Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Saint Anthony in the Devil’s Pocket!

For most of us that grew up in Gray’s Ferry there was always Saint Anthony’s Parish which was, up on Gray’s Ferry Road. It was a great parish church, at one time offered a large parochial competition to all of Saint Gabriel’s sporting teams and included an area little known outside of us real cognoscenti called The Devil’s Pocket. Not it is not a spin off of the Bermuda Triangle or any other mystical catastrophic event it’s just the expression used to describe the rough and tumble antics of Gray’s Ferry kids at the turn of the 20th century. From what I can research from the golden jubilee book of Saint Gabriel’s Parish the founding pastor Fr. Mellon used the phrase to describe the mischievous activities of Gray’s Ferry youth. He reportedly said, the kids from my parish are so mischievous they would steal the watch from the Devil’s pocket!” The phrase might have been forgotten, but the Devil’s Pocket started to mean all of the spirited and mischievous pranksters that roamed and lived in the Gray’s Ferry area during their youth. So once again there is a clerical influence, namely Father Mellon to our vernacular terminology.
Something to note as well. Saint Gabriel Parish was carved out of territory that was previously part of Saint Anthony’s Parish…up the road. But any how the celebration of Saint Anthony of Padua is uniquely associated with a very historical and colorful section of South Philadelphia. The parish ceased to exist sometime in the late 1980’s. However I have great and font memories of helping out Fr. Joseph Meehan at various points in the liturgical year, especially during Holy Week. The parish church was a magnificent sacred space, with an upper church and a lower church, something we didn’t have at Saint Gabes. Also the church was the national shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua. I don’t know if many people knew this, but I think the plaque is still mounted on the church building. By the way, the church is now a church for another worshiping denomination. However, I am sure remnants of local Catholics are always welcome to make a visit.
When I was a small child, my maternal grandmother, who was from Saint Anthony’s Parish always had, what I thought was a huge statue of Saint Anthony in her bedroom. The story was that her grandmother had rescued the statue from a pawn shop on South Street for just a few pennies. She couldn’t bear the thought of, “Poor Saint Anthony” hanging out in a pawn shop window! Well that is a great testimony to the simple faith of the people in Gray’s Ferry. They were mostly Irish immigrants, laborers and Catholic. They worked on coal barges, factories, mills, some were policemen, some were firemen, and some even worked as domestic help for the newly built hotels in center city Philadelphia. Most of the parishioners in Saint Gabriel and Saint Anthony Parish always invoked Saint Anthony’s help when they lost something and needed his help to find it. To this day, I still at one point during the day…ask, “Dear Saint Anthony, please come around…. It might be a simple statement of faith in the saintly Anthony’s abilities, but I always locate my car keys! Also for the record, my mother still has that old chalk statue of Saint Anthony. It really isn’t six feet tall, as I thought when I was a kid; it’s about a foot an a half. He has a chip out of his neck a few scuffs and nicks, but I think he made out better with my grandmother than he would have in a pawn shop window. He is even doing better than me; he lives full time in my parent’s house in Avalon, NJ. Not a bad place to be an iconic image and an antique representation of a saint!
Any how the real point of all of this is to call attention to the truly unique and special experiences that we experienced in The Devil’s Pocket, at Saint Anthony’s Church, at Saint Gabes Church and all around in Gray’s Ferry. We need to remember that whenever you hear that someone is from, The Devil’s Pocket…they are not to be toyed with lightly. The section will always represent the rough and tumble days of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a place that made a lot of memories for a lot of people. And remember when you run into a person that hails from “The Devil’s Pocket” take some time to exaggerate about all of the great adventures you had as a child in that area of Gray’s Ferry. Maybe even get them to brag to you in the quintessential Irish-Catholic manner over a cold pint at Dean’s Bar.


francis said...


I recently published a book about growing up in the Grays Ferry community. I attended St. Aloysius and graduated from Neumann. GHETTO FLOWERS is the name of the series of three books, the first of which just got published. You can get a copy at:


I am in the process of creating a film essay of the St. Gabes parish section of the Greys Ferry Community. I intend to capture the last of the few remaining Irish-Catholic cultures in this area of South Philadephia. I hope to film the following: students in classes at St. Gabes -interviewing them about their school experience and the neighborhood; parishoners after Mass while sitting in the church; folks sitting on their front stoops; kids playing in the streets; teens hanging out at Lanier playground; and a chat over a brew in Dean's bar. I want to capture all I can that is precious about this community and I welcome your ideas and assistance. I will need to contact St. Gabes for permission to film in the church and school. If you can help with this and if you have ideas on what can make this project a success, please email me.

Francis Oliver Lynn
St Al's; Vare playground: Neumann 1971; 2T6)

John said...

fran , i grew up on 1500 bailey and also 1500 26th it's good to hear good things about people from our neighborhood ! i thank god everyday i was born a white irish catholic from grays ferry ! when i tell people stories of the things we did they don't believe me ! it gave me a really good sense of humor ! LOL . i live in cape may county now , big difference from grays ferry , everytime i see a name from the neighborhood in the property transfers i call them just to say " there go's the neighborhood " you should think about interveiwing some of the folks who movd to the shore areas and sorrounding areas , no matter what we'll always be from 2T6

Anonymous said...

hi, my father grew up in the pocket and I in schuylkill and I never heard the story you referenced about how the name came about. my dad told me it had to do with the shape of the neighborhood - the shape of a pocket. And the "devil" part came from the fact that a lot of hoodlums lived there - not him of course... We always considered saint gabes and saint al's to be separate from the pocket. people from there were called "roaders." But we had many friends and relatives in those great neighborhoods.