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St. Augustine's

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St. Augustine's steeple

Across the street is St. Augustine's Catholic Church. The original was founded in 1798 and destroyed in the anti-Catholic riots in 1844 when many Catholic churches were burned. The city was in a state of near anarchy then and even the governor was intimidated by the mob. In this fire, a "sister" bell of the Liberty Bell was also destroyed. Rebuilt in 1847, the church is of interest because the Irish friars of the Order of St. Augustine, who established the parish in 1796, also founded St. Augustine's Academy at this location in 1811 — the forerunner of Villanova University, the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in Pennsylvania. In December, 1992, a brutal storm literally blew off the steeple of St. Augustine's Church. The steeple actually landed right on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, closing the span for three days. A fifty-foot chasm opened in the church's roof subjecting many priceless paintings and murals on the ceiling to water damage. But the history of St. Augustine's proves that after a catastrophe the church rebounds even stronger. Insurance money ("act of God") paid for a new steeple.

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