Saint Monica Parish and Tommy Loughran

Saint Monica Parish - Exterior Detail

2422 S. 17th Street

The history of Saint Monica Parish at 2422 S. 17th Street dates to the late 1800s when it was built out of materials from a closed church to support an expanding population. Archbishop Patrick John Ryan of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, seeing the growth of the Roman Catholic population in South Philadelphia, called for a new parish to be built there. This growing Roman Catholic population consisted of many Irish and Italian families.

In 1895, Archbishop Ryan directed Father Owen P. McManus, the assistant pastor at Saint Theresa Church, to organize a new parish and build a church and school near on Ritner Street between 17th and 18th Streets. St. Veronica Church, located at 2nd and Butler Streets, was taken apart and the materials were moved to Ritner and 17th Streets where the church was reconstructed to fit 650 people. The chapel was completed on May 24, 1895, and St. Monica Parish was opened for services.

Church leaders focused on expanding the parish and beautifying the interior of the church throughout the early 1900s. By the 1920s, the parish grew to over 1100 families. Throughout the Great Depression, the parish focused on helping those in need within the community.

The end of the Depression brought on renewed expansion and prosperity. Father Aloysius F.X. Farrell became Pastor of St. Monica in 1944. Farrell set to work establishing a school, and in 1945, established St. Monica Kindergarten. In the 1950s, the parish made educational expansion a priority. As a result, the parish purchased the old Balwin Elementary School at 16th and Porter Streets and opened St. Monica School in 1962. This building was deemed unsafe two years later due to structural deterioration. Because of this, the parish constructed a new building to house the school.

The new St. Monica School was opened on September 8, 1965. On the morning of January 8, 1971, Monsignor Farrell celebrated his fortieth year of service to St. Monica Parish. Later that morning, fire raged through the church destroying everything except the walls. The rebuilt church was opened on May 25, 1971. Father Farrell passed away March 1, 1979 in Philadelphia. In honor of his service and dedication to the parish, Farrell was buried on the church grounds. As of 2016, the church and school are still in operation.

Outsiders to the South Philadelphia neighborhood may find it peculiar that a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker in front of the church honors a prize fighter. This marker commemorates Tommy Loughran, a long-time resident of the neighborhood and parishioner of St. Monica Parish. Loughran fought professionally from 1919 to 1937, a period that was known as the “Golden Age of Boxing.” Also called the “Philly Phantom,” he was one of all-time great fighters in the light heavyweight division.

Loughran grew up in a blue-collar, Irish-American home. Before turning professional, he dropped out of high school to work in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and for a neighborhood blacksmith.

On October 7, 1927, Loughran defeated Mike McTigue for the World Light Heavyweight Title at Madison Square Garden. He defended his title several times before losing to Jack Sharkey on September 26, 1929 via a technical knockout. Loughran retired from boxing in 1937 with an impressive record of 90 wins, 25 losses, and 10 draws. Ten of these victories were against champion boxers. Following his retirement from boxing, he became a boxing referee and worked as a Wall Street sugar broker. Loughran died at age 79 in 1982. In 1991, he was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. The marker outside of St. Monica Parish was dedicated to him in a ceremony in 2006.

Loughran’s marker in front of the church is an example of the importance of sports heroes to neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. The church and marker also stand as reminders of the members of the parish who helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood into the community it is today.