The History of St. Maron Parish - Philadelphia, PA
The founding of St. Maron's, one of the first Maronite parishes in North America, dates back to the late 1800's, when the ship Rainbow (#176) docked at the Port of New Orleans. Sarkees Abraham, at 22 years of age, disembarked and began a long journey up the eastern seaboard of the United States. For the next two and one-half years, this brave pioneer travelled by foot and settled in Philadelphia, thereby becoming the first known Lebanese inhabitant in the Cradle of Liberty. He took an apartment on 10th Street between Catherine and Christian Streets. Unknown to him, twelve other Lebanese immigrants were to follow and in 1885 established themselves in Philadelphia, taking up residence at what is now 1173 S. 10tn Street. These brave pioneers established the neighborhood that continues today as the heart and soul of the Middle Eastern community in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Concurrent with this initial immigration to Philadelphia was the development of the Maronite church. It is recorded that Fr. Istfan Korkemaz, an itinerant Lebanese priest, established the first Maronite parish, known as St. Maron, in 1887 on Washington Avenue between 9th and 10th Street. According to church records, Hadla Kheiralhah was married to Hanna Abdo in 1888. In addition to his Philadelphia ministry, Fr. Korkemaz travelled the Middle Atlantic region performing the rituals of the Maronite Rite for the mushrooming Lebanese populations. We know that Fr. Korkemaz maintained his presence in Philadelphia until 1911.
Around 1890, St. Maron moved from its Washington Avenue location to 931 Ellsworth Street. Additional records indicate that the church was housed on the second floor of the Ellsworth Street location with a Michael Gussin as sexton. On October 2, 1899, the seal of St. Maron Church was made and read “St. Maron of the Syro-Maronite Missions in the U.S.A.”
On March 2, 1902, Fr. Joseph Yazbeck, later Chor-Bishop, dedicated the "new" church at the northwest corner of 10th and Ellsworth Streets where it has remained for over 100 years. Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia, who had previously asked for a permanent Maronite priest, was present at the dedication. Interestingly, Fr. Yazbeck's first mass in Philadelphia was said at St. Paul's Church on Christian Street between 9th and 10th Streets. It was at St. Paul's school that Fr. Yazbeck registered the first of many Lebanese students, a young girl known as Marika Joseph Gussin in 1901. It was during the years between the 1899 and the early 1900's that some of St. Maron earliest families became established. These families have remained devoted members for over 100 years. These early settlers never forgot their homeland and in 1925 founded the Antoureen Benefit Charitable Society, which was chartered to collect funds to help their countrymen and women in Lebanon.
Following Chor-Bishop Yazbeck's tenure as pastor, Fr. Louis Zouain assumed the role as spiritual head of the Maronite community. It was during his stay that the first choir was established and, most probably, had as its first singer, Najdaj Khoury, Fr. Zouain's niece. A major work of Fr. Zouain was translating the psalms and hymns of the Maronite mass to English. In succeeding years, St. Maron Church had as its pastors Fr. Biscante, Fr. Nehme, Chor-Bishop Risha and Fr. Joseph Shaheen. Each in his own unique manner, contributed to the stability and development of the church and the Maronite community in the Greater Philadelphia region, while also helping to integrate the Lebanese into the mainstream of American life.
In March, 1974, Msgr. Sharbel Lischaa was assigned to St. Maron Church and became the eighth pastor to lead this historic parish. Under his guidance and direction, the parish grew and prospered. Msgr. Sharbel was respected and loved by his parishioners and by the many men and women in the region for whom he has opened his heart and his doors. He was instrumental in establishing the original mission in Newtown Square, known as The St. Sharbel Mission, which continues today as the second Maronite parish in the Philadelphia region.
Msgr. Sharbel’s retirement was accepted by Bishop Gregory Mansour in October, 2010 at which time Fr. Michael Marrone, a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia whose family counts itself among the original members of the parish, assumed the role of Pastoral Administrator.
In May, 2011 Bishop Gregory appointed Fr. Vincent Farhat as the Pastoral Administrator of St. Maron Church effective September, 2011.
In June, 2013 Fr. Vincent Farhat was officially assigned Pastor of Saint Maron Church.