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Girard, Stephen

A wealthy Freemason, widely known for his philanthropies. Born in France, May 20, 1750. Visited New York in 1774, in the meantime a sea captain, and began a trade to and from New Orleans and Port au Prince. Settled in Philadelphia in 1776, married, and established himself as a merchant. Ahiman Rezon, Pennsylvania, shows Stephen Girard was initiated September 7, 1778 in Lodge No. 3, Philadelphia; crafted October 1, 1778; raised November 23, 1778. An old copy of the by-laws of Lodge No. 3, 1844, gives these dates. In 1810 Brother Girard lent the Government of the United States much assistance in establishing and maintaining their credit with foreign countries, placing at the disposal of the Government, by the purchase of stock in the Bank of the United States, one million dollars. In 1812 he opened the Bank of Stephen Girard and in 1814 he personally subscribed for about 95 per cent of the Government's entire war loan. Brother Girard was appointed in 1809 to the Board of Trustees of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, this Grand Lodge having just completed the building of a large and expensive Masonic Hall. He subscribed the final five thousand dollars necessary to relieve this Institution of debt for the Hall. Stephen Girard was active in many public benefits, personally contributed his services and resources of the public hospital in 1793 when Philadelphia was suffering from an epidemic of yellow fever. Again in the yellow fever epidemic of 1797 to 1798 he gave generously of his time and money.

At his death, February 26, 1831, due to an accident when he was injured in the street by a truck, he had amassed a larger fortune than had ever been known in the United States up to that time. His will included numerous and generous contributions to various charitable and civic enterprises. Practically his entire fortune, amounting to some thirty-five million in 1908, was devoted to charitable purposes, and he founded one school in particular and provided funds for the continued maintenance of it.

His will reads that this is to be used "to provide for such a number of poor male white orphan children . . . a better education as well as a more comfortable maintenance than they usually receive from the application of public funds." Another indication of the eccentricities of Brother Girard is the fact that he also states in the will above quoted that "I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary or minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any duty whatsoever in the said college; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises appropriated to the purposes of said college.... I desire to keep the tender minds of the orphans .... free from the excitements which clashing doctrines and sectarian controversy are so apt to produce." Girard's heirs-at-law hotly contested this will, and, although Daniel Webster made a famous plea for the Christian religion in the effort to set aside the will, it was sustained by the Court. The Masonic fund, known as the Stephen Girard Charity Fund, amounting to $90,000.00 in 191S, is handled by the Fraternity and has done much to alleviate poverty and hardship among the poor.

Two days after the death of Brother Girard a general invitation to his funeral appeared in the public newspapers and this invitation requested the attendance of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and of the subordinate Lodges and listed as well a number of other benevolent associations in which he had been interested. Almost four hundred members of the Fraternity assembled at the Masonic Hall and attended the funeral, which was held in the German Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity and the body being interred in a vault adjoining the Church. There was some difficulty when the Brethren entered the Church, which they did without their aprons in order to avoid any criticism, and it is recorded that the Roman Catholic clergy Left the Church in a body and therefore the funeral services were not performed. The Brethren waited some time and then removed the body from the Church and placed it in the vault as had been desired by Brother Girard.

It has been said that when Brother Girard was found to be near death he consented, at the request of his sister, to see a Catholic priest and this has been construed to mean that this intention had been to become reconciled to the Church in which he had been baptized, although by the time the priest arrived Brother Girard was dead. Under the circumstances, however, the Bishop of the Catholic Church consented to the body being admitted into the Church. The following is taken from Bishop Francis Patrick Henrick's diary written at the time:

The body of Stephen Girard was brought with much funeral pomp, attended by many Free Masons marching in procession in scarfs and ornaments, as a tribute of respect to their deceased companion, to the church of the Holy Trinity. When, therefore, I saw these enter the Church to have the funeral rites gone through, no priest assisting, I ordered the body taken away for burial I allowed it to have Christian burial for the potent reason that the deceased was baptized in the church and never left it, and when death came his illness was such that he did not perceive its approach. In January, 1851, when the buildings of the College for orphans had reached sufficient completion to receive it, the body of Brother Girard was removed by the City Councils and the Board of Commissioners of the Girard Estate from the Church and the body was finally reentered in the marble tomb which had been prepared for it within the grounds of the College in September, 1851, and this ceremony was participated in by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania at the express request of the Commissioners of the Girard Estates, the coffin being borne by eight Past Masters of the Order. A very impressive ceremony was held, about three hundred of the small orphans being present and the Masonic dirge having been expressly composed for the occasion. The heirs of Brother Girard objected to the removal of the remains from the Church by the city officials but the Courts ruled against them.

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