The Catholic Shop: A Love Story
Once in a while during the great life of the Church, the tale will be told of some
holy person or persons who helped save, shape, or steer the Church and her
people in some lasting way. The story of Bill and Mary Peffley may very well be
one of those stories. The tale of these two incredible people and their love for the
Church is truly a love story for the ages. It is our prayer that you'll get to know
them better and agree they were special people raised up by God to do great
Bill and Mary attributed their many blessings to Our Lady and to her Legion of Mary which was the way they lived out their vocations during their entire married life. Bill and Mary met in the Legion when Mary moved to Philadelphia to help
strengthen the Legion in that area. They married on the Feast of Our Lady's
Nativity, September 8th, 1958 and spent their 5-week honeymoon first in Lourdes,
and then in Dublin studying the Legion and getting to know some its foundational
members including its founder, Servant of God, Frank Duff.
Upon returning from Ireland, Bill and Mary opened up a humble little shop of religious items which consisted mostly of the wedding gifts they received. This was the beginning of The Catholic Shop. The year was 1959.
Prior to meeting Bill, Mary (Phelps was her maiden name) was working at Notre Dame University as the editor of a Catholic Boys Magazine. During a retreat at the University, Mary was inspired to write to then Msgr. Fulton Sheen offering her services as his secretary. Monsignor Sheen visited Notre Dame, met with Mary, and hired her on the spot.
Mary moved to Washington, DC as the personal secretary to Msgr. Fulton Sheen who went on to become one of America's most famous Catholic Bishop's. At the time Msgr. Sheen was teaching philosophy at Catholic University, writing books and producing his own radio show.
Fulton Sheen appreciated Mary and her work ethic tremendously and wished her to stay on with him, but Mary had been asked by Frank Duff to travel to Philadelphia and be instrumental in spreading the Legion of Mary. So off to Philadelphia she went.
Mary was 36 years old when she and Bill were married and opened the Catholic
Shop. For the next fifty-six years, with the exception of the times that she gave
birth to her three children, she would work there six days a week, finally ‘retiring’
from full-time work at the age of 92. She loved daily Mass and was a member of
the Legion of Mary for 78 uninterrupted years. She was a joy and delight to those
she visited at the Norristown State Mental Hospital and, later in life, to those she
visited in nursing homes – many of whom were at least twenty years younger than
Bill and Mary shared similar difficult childhood experiences. Both lost their fathers
at a very young age. Mary's father deserted the family, went to South America, and was never heard from again. This left Mary's mom a single mother of two who was financially and emotionally unable to raise her two children. Mary spent time in an orphanage and in several foster homes until she was old enough to get a job and support her mother.
Bill was five years old when his father died of tuberculosis. Although Bill’s mother
was a devout Catholic, his father was extremally anti-Catholic. At the age of three,
Bill’s mother and aunt had to sneak him out to church to be secretly baptized.
Bill was an only child and his mother had only a 6th grade education but she was able to pass onto him the greatest treasure she could give...that of her Catholic faith! Later, as a young man, Bill contracted tuberculosis and he spent two years in the sanitarium. These two years became a time of great spiritual growth where he began to read spiritual classics, lives of the saints, and meditate upon the scripture. Following his release from the sanitarium and with his "new Bill of health" he eventually found his way into the Legion of Mary. This is how he met his future bride Mary Phelps. As mentioned before, after returning from their honeymoon they began The Catholic Shop in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Over the years they would have other stores: The Catholic Shop of Reading, The Catholic Shop of Willow Grove, The Catholic Shop of Pottstown The Catholic Shop of Centreville, and The Catholic Shop of Chantilly. It was because of the Legion of Mary which gave them a desire to share the faith, a desire to spread the faith, and to be apostolic, not living life for themselves but for others.
In addition to all his apostolic work with the Legion and their stores, Bill developed
a love of poetry and writing music. During the 1970's and 80's Bill traveled to Hollywood were he made four albums of songs about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. (Be sure to visit our page dedicated to these songs).
These albums were well received and some of the songs were among Mother
Teresa's favorites. She was known to have hand-copied her favorite lyrics into her personal prayer journal so as to be able to prayerfully meditate upon them
throughout the week.
Bill and Mary are survived by three children, seven grandchildren, and two great
grandchildren: Edel Lukens along with her husband Steve; Rev. Francis Peffley (a
priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia); Natia Meehan and her husband, Greg;
Clare, Joseph, and Theo Davis; Sarah, Sean, and Blaise McCardell; Chris, Johnny, Megan, Erin, and Gracie Meehan.
Click here to listen to Bill Peffley's Funeral Homily by Rev. Francis Peffley
Click here to listen to Mary Peffley's Funeral Homily by Rev. Francis Peffley