St. John the Baptist Parish’s humble beginnings started on Cresson Street in the small Milltown of Manayunk, at the home of Jerome and Eulalia Keating. In the winter of 1829-30, the Keatings invited a priest to celebrate Catholic Mass in their home. Mrs. Keating was also said to have held a weekly Sunday school for a dozen or so neighboring children.
Eventually when about 20 families (about 100 people)
were attending masses, Jerome Keating, a cotton mill owner, proposed the start of a parish, and made a gift of the ground for a church and cemetery. The original church opened on April 4, 1831, and stood adjacent to the current cemetery, the cornerstone laid where the Upper School building stands (former St. John's Girls' High School). It was the first Catholic Parish established outside of Center City and the tenth oldest parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In 1833, Jerome Keating passed away. Afterward,
Eulalia Keating, mother of three, became Sister Mary Joseph in the Order of the Vistation in Georgetown. Their daugther Amelia received her First Holy Communion on Christmas Eve midnight Mass in the church in 1832 with 11 other children. She eventually entered the Carmelite order in Baltimore, MD. Jerome and Eulalia Keating are buried together in St. John's Cemetery. The Keatings’ residence eventually became the convent housing the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who faithfully served the parish until the closing of the school. The first organist of the parish was esteemed banker Francis M. Drexel. This devoted Catholic and grandfather of a Saint, would travel seven miles on foot along what is now Kelly Drive, from his Center City home to our church in Manayunk, to play the organ for an annual salary of $150.00. St. Katharine Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, by (Saint) Pope John Paul II.
The Growth of the Catholic Community continued.
St. John’s would become the “mother church”
to the area churches, beginning with St. Patrick in
Norristown (1835), and the other Manayunk Churches: St. Mary of the Assumption (1848), Holy Family, (1885), St. Josaphat (1898), and St. Lucy (1907). Eventually the rapid growth of the church and beginnings of a school became too small for the manufacturing town, calling for the building of a new cathedral-like church.
The current church was designed by architect Patrick Charles Keely of New York, and dedicated on April 1, 1894, through a legacy gift of $100,000 in 1881 from
Bernard McCane and his wife. In their honor, the main altar is adorned with statues of Ss. Bernard and Cecelia. Combined with the help of the local community, the Church was built at a total cost of $250,000. Over the following decades, much due to Monsignor John McKenna, it was outfitted with interiors, stations, and many of the sculptures the work of eminent sculptor Joseph Sibbel of New York. The church organ is the original from 1906, also when bell tower was completed. Atop the tower
live a family of Falcons, coincidentally the Mascot of the former Boys’ High School.
It is believed our cemetery has buried more Civil War Veterans than any other small cemetery in America. Our school buildings served as a Parish Hall, Boys and
Girls’ High Schools, and elementary school. The Honor Roll(s) in our Social Hall names parish veterans who served
during World War II. Before the Social Hall was turned into a gathering place for events, it served as a chapel and lower church. It was for a time used for Mass during
neighboring Church construction. The Keating Home / IHM Convent stood on Cresson Street until 2018 when construction for a church parking lot began.
In 2006, the five parish schools in Manayunk were closed. Then in 2012, St. Jospahat and St. Mary of the Assumption Churches closed, and the three parishes
St. Josaphat Church at 124 Cotton Street is a worship site and St. Mary of the Assumption Church building although no longer used as Church Property stands on Conarroe Street designated as a historical place.