Father Koenig’s life lessons at St. Ludwig’s

Father Koenig put the gloves on me when I was ten years old and directed me toward the kid who was my same size but some two years older. That kid – Billy McLaughlin –  kicked my butt. But I never cried or gave up as I swung wildly at him in efforts to land my own punches.

I learned that I could take a punch and hang in there when things got tough. It was a great lesson to learn at such an early age. Despite the head banging I got.

The good priest had ushered us kids into the church auditorium and given us treats for attending church the first Friday of every month during the summer time. We’d have fun mixing it up with others from the old neighborhood who were being raised in the Catholic School called St. Ludwig’s, a German parish in the Brewerytown section of North Philadelphia.

There was a touch of the old country about the church, with its beautiful stained-glass windows, brought over from Innsbruck, Austria, at the turn of the century. I recently learned that up to 1958, sermons were given in German, and at one time German was spoken in the school. In 1975, attendance had declined to only 50 families and the Philadelphia Archdiocese had to close the church.

Father Joseph Koenig had also taught us that you didn’t have to be a saint to be close to God. You see, the parish priest had a short temper and it sometimes showed when he was saying Mass. The lid to the chalice wouldn’t unscrew properly no matter what he tried in the sacristy of the church. As an altar boy, I’d hear him struggle and then witness what some people would claim to be blasphemy.

He would curse.


It wasn’t a nasty curse but a mild one that most men of that age would use when things were not going their way. The good pastor would eventually loosen the lid and get back into his priestly role. I learned that I too could curse a little in my working life and not feel the wrath of God hanging over me.



Dutch Louie’s” is the name we called the old church with loving affection


Father Koenig would drink a little. I’m not talking about sacramental wine, but something much stronger. You’d smell alcohol on his breath when you’d show up for a social event mostly for adults at the church auditorium. It was grand to see such a religious man being so human.

He’d often go unshaven for days on end. You’d see the stubble as he got close to him wearing his black priestly suit and the white collar surrounding his neck. He looked cool!  He was the type of a guy who could let it all hang out and not try impose a strict way of life for us boys to follow.

Thanks, Father Koenig. You taught us how to live life without the fear of truly living it.

28 comments on “Father Koenig’s life lessons at St. Ludwig’s

  1. […] parts of my life, from serving as an “angel” and an aspiring altar boy at age six in St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church and later as a combat infantry platoon leader at the ripe old age of 21 while in […]


  2. Winnie Nicklas says:

    I have fond memories of St. Ludwig. I went there 1953, 54 and part 55. Got into trouble now and then. Learned how to clean erasers VERY well LOL. It didn’t take long for word to get back to my family … my Aunt was Sister Ida. She had many friends at St. Ludwigs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      I may have started in 1955 or 1956 and had Sister Saint Leonard as my First Grade teacher. She treated my older brother very badly and was left behind because he refused to go to school after she forced him to sit in a trash can in the front of the class and put chewing gum on his forehead.
      I don’t remember a Sister Ida which is kinda good because I remember the ones I didn’t get along with more than the others.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marguerite Moore Pirolli says:

    I remember Sister Saint Leonard I had her in first grade. She was so cruel I still think about the things she did to me.

    The most frightening thing was sending me by the drunk janitor Mr. Lill he opened the furnace I saw all this fire I was only six. He told me he would throw me in if I didn’t behave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      I don’t remember any janitors at the school, not even a drunk one. I remember Sister St. Leonard. She chose me to be an “angel” to escort the second-graders from their pews to the front of the altar to receive their first Holy Communion. I still have a picture of me dressed in white with a little white cape across my shoulders.

      My brother John did not fare well with her some three years before I started school. He was chewing gum and the nasty nun forced him to sit in one of those small trash receptacles. He had refused to go to school for the longest time and had to repeat the first grade because of his reluctance to do anything the nun had requested him.

      Sister St. Clair knocked me down a flight of steps just outside of the seventh-grade classroom when I refused to tell her who I had played hooky with. Luckily, I wasn’t injured but I’ll never forget how damn cruel those women were and find it hard to forgive them decades later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • (Rev.) Kenneth L Denski, ocr says:

        Hi…..I wonder if the St Ludwig Father Koenig was related to Fr William Koenig of St Henry?
        I do miss the days when visiting my paternal grandmother at her home at 1217 N 28th St, she would almost always do one of 2 things per visit:
        1. Take me to the springs in Fairmont Park to get the “fresh” spring water or. 2. Make a visit to St Ludwigs to say a prayer. Lord, do I miss those days!


        /s/ Fr. Ken Denski, ocr

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          My Uncle Nick, who would visit us from New York City, would not drink water from the spigot in our Brewerytown home but he went to the spring in what I called the “Rock Garden” and filled water jugs that he carried in a suitcase. The garden was between the railroad tracks and the old East River Drive now known as Kelly Drive. It’s just below the Girard Avenue Bridge off of Brewery Hill Drive.
          I took two of my grandchildren there last year and it brought back so many pleasant memories!

          Liked by 1 person

      • (Rev) Ken Denski, ocr says:

        One more thing. In going over some older comments, I noticed the name of Father Scherf mentioned a few times. There were 2 Fr Scherf’s, George, ordained in 1943 and Gerald, ordained in 1947. Gerald served at both St Ludwigs and St Henry, later becoming the founding pastor of St Martha’s parish in 1966, I believe.

        I did not know George, but knew Gerald well. My main memory of him was that while most priests of that time were all “hell and pain” in their sermons ( you know, “if you have a ham sandwich on Friday and then get hit by the 47 trolley and die, you went straight to hell”), Fr Gerald spoke of the loving, compassionate Christ. He made me, and others I am sure, lose our “fear” of God….made God real and approachable, Thanks, Father!

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          I can’t remember Father Scherf’s first name. He was assistant to Father Otterbein who became pastor if St. Ludwig’s after Father Koenig.

          I always felt proud of myself in not telling the nun who I played hooky with because Father Scherf knew there was a certain code that friends would not dishonor. I can still see him smiling when he called me a little Jimmy Cagney in front of the nun who knocked me down a flight of steps.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Rev. K. L. Denski, OCR says:

    Hello….from St Henry in the 1950’s and 1960’s…..Fr Louis Bing was assistant pastor from 1959 to February 07, 1962 when he died from heart disease. I served his last Mass in the convent chapel a week or so before he passed. He was, as so many comments above stated, a good guy and a very understanding priest. May he Rest In Peace. (Rev.) Ken Denski, OCR. My paternal grandparents lived at 1217 N 28th. St. Many good memories of Youngsters Candy Store and the delicatessen next door!

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Thank you Father. I am happy to hear about Father Bing from all of the persons he had touched in his lifetime. Some of my favorite memories from childhood include serving as an altar boy and “doing something” for others.

      I also remember getting into trouble, particularly at the Kresge Store at 28th and Girard. (See: https://contoveros.com/2017/03/28/confession-of-a-kresge-juvenile-delinquent/)

      It is a pleasure to have made your acquaintance!

      Michael J Contos, formerly of 1441 Marston Street


      • Ken Denski says:

        Hi Mr. Condos and thanks for the reply .

        Funny how these things come about. The other day, I went n a real estate site to see if I could look up a current picture of 1217 N 28 the Street when my grandmother and grandfather lived. Saw the photo, then thought what does St Ludwigs look like. Got there and then saw your posts. God works in strange ways!

        That was a great neighborhood at one time. I do remember the Kresge store, Girard Federal S & L, Youngs candies and the “American ” Store (Acme) at the s/w corner of 28th & Girard. I am old enough to remember going to visit my grandparents, then walking down to 25th Street (?) to look into the window of Muntz TV…..it was magical ….pictures in a “box”.

        My dad, who was born in 1915 in Brewerytown, was a real Brewerytown guy. The last visit was in 1967. I brought pain Ned’s to my grandmother…she died a few days later. I’ m retired now (as much as one can be retired when in ministry!

        Good bless….and keep in touch!

        In His care,

        (Rev.) Ken Denski, OCR

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  5. John rech says:

    I remember the name sister Josephine Frances but I don’t remember her. Sister Claire was my favorite. Sister Corrine and sister Irmina we’re mean. I also remember father Fox and father Oestreich.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marguerit Moore says:

    God rest his German Soul

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Hello Marguerit Moore,

      Did you know Father Koenig by any chance? Did you attend St. Ludwig’s Church or School?

      I have mostly fond memories of both and have written about some of them.

      — Playing hooky and getting caught.

      — Having a mystical experience while praying as an altar boy.

      — Getting hit by one of the nuns when speaking out in class.

      — And having at least one cute 8th-grade girl comment on hearing me speak on the WDAS radio station when Georgie Woods, “the man with the goods,” played the number one song requested by me and a bunch of pre-teenagers in the early 1960s.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dan Behl says:

    Fr. Koenig was stern to me. He’d surprise you now and then.With the stubble that he grew on his face, he would rub it against an older child’s face, like me. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing, but I do not think he knew just how unpleasant it was because he laughed after seeing the surprised look on your face.
    He was a product of his time. Those years, as a priest, must have been tough. I’d like to know his family’s history. Where did he grow up, where were his parents born, when did things happen.

    My family’s good friend was Fr. Bing. He came to our house for social visits. He drank a few beers with my father, but he was the greatest. He didn’t take things to an extreme.

    Do you remember Fr. Fox? I remember that he was a good looking dude. He married my parents. He left our parish before I was an alter boy (age 10) on my birthday in 1955.

    How about Fr. Sherf, the former chaplain? He wanted the alter boys to go real light on ringing the small bell we used at Consecration time during Mass.

    Good memories. We were saved from seeing hurt inflicted on so many kids by priests. We had role models that were close to center, maybe off a degree or two, but good people. Fr. Koenig was one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Who could ever forget Father Koenig rubbing his stubble of a beard against your soft and tender face? I forgot about it until you just mentioned it. It did hurt. A little. But, he seemed to get such a kick out of it!

      I don’t remember Father Bing or Father Fox that well. I do remember Father Sherf and am grateful to learn that he was a chaplain. I didn’t know it.

      He counseled me when Sister St. Claire had accosted me after learning I had played hooky in seventh grade. She kept pointing her finger at my chest, trying to get me to tell her who stayed out of class with me when she backed me up and I fell down the steps at the top of the second-floor landing which was just outside the seventh and eighth-grade classrooms.

      I wasn’t hurt, but she relented and didn’t push me anymore. She did tell Father Sherf how I refused to come clean about my partner in hooky crime. He simply smiled at me and called me a young Jimmy Cagney and kind of winked at me in a conspiratorial fashion. I’ll never forget that moment.

      I wrote about it a few years ago:


      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike… I remember those stairs going down to the first level. The boys and girls bathrooms were at the bottom, and the back door to the auditorium. If you walked out the exit door by the bathrooms, you were on Newkirk Street and could walk directly across to my Grandmom Hamilton’s front steps. And, if memory still serves me, those stairs were where Sr. Josephine Francis doubled over from the pain of acute appendicitis and we had to join another class for a few weeks while she recovered from her surgery… but I can’t recall if it was 4th or 6th grade, since I had her for both.

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          Sister Josephine Francis was my all-time favorite teacher. I too had her for both fourth and sixth grades. She helped me to develop a love for history when explaining the ancient stories of Greece and the Roman Empire.

          She left a mark on mostly all of the kids who entered her classroom. I’ll never forget her and will always sing her praises!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Dan… I don’t remember Father Fox… but he was the priest at St. Ludwig’s who baptized me in January 1948 when I was 1 month old. There was a priest named Francis E. Fox at Cardinal Dougherty where I went to high school, and I often wondered if he was the same Father Fox… coincidentally, his picture in the 1965 Dougherty yearbook proves that he was “movie star” good looking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • contoveros says:

        You got one great memory to be able to recall your baptism.

        (Only kidding!)

        I can’t remember Father Fox but if I saw his picture it might refresh my recollection.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. contoveros says:

    Facebook friends offered the following:

    Barbara Quinn Osborne
    Great article. I too have fond memories of Father Koenig as I attended school there and graduated in 1958!

    You couldn’t ask for a better parish priest. Great with grown-ups and super with the kids.

    Kind of like a German Father O’Malley from “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby!
    Luba Schmid
    Love your story!

    He was a helluva priest, a helluva man who affected nearly everyone he came into contact with on this earth.

    Frances Eberwine Holod

    “Dutch Louie’s” will always be the shining light in so many of our hearts. Except for a few of the nuns, but I won’t mention their names right here . . .

    Sister St. Clair. Oops. The devil made me do it!

    Jacob Woodrow Shelton
    That’s a great read, Mike! When I finally settle into book reading again I need to read your book through.

    The taught you how to read at Bob’s Auto Parts? Good to see you on this site my young rascal friend!


    Diane Hamilton Burrus Pomponi
    Oops . . . Am I the only one with a not-so-nice story about Father Koenig??? My mom and dad eloped to Elkton MD to marry. After about 9 years, they wanted to have their marriage blessed in the church. Father Koenig refused to marry them until my father went through instructions… despite the fact that he was a life-long Catholic who had even attended St. Ludwig’s as a child.

    Father Koenig was upset that my father had agreed to have my mother’s tubes tied while she was still unconscious following her second caesarian delivery… when her physician (Dr. Schneiderman) told him that my mother would die if she had another baby… and they already had three children. Luckily, the assistant pastor, Father Bing, became aware of their story and, kind man that he was, told my parents to come back to the church and HE would oversee their exchange of vows.

    I will always remember sitting in the front pew with my brother and sister and watching my parents renew their vows with Father Bing’s blessing in the downstairs church of St. Ludwig’s. Loved Father Bing.

    I’m sorry to hear that. Thank goodness a more compassionate outcome was reached despite the cruel teachings of the Catholic church for so many people in desperate situations.

    I believe it was Father Bing who said Mass at 10:30 am on Sundays. He was the quickest of the priests and you could always count on getting in there and getting out in a short period of time.

    Diane Hamilton Burrus Pomponi
    I think he went on to become the pastor at St. Henry’s at 5th and Hunting Park.

    You really know your St. Ludwig’s history. Thanks!


    Jack Wilson
    I remember Sister Marie Paul she taught me about Holy Communion and was extra nice to me for I came from Robert Morris and lost two ears on the move.
    Still say prayers for her.

    My favorite nun was Sister Josephine Frances. She taught us history and I appreciated a look at my heritage about Greece . . .
    She could also be a disciplinarian, but a good one, if you know what I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I went to Catholic School as well — I love how you interpreted his “human-ness” if I may say it that way. For me, it was the nuns — they would tell us one thing, but then do a complete other themselves. I always saw it as hypocritical. We’d get punished for cursing, but they’d be cursing up a storm. We’d be stuck doing Hail Mary’s for what seemed like days, but it was alright for the grown-ups to swear.

    I lost a lot of my faith in religion because of that. Not my faith in God. But in religion.

    I love how you saw this… Father Koenig seems like he was a cool guy!


    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Yes, several of the nuns were hypocrites and really mean at times. I remember Sister St. Clair knocked me down a flight of steps when I wouldn’t tell her who I had played hookey with while in the seventh grade. One of the parish priests showed up later and smiled at my antics, calling me a little Jimmy Cagney who would never “rat out” his friends in the movies.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Great story about just being yourself. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Memoirs. They are bits and pieces of memories we all have from days gone by. Thanks for your visit!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peggy bedder burgo says:

        I went to school at st Ludwig’s. Father Koenig was the best. I lived on Newkirk Street and the school yard was our play ground. Sister St. Leonard was my first grade teacher as she was for my siblings. Fr Keonig gave my brother the last rites and got permission to confirm him minutes before he died at the age of 7. Father helped our family thru our grief. I have very fond memories of St Ludwig’s. Learning of the closing I cried.

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          Thank you Peggy. It’s stories like your own that touch that warm part of our souls when remembering the good Father Koenig did in his life at St. Ludwig’s.

          He was my favorite as well as the favorite of many others from Brewerytown.

          Liked by 1 person

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