The Catholic Shop in Norristown to close after 59 years

NORRISTOWN – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7), is a line from the Bible, the best-selling book of all-time.

ar-170909884-jpgmaxh400maxw667At the Catholic Shop in Norristown, the Bible is also their own best-seller and on Saturday, their good fight, their race after 59 years of keeping the faith will come to an end.

The January death of owner Bill Peffley and the declining health of his wife Mary, has caused the family to decide to close. Their children are unable to continue the business since Francis is a priest in Virginia at St. Mary of Sorrows Church, Natia also lives in Virginia, and Edel is a math professor at Villanova.

“If she was in good health, she would be here every day,” Rev. Francis Peffley said of Mary.

He admitted the closing is sad after 59 years but he feels the store has done its purpose spreading goodness, holiness and love of God and others in the area.

The building has been for sale for the past year but there is currently no offer.

Bill and Mary Peffley, who met through the “Legion of Mary,” a lay catholic organization whose members give service to the Church on a voluntary basis, opened the Catholic Shop in 1958 when they returned from their honeymoon. September 8th would have been they’re wedding anniversary. During their honeymoon, which included the priest who performed their wedding, they went to Dublin and Lourdes to learn about the “Legion of Mary.”

“There are very few couples who take the priest with them on their honeymoon,” Rev. Francis Peffley admitted. He said he’s done over 1,000 weddings and has never been invited.

The Catholic Shop’s first location was on Penn Street and then moved to 201 East Main Street in 1976. The store features Bibles, religious literature, rosaries, statues, nativity scenes, advent calendars, First Communion, Confirmation, baptism and wedding items.

“A lot of work revolves around the faith of the sacraments,” said Rev. Francis Peffley.

And matchmaking.

Steve Lukens visited the Catholic Shop in 1995 and Mary asked him if he wanted to go to a meeting of the “Legion of Mary.” He had a commitment that day so she mentioned her daughter, Edel, who had a meeting the next day.

It was there he met his now-wife of seventeen years.

Bill was a matchmaker for Natia. Her husband Greg, learned of Bill’s mens social club through a flier at church. When he went on a retreat with them he met Natia. Greg and Natia live in Northern Virginia where they ran a Catholic Shop for twenty years. The Catholic Shop also had locations in Reading, Willow Grove and Pottstown.

Customers of the Catholic Shop in Norristown are familiar with the warm smile and familiar face of Mary Peffley. She worked at the store five days a week until the age of 92. She is currently retired, living in the area at 95-years-old.

“She is really the hero of the Catholic Shop,” said her son. “She loved helping people. She felt this store was a ministry and not just a business. It was a way to help people get closer to God. That has been their whole life – their love of Jesus, the faith, the church, the Blessed Mother.”

Mary knew many of the customers by name and eventually their children and grandchildren. Some told her about the problems they were facing and she always had time for those who trusted to confide in her.

“A lot of people found it as a refuge. I think that’s what she enjoyed most – spreading goodness, holiness and virtue. Being God’s instrument to bring people closer to Him,” said Rev. Francis Peffley.

Bill Peffley passed in January 2017 at 87-years-old. He also worked at the Catholic Shop “upstairs” in a behind-the-sciences capacity. Rev. Francis Peffley says his father called Mary, “the heart and soul” of the Catholic Shop.

Customers of the Catholic Shop, would surely say “amen” to that and the end of a good fight.


Norristown couple hopes painted stones will soften hearts

NORRISTOWN – Physicians tout a heart-healthy diet to protect the most important muscle.

It isn’t the only way to take care of your ticker. Too much negativity and hate can turn even the warmest heart to stone. Two Norristown women and their four-year-old daughter are trying to flip that script and make a stone soften your heart. “Norristown Rocks” is the Facebook group that decorates rocks and places them throughout town to be found. The goal is simple – to brighten someone’s day.

Carrie Alexander-Quinn and her wife, Erin, recently took a trip to visit Carrie’s parent’ in Detroit. Carrie, a native of the Motor City says she “bleeds Detroit.” While they where visiting, Carrie took their daughter Declyn to a park where the four-year-old found painted rocks.

“Look what I found,” she said, delighted.

“She found the rock and her eyes lit up,” recalled Carrie.

Carrie had read about painted rocks being planted but didn’t know where they were. After Declyn’s discovery they began the cycle of painting rocks and plating them. It gave Carrie an idea to bring back home.

“Everybody talks about Norristown and how negative it is. If finding a painted rock brings a smile to someone’s face, why not? It’s easy,” said Carrie. Carrie and Erin have been residents of Norristown since they moved to the area in 2014 from Minneapolis to be closer to Erin’s family.

The Alexander-Quinn’s set up a table on their front porch on Noble Street with brushes, a few bags of white rocks from Home Depot, and a crate filled with paint. Kids ring their doorbell nearly every day asking if they can paint.

“It’s great to see the kids want to be involved,” said Erin, who was an avid painter in high school and college. “I’ll sit outside with the kids and paint. The kids love it.”

When finished painting, a sticker is affixed to the back – Post to #NorristownRocks Facebook.

The Alexander-Quinns then gather the rocks to plant them in public areas.

“We want to know people are finding them. If it made their day. It hasn’t taken off like we wanted to yet,” said Carrie.

unknown-8 unknown-10Carrie recently planted a rock with the breast cancer ribbon at the Women’s Center at Einstein Montgomery. People saw it but didn’t know what to do with it, she said.

If you see a rock and take it, then you should repaint and replant one.

Consider it paying a smile forward.

“You can’t even get people to smile nowadays. Maybe a rock can do it,” said Carrie.

Some rocks are painted with designs like pumpkins, rainbows, or Hello Kitty. Others have written messages such as, “be kind” or “have a nice day.”

“By all means, if it has our sticker on the back please take it. We hope the people who find the rocks enjoy them,” said Erin.

Erin was active in her community in Minneapolis and made it a point to continue her involvement in her new home.

“We love the street we live on and our neighbors,” Erin said.

A few minutes later, Decyln spotted a close-in-age neighbor playing with a dollhouse.

“Want to come over?” Declyn asked. The girl quickly obliged and they began to paint rocks on sunny Sunday morning.

It was enough to turn even the most hardened heart of stone into a puddle.


Norristown PAL presents International Food and Wine Festival

NORRISTOWN – The end of summer can be a sad time but it shouldn’t stop a party.

On Thursday, September 7th from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Plymouth Country Club Greater Norristown Police Athletic League will be holding its 17th Annual International Food and Wine Festival.

“I like to think of it as a big cocktail party that everyone in the community comes to,” said Maggie Hall, GNPAL Board Secretary. “It’s a nice place to stroll around and try different things. The community has supported us over the years. We’ve had a good response.”

A new addition this year will be a Craft Beer Garden in the tent area. Sample beers provided by Conshohocken Brewing, La Cabra Brewing, DeWalt Brewing, and Gretz Beers.

“The festival has been very successful over the years and we thought that a Craft Beer Garden was an addition that could be a part of something new this year,” said Lee Holmes Jr., GNPAL Board President.

Along with liquid libations there will be food available for sampling from vendors including Redstone Grill, Merrymead Farm , Kriebels Bakery, Sessanos, and a variety of others.

All proceeds will benefit GNPAL a non-profit, volunteer organization that serves the youth and families of the Greater Norristown community with recreational, educational, and cultural programs addressing citizenship, self-esteem, avoidance of substance abuse, and respect for law and order. Proceeds will also benefit the Greater Norristown PAL’s Harry P. Mirabile, Sr. Scholarship Fund.

GNPAL’s premier fundraiser of the year will have a silent auction/raffle of many items. Holmes Jr. says the Festival is an opportunity to celebrate the relationship with donors and raise funds for GNPAL’s mission.

Since 1976, Greater Norristown PAL (GNPAL) has served thousands of area youth in a variety of programs.  In 2005, the GNPAL moved into the old Stewart National Guard Armory building near the Elmwood Park/zoo/sports complex, and the building is now called the Greater Norristown PAL Center

“The borough has a variety of people living in it and we provide them a spot that offers quality program at a low cost,” commented Hall. “Our membership for children seventeen-years-old and under is five dollars a year (some programs do have additional fees). It provides them with a lot of different activities and a place that’s safe.”

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Solidarity Run at Norristown Farm Park supports county Victim Services Center

NORRISTOWN – Linda VanOcker doesn’t know the name of the 19-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted at Norristown Farm Park on August 1st.

Wednesday night marked her first time at the Farm Park.

What connects VanOcker to the victim and the 690-acre location is her own history of teenage rape and the journey to overcome its effects.

VanOcker was raped at a party when she was 17-years-old and did not have the support she needed. She says she “shut down” and attempted suicide twice.

“My spirit was destroyed. I went down a slippery slope,” explained Van Ocker, a Berwyn resident. “I buried it then I coped with it. My coping was very dark. For me it was a spiritual journey. Today, I’m grateful for my pain and my struggles because from that grew my strength, courage and my voice.”

unknown-4Organized on Facebook by Van Ocker, Kelly Volpi, and Ryan Graham, leader of the Norristown Running Club, the page gained what organizers called a phenomenal reaction. The Facebook page states, “our running community stands in solidarity with this woman, we are raising our voice, we are showing up, and we are speaking out in order to #stoptheviolence.

“We are working together with the same goal even though we may never know her name,” Van Ocker said referring to the rape victim. “She has a name. We want to show her we care, she is important, she matters, she’s loved, and we got her back.”

The Solidarity Run organizers partnered with the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County as the beneficiary of the run. Unlike other runs, there were no fees or registration required. Organizers asked for donations to Victim Services. As the only rape crisis center for Montgomery County, they also help victims of other violent crimes. Victim Services was on-site Wednesday night providing support, educational resources, and programming information.

“We try to shed light on the issue of sexual assault and it’s great our community is responding and reclaiming the park. It’s a very powerful message,” said Jessica Rice, Community Education Program Supervisor. “What we need to do instead of reducing our risk is try to change attitudes and beliefs that promote violence.”

“It took me forty years to heal. I’m thrilled Victim Services is here,” said VanOcker.

Norristown Farm Park, which sits in parts of East Norriton, West Norriton and Norristown, is a regular spot for walkers, families, people with pets, bike riders, and avid runners like Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence.

“The only thing more horrible than the assault would be if it drove people away from this oasis,” said Lawrence who participated in the run. “I was overwhelmed when I saw the amount of people here. This was grassroots. It shows the community has really rallied and we are going to keep our park.”

Men and women of a wide range of ages took part in either the three-mile run or one-mile walk. Some runners wore shirts from their respective running clubs or teal in recognition of sexual assault awareness.

Like many, Phoenixville’s Heather Vallino and Bridgeport’s Samantha Moyer were upset when they heard about the assault and wanted to show support. Vallino and her two daughters, Sofie, 6 and Annie, 5, did the one-mile walk.

“I want my daughters to know there is a community out there who supports you and you can call on people when you need help,” said Vallino.

Moyer and her two sons, Xavier, 12 and Fenix, 6 walk in the park regularly but tonight’s visit had a different purpose.

“I want them to see these things happen and it isn’t always gender specific but no matter what it is, as a young man, it’s your job to be there to support women in these circumstances,” said Moyer. “As young men, growing up in today’s society they should help defend women’s rights.”





Teddy Bear Clinic at Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown, takes the fear out of doctor visits

NORRISTOWN – Thirty-year-old Sylvester has never been to the doctor for a check-up.

Does he have a super-immune system?

Are his bones made out of steel?

Or is he one of the millions of Americans without health insurance?

The answer is none of the above so no need to get your blood pressure up over a possible debate on politics.

Sylvester is my 14-inch stuffed penguin.

On Saturday afternoon, Sylvester, along with other stuffed animals and their best human friends attended the Teddy Bear Clinic at Elmwood Park Zoo.

The Teddy Bear Clinic helps children feel more comfortable about visiting the doctors as local nurses and vet-tech examined their stuffed animals.

Of course he has a heart! He's my oldest friend.

Of course he has a heart! He’s my oldest friend.

“It can be a scary time going to the doctor or dentist. Why not bring one of their favorite things so they know it’s a safe experience,” said Julia Santoro, Special Events Manager.

Maria Carty, Medical Assistant with the Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia tended to Sylvester.

First, she checked his heartbeat.

“Sounds good!”

Then she listened to his lungs.

“He has a really strong set of lungs.”

His stomach revealed rumblings, which is no surprise since penguins eat up to thirteen pounds of food a day. You should see my grocery bill!

“He sounds like he’s hungry,” Carty said.

She slid a blood pressure cuff over his flipper and took his temperature. She gave him a quick shot which he handled much better than I ever did and gave him a Finding Nemo Band-Aid.

Sylvester and I were sent on our with a “Teddy Bear Health Certificate” and instructions to hug him twice daily and bed rest.

Carty and others on her team saw an assortment of (stuffed) bears, some lizards, a monkey, a fox, giraffe, a mermaid and, of course, one penguin.

“We show their bears are being treated nicely and they are not scared so when they go to the doctors they aren’t scared. Especially when you get a shot. It’s quick, fast and nothing to be afraid of. Their parents were very brave also. They were there to support them,” commented Carty.

Live animals also got in on the day of wellness as donkeys Pickles and Jenny received their check-ups at the Zoo Bowl Theater.

Veterinarian Michele Goodman said donkeys are similar to the other animals in the zoo in that they need annual exams. Both are considered senior in age (Pickles is 19 and Jenny is 17) and are monitored for arthritis and other conditions.

Red Pandas require the most medical attention.

“Their evolutionary adaptations are very unusual for an animal so they require a lot of intensive care management as part of their normal routine,” said Goodman.

Emlen Tunnell, the first African-American inducted in NFL HOF, Gets Statue

First published in The Spirit Newspaper on July 26

By Katie Kohler

In a backyard studio in Bucks County, a seven-foot sculpture of Emlen Tunnell is basking in well-deserved attention. Members from the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum are taking a few minutes to reflect the fruits of their labor from the Emlen Tunnell Statue Fund. Sculptor Jennifer Frudakis-Petry is enjoying a bittersweet moment before she says ‘goodbye’ to the project she has worked on for close to nine months. Brothers Larry and Randy Welker, owners of Laran Bronze, are sizing up Tunnell the way a wide receiver may have looked at him before crossing the middle of the field. The Welkers will take the statue apart to transport it to their foundry in Chester where it will be cast in bronze.

For all of them, especially those involved with the Sports Legends of Delaware County, Tunnell is finally getting the attention he deserves. Hopefully, it’s not only for today but when the statue makes takes permanent residence at the Radnor Township Building which houses the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum (301 Iven Avenue).

“We are trying to figure out the best way to transport it. The best way for our mold makers and how we want to cast it and in what pieces,” said Larry Welker. “It’s easier when it’s winter. Since it is over 90 degrees the clay is soft.”

The process takes ten to twelve weeks and after the pieces are cast in bronze they will be welded together.

Chuck Weems, a photographer for Sports Legends of Delaware County and former semi-pro football admitted he did not know of Tunnell until this project.

“I just went to a football camp and several pro football players knew nothing about him,” said Weems. “That’s why I think this project is going to be so great. We want to make this known to football minds all over the United States and the world. It should be known who he is.”

August 5th will mark the 50th anniversary of Tunnell’s induction into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame as the first African-American. He is also the only athlete from Delaware County inducted into a professional sports Hall of Fame.

“Nobody really had a full grasp on who this man is,” said Phil Damiani, vice president of Sports Legends and co-chair of the Emlen Tunnell Statue Committee. “This is what he really deserves. He had a phenomenal career and a phenomenal person. During his military career he saved two men.”

Some of award-winning sculptor Frudakis-Pertry’s previous work includes bronze portrait busts and figure sculptures for the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame. She started the project with a small-scale model of Tunnell and presented it to the committee in November.

“What an amazing life he led,” said Frudakis-Petry. “He was so courageous and fearless. There was nothing in his life he didn’t think could do. I loved working on it. You get to a point, it’s ready and I’m worried about the temperature. I’d like to see it in the foundry and not out here.”