Work of Mother Emma Lewis carried on by Saint Monica parishioners

Written by Pete Sanchez

The Parish of Saint Monica in Atlantic City held its Mother Emma Lewis Dinner on Nov. 9, remembering an important figure in the city’s Catholic legacy and honoring those who follow in her footsteps.

Born in Ohio in 1868 to Baptist parents, Emma Lewis arrived in Pittsburgh in 1905 after her marriage broke up and put her daughter in a Catholic school.

Sometime later she came to North Philadelphia, working with the African-American Catholic community in Germantown and became affectionately known as “Mother Lewis,” due to her Sunday school ministry with neighborhood youth and adults.

Receiving awards Nov. 9 at the Mother Emma Lewis Dinner at the Parish of Saint Monica, Atlantic City, are Marvin Laws (Special Appreciation), Nancy Tauro (Commitment to Catholic Education), Gwendolyn Watson (Community Outreach), Vikki Cirigliano (Lifelong Dedication), and Christopher Simonetti (Spirit of Mother Emma Lewis). Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Mother Lewis received financial support from Saint Katharine Drexel to establish Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Mission, which later developed into a church. However, limited to what she could do in Philadelphia, she transferred her ministry to a small house on Delaware Avenue in Atlantic City and named her mission Saint Monica, after the mother of Saint Augustine.

The mission was established in 1917 and was administered by the Augustinian Fathers.

Mother Lewis died in 1921. Seventeen years later, Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, the bishop of Camden, raised Saint Monica from a mission to a church.

After four Atlantic City parishes were merged into one in 2015, the new community became the Parish of Saint Monica, acknowledging the seeds planted by Mother Lewis.

Receiving awards on Nov. 9 were Marvin Laws (Special Appreciation, Nancy Tauro (Commitment to Catholic Education), Gwendolyn Watson (Community Outreach), Vikki Cirigliano (Lifelong Dedication), and Christopher Simonetti (Spirit of Mother Emma Lewis).

In his message to attendees, Father Jon Thomas, pastor of Saint Monica Parish, called Mother Lewis “remarkable,” adding that she had “the zeal of a convert, the perseverance of a pioneer and the care of a mother. Although the church she helped to establish is closed, her legacy continues in the citywide parish which bears the same name. We remember her and are inspired to continue her work — that of telling African Americans that the Catholic Church can be their spiritual home.”

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