Rev. Charles Jerome Vandegrift

Pastor Saint Mark 1889-1896

Rev. Charles J. Vandegrift came to St. Mark’s in November 1889. The prospects that greeted him was far from encouraging. He found a fine church and rectory and a new school, but he also found a parish poor and hopelessly in debt. Father Vandegrift had thirteen years’ experience in St. Frances’ and St. Patrick’s churches in Philadelphia, and he was preeminently the man to handle such a situation. His organizing ability and his grasp of parish affairs stood him in good stead, and with him began one of the most successful periods in the history of St. Mark’s Parish.

His first effort was to beautify the church, which he did by having it newly frescoed and having the vestibule of the church laid in tile. Then he turned his mind to the huge debt under which the parish labored. To secure necessary funds to pay off this debt, he spent himself ceaselessly in making the rounds of churches in Philadelphia and other cities of the diocese, making appeals and taking up collections. Father received nearly 10,000.00 through these visits, and that, together with what his own people were able to contribute, led to the eventful freedom from debt in the parish.

Another project undertaken and successfully carried out by Father Vandegrift was the purchase of a new cemetery. In the early months of 1892 he purchased a large tract of land on the Bristol Pike, less than a mile outside of town, for the sum of 3,022.00. The sums which the parishioners contributed for this undertaking were put to their credit for burial lots, and in this way the purchase price was paid off fairly and easily. Rev. P.J. Garvey, DD, of St. James’ church, Philadelphia, was delegated by Archbishop Ryan to consecrate the ground, and this ceremony took place on October 2, 1893. The tract was marked off by hedges around the four sides, and curving driveways were laid out to divide the cemetery into different sections.

During Father Vandegrift’s time at St. Mark’s a public Flag Raising was held, the occasion being the morning of Memorial Day, May 30, 1890. This event will be recalled by many of the older members of the parish as a memorable event for many reasons, one being that it was St. Mark’s first chance to demonstrate its place in the civic life of the community and to publicly proclaim the ideals of patriotism which have always gone hand in hand with Catholicism in Bristol as in the rest of the church. The boys’ band from St. Francis Industrial Home, then being trained by Mr. Maurice Keating came to Bristol for the event, marching from the railroad station to the rectory, where it serenaded Father Vandegrift and his assistant, Father William Meagher; after this display it marched down to the school, where a platform had been erected and an unusually large crowd had assembled. The civic leaders of the town were well represented on the speakers’ platform by Chief Burgess William Wright and many of the Councilmen. After a selection of patriotic songs by the school children, accompanied by the band from Eddington, came the presentation of the Stars and Strips. This was performed by the Chairman, Mr. Andrew Quigley, a venerable member of St. Mark’s and a veteran of the Civil War.

There were four speeches of note that day. Mr. Quigley in his address of presentation gave a stirring patriotic speech, followed by the Chief Burgess, Mr. Wright. Father Vandegrift’s address was so impressive that it was printed in full the following day in the local paper, the now defunct “Every Evening.” Because of the import of that speech it was reproduced in the 100th anniversary book of Saint Mark from which this article and information was gathered.