By Sister Mary Frances Angermaier
A native of Baltimore, Sister Mary Frances Angermaier professed first vows in 1952. Over nearly seven decades, Sister Mary Frances has ministered as an educator in Baltimore City and Philadelphia, served as a pastoral minister in Pennsylvania, at the Caroline Center in Baltimore, and was involved in a number of ministries at Villa Assumpta. From 1974 – 1984, Sister Mary Frances ministered as the administrator of St. Vincent’s Home in Tacony, Penn., which was founded in 1855 with the assistance of Philadelphia’s fourth bishop and America’s first male saint, Bishop John Neumann. Saint Katherine Drexel and her family also contributed significantly to the work of St. Vincent’s Home. Sister Mary Frances shared a story about a happening that occurred at St. Vincent’s on March 21, 1984, “that dawned as a very damp, cold, windy day.”
By 7:15 a.m. most of the children had already gone off to school, and the daily routine had begun as usual.
As I was finishing breakfast, a sister came into the room and said she smelled smoke. I called the fire department immediately, only to learn that someone had already reported it and that they were on the way. Several of the younger children were still in the burning building with two of our older sisters, who were getting them ready for daycare.
I ran to the third floor to help them. They were coming down the stairs, and a man dressed in a grey suit was leading them. At that point the firemen arrived, and we took the children into the other building. In the excitement of watching the wind whip the flames through the roof of the 100-year-old building and praying for the safety of the firemen, I forgot all about the man in the grey suit. He had just disappeared.
The rest of the day was a blur of activity. It took about two hours to extinguish the fire, which was caused by faulty wiring, but the hoses continued to pour water into the very large, four-storied structure. Thank God, the Blessed Sacrament and the sacred vessels were rescued from the chapel in time, but not too much of anything else was saved. The building was destroyed due to the fire and extensive water damage.
Since the building that burned was the sleeping quarters for the children and sisters, our thoughts turned to setting up accommodations in the other building, so that all would be ready by the time the children came home from school. People from all over the city of Philadelphia were calling to see what was needed, and friends began to arrive to help. A social worker went to the schools before dismissal time to tell the children what had happened and to assure them that they would be safe.
As we sat down for supper that evening, the firemen were gone, the building could not be used, and we were tired and hungry. But everything was ready for the evening, and we had what we needed to move on. “THANK GOD” was repeated over and over as our children received extra hugs, and our friends stayed late just to be with us and to console us.
It was only then that someone mentioned the man in the grey suit. Who was he? Where did he come from? One of the sisters who had seen him running to the burning part of the building said that she had spoken to him briefly. He told her he was on his way to work, and as he was driving down 95 North he had seen the smoke coming from the roof and ran in to call the firemen, and to see what he could do to help.
We have often wondered. Would St. John Neumann, who was so instrumental in founding St. Vincent’s, ever wear a grey suit? We’re not sure, but we do know that this incident was one of the many, many miracles that God worked at St. Vincent’s.