History of the Parish

On June 3, 1970, St. Isaac Jogues Parish was founded by decree of John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Reverend Thomas J. Lawlor was designated founding Pastor, and parishioners were drawn from the parishes of St. Monica, St. Ann, St. Norbert, St. Teresa of Avila and Our Lady of the Assumption.

The first parish meeting was held in the auditorium of St. Monica’s in Berwyn, where Father Lawlor had taken temporary residence. A program of home Masses was initiated enabling the new pastor and parishioners to meet and pray, and establish a close Christian community.

A warm demonstration of ecumenism was exhibited by surrounding Protestant churches, especially St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, whose Pastor, Reverend Menno Good, most generously offered the use of its church facilities. Two Masses each Sunday were celebrated at St. Matthew’s through the summer of 1970. At that time the original parish choir, altar guild, acolytes, “treasury men” and ushers groups were formed.

In the Fall of 1970 Masses were then held at the Valley Forge Junior High School and a house within the St. Isaac’s boundaries was rented to serve as a rectory. A plea to parishioners produced all the accoutrements of a comfortable residence. Plans for a church and rectory buildings were announced in February of 1971 with the official groundbreaking held on March 21, 1971. The rectory was completed in October and Father Lawlor moved in on November 1, 1971, the feast of All Saints. Once again with great dedication, parishioners donated their time and talents to facilitate this move. In late December the church was ready for the joyous celebration of the Christmas Midnight Mass. Replete with carols and poinsettias, the church’s beauty was exceeded only by the thanksgiving and elation of its people.

On September 23, 1972, St. Isaac Jogues was solemnly dedicated by Cardinal Krol. C.C.D. classes were held in the rectory and the church and the children showed true Christian generosity by initiating the custom of the “Giving Tree” at Christmas that is still carried on today.


Parish Social development was overseen by the “Ladies of St. Isaac’s,” with their first social event in October 1970. This was followed by parties for Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, and covered dish suppers became enormously popular events. Spiritual events became established traditions with retreats for men at St. Joseph-in-the-Hills, days of recollection, a spring Communion breakfast, Penance services, parish renewals and the observation of the Forty Hours Devotion.

The church also had to accept its incidents of tragedy. On Sunday, October 27, 1974, Father Lawlor finished his last homily with the words of St. Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Moments later he was stricken and late that night Father Lawlor died. Those final words of Father Lawlor to his people symbolized the life of a good man, loved by all. Cardinal Krol then appointed Rev. Hugh J. Nolan as Pastor of St. Isaac Jogues effective November 29, 1974.

Father Nolan came to us from Immaculata College where he had taught for many years. A scholar and church historian of note, he was chaplain of St. Mary of Providence in Elverson, a school for special children. Father Nolan’s special interest in education and evangelization have always been evident. The C.C.D. program flourished, Bible Study, pre-school and summer programs were introduced. In order to provide facilities for the growing parish enrollment, a new church annex was erected in 1979. This building has served to house all the religious education of the parish including youth, teenage and adult education. In September 1980, a new chapel and administrative offices were provided due to the tremendous growth experienced with the advent of the Chesterbrook community. Daily Adoration in the chapel began at this time.

In 1989 Father Nolan (later to become Monsignor Nolan) retired.

On February 19, 1989 Monsignor Joseph C. Cunningham was installed the third Pastor of St. Isaac Jogues, after having been appointed January 16, 1989 by Cardinal Bevilaqua.

Monsignor Cunningham had served the Archdiocese for over fifteen years at the Archdiocesan Offices in Philadelphia. He held the position of Vicar for Financial Affairs and Archdiocesan Controller prior to his appointment to St. Isaac’s. Monsignor Cunningham continued to direct the parish’s spiritual growth with the gift of Perpetual Adoration so loved by our parishioners as well as those from surrounding parishes. In addition, he committed himself to keeping alive the various programs initiated by Fathers Lawlor and Nolan and added many new ministries, programs and activities, so that the people of St. Isaac’s could have every opportunity to be fully involved spiritually, educationally and socially.

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