-time friend of the group and celebrant of the Mass.
What makes the group most interesting is that they represent a child care system that no longer exists. It was a system where children often entered at birth and remained until they were deemed old enough to earn a living on their own.
They were born before the era of Aid for Dependent Children, food stamps and other programs of the social safety net that enable today’s needy families, especially single parents, to raise their children at home.
For those who entered at birth in that past generation a first stop for Catholic children was usually St. Vincent’s Home in Lansdowne conducted by the Daughters of Charity. Girls might stay all the way through their school years.
Boys of school age were passed on to St. John’s Orphan Asylum in West Philadelphia, which was conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and at age 11 or so passed either to St. Joseph Home for Boys in Philadelphia, which was conducted by the Holy Ghost Fathers or to St. Francis in Eddington, which was conducted by the Christian Brothers.
Ed Mockapetris, now 72, entered the system after his father’s death and mother’s illness. He entered in sixth grade and most of his high school years were at Father Judge.
“In my senior year I was in a transitional program and working at Horn & Hardart,” he said.
After leaving St. Francis he received a partial scholarship to La Salle College and even spent a college year in Switzerland. He also thought about possibly entering the seminary, but most of his career was in health care. He met his wife Angela through Epsilon Nu, which was a Catholic singles group, and they married in 1983.
As for St. Francis, “It gave me a sense of organization and direction,” he said. “It was a disciplined and ordered life. I was a daily communicant when I was there and continued to be for many years. I already had a deep love of Our Lord my parents taught me and that was enhanced at St. Francis.”