His Eminence John Cardinal Krol established Saint Ephrem Parish on June 6, 1966, and appointed Father William Herrity as the founding pastor. The parish was made from the two neighboring parishes at the time; namely, Our Lady of Grace and Saint Charles Borromeo. We started with about 400 families. Father Herrity’s first task was to find a suitable place for a temporary chapel and that was the Newportville Fire House located on Bensalem Boulevard. The first Mass was held there on June 26, 1966. The first rectory was an old house built over 200 years ago which served as an inn for stagecoach travelers. The home, loaned temporarily by Korman, served as the rectory until 1973 when it was demolished to make way for the present Wood River Village.
Ground breaking for the church took place on February 25, 1968, and building of the church and school began as wellOn December 25, 1968, the first Mass was held in the church before it was fully completed with temporary floodlights, no overhead lighting, flooring nor pews. The church was completed on March 9, 1969, and the dedication took place on May 3, 1969, with His Eminence John Cardinal Krol presiding.
The parish school, staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was at first called St. Mark-Ephrem School because when the school opened in September of 1969, the majority of the students were from St. Mark Parish in Bristol. The reason for this was that St. Ephrem had the building and St. Mark had the faculty, but their school was condemned and closed. The combination of the two schools continued until June of 1977.
In 1973, the sudden death of Father Herrity was a great tragedy for this young parish. While driving to church from the old rectory a mile down the road for Saturday afternoon confessions, he had a heart attack and died in his car.
On Tuesday, June 17, 1973, Father Edward S. Musial was appointed to succeed Father Herrity. The first task of Father Ed, as he became to be known, was to complete the rectory. Two months later this task was accomplished and on August 10, 1973, the rectory was blessed by Bishop Thomas Walsh. Even though the parish was heavily in debt, in 1977, permission was granted to build a new convent for the Sister, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The convent was blessed by His Eminence John Cardinal Krol on August 14, 1977.
Now the completed parish property included the Church, School, Rectory and Convent. As a result of the wise stewardship of Monsignor Ed and the Saint Ephrem parishioners, the million dollar debt was cleared in 1983.
In the same year the rectory and school were enlarged to accommodate the needs of this still growing parish family. Although Saint Ephrem Parish began with 400 families, to date there are over 3000 families, and yet the familial spirit is still characteristic of this faith community.
Upon Monsignor Ed’s retirement in 1996, Father James E. McGuire was appointed pastor. Father Jim continued to involve the laity by strengthening the Parish Pastoral Council. One of Father Jim’s accomplishments while pastor was the Sanctuary Beautification Project. The marble altar and the complementary appointments were procured from the Most Blessed Sacrament Lower Church in Southwest Philadelphia. Mr. Charles Madden, a Philadelphia artist and sculptor, was commissioned to create a new crucifix for the sanctuary. The project completed, Bishop Robert P. Maginnis consecrated the altar on January 24, 1999. A few months later Mr. Madden presented the parish with a specially designed Holy Spirit which has been placed above the Baptismal Font in the sanctuary.
In 2002, Fr. Jim was replaced by Monsignor Kenneth P. McAteer. Under his leadership, the parish continued to grow and in 2007, his administration built the Marian Center. In his time, they renovated the church sacristy and confessionals & added a church bell system in 2019. Msgr. McAteer retired in May 2021 after 19 years of faithful service as St. Ephrem’s 4th pastor.
In June 2021, Fr. Mike Speziale was named St. Ephrem Catholic’s 5th pastor. The parish currently has around 2500 registered families & 325 students enrolled in the parish school with around 150 students enrolled in the PREP program. We average about 20 weddings, 80 funerals & 80 baptisms a year. The IHM sisters still serve here at St. Ephrem but in July 2022, they were asked to live at St. Charles Convent and commute to St. Ephrem.
As our history continues, we are grateful first and for most to Almighty God for His many blessings on our parish community. We are surely indebted to our founding pastor, Father William Herrity, who laid the foundation and to his successors: Monsignor Edward S. Musial, Father James E. McGuire and Monsignor Kenneth P. McAteer. We are also grateful for all the priests, deacons, IHM sisters, and lay faculty & staff who have served here over the years who built the foundation of Catholic faith in Bensalem & sowed seeds to help St. Ephrem Catholic grow & flourish over time. Also, immense gratitude to all the dedicated parishioners & families whose hard work, love, prayers, and sacrifices have made Saint Ephrem the great parish it is today. May the Holy Family and Saint Ephrem continue to bless and guide our parish family always.