The Ancient Order of Hibernians

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Catholic, Irish American Fraternal Organization founded in New York City May 4th, 1836. The Order can trace its roots back to a parent organization, of the same name, which has existed in Ireland for over 300 years. However, while the organizations share a common thread, the North American A.O.H. is a separate and much larger organization.

The Order evolved from a need in the early sixteen hundreds to protect the lives of priests who risked immediate death to keep the Catholic Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of England’s King Henry VIII. When England Implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various secret social societies were formed across the country. These groups worked to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available. Similarly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded May 4th, 1836 at New York’s St. James Church, to protect the clergy, and Church property from the “Know Nothings” and their followers. At the same time the vast influx of Irish Immigrants fleeing famine issues in Ireland in the late 1840′s, prompted a growth of various social societies in the USA – the largest of which was, and continues to be, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Active across the United States, The Order seeks to aid the newly arrived Irish, both socially, politically. The many Divisions and club facilities located throughout the U.S. traditionally have been among the first to welcome new Irish Americans. Here, the Irish culture – art, dance, music, and sports are fostered and preserved. The newcomers can meet some of “their own” and are introduced to the social atmosphere of the Irish-American community. The AOH has been at the political forefront for issues concerning the Irish, such as; Immigration Reform; economic Incentives both here and in Ireland; the human rights issues addressed in the MacBride Legislation; Right-To-Life; and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland.

The Order has also provided a continuing bridge with Ireland for those Irish-Americans who are generations removed from their country of origin. Many A.O.H. Divisions bring children from the North of Ireland under Project Children or other programs. The Order sponsors many programs associated with promoting our Irish Heritage, such as, one year overseas study scholarships at Irish Universities and the Irish Way Program. Irish Studies programs at American universities and scholarship at universities, like Notre Dame, are also sponsored by the Order.

You may further seek admittance to the finest Irish Catholic Organization in the World, all we would ask is for you to live our motto of: “Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity”


AOH Division 39 Tacony, Pennsylvania

Division 39 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was formed on May 15th 1889 in Tacony, a section of Philadelphia. Their charter was signed by Maurice Wilhere, then National Delegate who was the same position as National President today. It was not until 1894 that the office of National Delegate was changed to National President.

At the time of Division 39’s formation, Maurice Wilhere was the National Delegate, P McNellis was the National VP, and Patrick Heynes was the National Secretary. The state officers were James Jackson, Cornelius O’Brien, and Pat Fallon. Pat Lyons was the Philadelphia County President.

The First officers of Division 39 were: President, Joseph McKeown, Vice President Patrick Conway, Recording Secretary John Mulholland, Financial Secretary Patrick Lester and the Treasurer was Patrick Connors.

Division 39 was a very active division working with newly arrived immigrants, providing room and board and getting the men work in the construction industry, on the docks and later in the Disston Saw Mill.

Henry Disston who moved his business to Tacony and built an empire there in the early 1870’s and brought numerous other businesses to Tacony which became one of the fastest growing sections of Philadelphia. Division 39 helped the Irish immigrants get work in the saw mills, foundries, mills and glass work factories and many of these immigrants families still live in Tacony. Many of these Irish immigrants built and attended St Leo’s Catholic Church which was built in 1884 and still stands at Keystone and Unruh St. Tacony Music Hall, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, was built in 1885 by an Irishman and Hibernian named Frank Jordan.

People stayed in the Tacony section because there was no reason to go anywhere else, everything needed to survive was already there. In the late 1940’s Division 39 opened a clubhouse at 6719 Hegerman St and was used by them until 1956 when they moved to bigger quarters at 7215 Torresdale Ave, known then as “The Avenue” with the 56 Trolley running where you could go anywhere in the city and beyond and the Loop was directly across the street from the club and next to Leonard’s Diner.

During the 50’s and 60’s many more AOH Divisions started in Philadelphia and surrounding areas and Division 39 began to lose members as people moved out to the suburbs and formed divisions where ever they settled.

By the late 1960’s there were less than fifty members in the division and it became harder to maintain the headquarters. The County Board and other divisions met at the 39 Hall but even at that the officers knew they needed to bring in some new, young people so the task began to revitalize a once great division. With the help of a few younger men and their families and friends of the Nahill’s, McGinley’s, Daly’s, Boyles, Fanning’s, O’Connor’s and many more who are still active in the division, Division 39 began to revitalize again and by the early 1980’s Division 39 had over 300 members. By the mid 1990’s they had over 900 members and was the largest Division in the country. Realizing that the premises on Torresdale Ave.  were getting too small they began to look for a new building and in 1995-1996 they acquired, renovated and moved into a new building on March 15th 1996, at our present location at 7229 Tulip St. still in the Tacony section of Philadelphia where today we remain with a membership of approximately 750 members.

Some of the annual functions at the division which have been in place for many years are the division Communion Breakfast, Veterans Day Mass and social where all vets are welcome and have dinner and refreshments. Children’s Christmas Party, Mass before the St Patrick’s Day parade and post parade party, awarding of Scholarships based on a written essay, 3 scholarship awards on Thanksgiving Day to Father Judge HS football Players, erection and dismantling of the Christmas Crèche in Downtown Philadelphia, the annual Chili Cook off and membership drive, weekly crab night in season, and fundraisers for people in need. The division also takes part in the Tacony History Day and the Mayfair/Holmesburgh Parades as well as raising funds and a clothing and food drive for our veterans. These are just some of the functions which occur in Division 39.

In the side yard of the property a monument was erected with the names of many of the departed members and officers who were part of making Division 39 the great club that it is today. The motto of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity can be seen every day in the club as was testified to this past year as thousands of dollars and supplies were collected and brought to New York and New Jersey to help other Hibernians who were devastated by the super storm Sandy, which destroyed parts of the Jersey shore and many of the shore areas of new York. The officers and members of Division 39 are proud of their heritage, religion and charitable works. 2014 will see the 125th anniversary of our Division and a great celebration is already in the planning for May of 2014.


Monsignor Thomas J. Rilley, 1912 – 1978
Division 39, the largest and second oldest division in Pennsylvania, is named in honor of a priest who served as our chaplain for over 25 years while devoting himself to myriad causes.

One of eight children, Thomas was born in Elmira, New York. He decided early in life to become a priest, following his older brother, James into the seminary. This was after the family had relocated to the Tacony section of Philadelphia. He was ordained in 1940. His first assignment was to the Philadelphia General Hospital as chaplain.

In 1943 he was named chaplain to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. He had the Irish gift of eloquence and was able to influence politicians, bureaucrats, and financiers to help in his charitable programs for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Among the many marks of his legacy are: the House of the Gesu, the Guild for the Blind, the Neumann Nursing Home, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). He founded the Saint Patrick’s Day Observance Committee and became its first chairman. This fostered the tradition of a dignified parade each year since 1952 in Philadelphia. Prior to that folks had to go to New York to see a parade of any magnitude.

The list of his benevolent works is truly impressive. As we go forth in the parade and in the future in the spirit of friendship, unity, and Christian charity, let us salute a most appropriate role model our namesake and former chaplain, Monsignor Thomas J. Rilley


Father Thomas Patrick Joseph Doyle, S.J.
Father Doyle was the sixth child born of Bridget Agnes Moran Doyle (Castleroyan, Swinford, County Mayo) and Michael J. Doyle (County Kerry).  He was born on March 26, 1914.  He attended the Gesu Grammar School and was taught by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  He attended Roman Catholic High School where he majored in Commercial Arts and graduated in 1931.  As he had not taken enough courses in the Romantic Languages he enrolled in St. Joseph Preparatory School where he spends two years.  He graduated in 1933.  While in high school, he worked at the old Camden Ball Park as there was no Sunday Baseball in Philadelphia at that time.  He worked for an outstanding man, Augstav Freund, who was a Grocer and Butcher.  Father was an outstanding athlete who excelled in football, baseball and basketball.  In 1933, he was the playing Manager of the Bancroft Baseball League.

Father Doyle entered the Society of Jesus in 1933 and performed his priestly studies in Canada.  He was ordained on June 30, 1946 and celebrated his first public Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Philadelphia.  His ministry would take him back to Canada where he would spend the next thirty-four yeas as an educator, mission director, editor and preacher.  As mission director, hew was to travel around the world.  On one trip home he stopped off in Ireland, and he experienced love at first sight.  He champion may of the causes of Ireland and Irish Nationalism after his visit.

He returned to Philadelphia in 1967 and for 25 years he was stationed at Olde Saint Joseph’s Church.  In addition to officiating at Spiritual Devotion throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Father Doyle served as Chaplin to the Federation of Irish Societies of the Delaware Valley, the Irish Society, Legion of Mary, Knights of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  His selfless dedication to the Irish community in Philadelphia is legendary and his willingness to lend a helping hand to those in need is in keeping with the glorious tradition of the Jesuit Fathers.

Division 39 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America honored Father Thomas Patrick Doyle, S.J. as their 1992 Hibernian of the Year. In March 1998, Father Thomas Patrick Doyle, S.J was bestowed the honor of being the Grand Marshal of the Philadelphia Saint Patrick’s Day parade.

Father Thomas Patrick Doyle, S.J. was Chaplin Emeritus of both the Philadelphia County Board and Division 39 until his death in November 2000. The division or presents a plaque in his memory each year to a member who lives our motto of Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity at our annual Communion Mass.