Editor’s note: This is one of five articles highlighting coverage from our hyper-local papers.
As the year comes to a close, the staff of the Lower Bucks Times wanted to take a look back at our coverage in your communities over the past year. While some events had county-wide or even global implications, we thought it best to reflect on the stories unique to your neighborhoods, and the people who live there.
This is the 2016 Year in Review:
Saint Katharine Shrine to be sold
In May, The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament announced that they are selling the property that houses the National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel on Route 13 in Bensalem. The property was first purchased by Katharine Drexel to build the Motherhouse for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which was founded in 1891.
Though there hasn’t been a sale announced yet, there is concern about the future of the property, which is one of Bensalem’s most celebrated historic sites. In August, state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo said that he, Bensalem Mayor Joe DiGirolamo and state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson are committed to preserving the land. Bensalem council members will have to approve any new uses potential buyers propose. A major priority is preserving the structures there, according to officials.
Bensalem AME Church renovated and rededicated
Two years ago, the small Bensalem African Methodist Episcopal Church on Bridgewater Road was falling into disrepair, and hardly suitable for hosting a congregation.
Members held dinner fundraisers and other events to raise money for renovations, but it was an uphill battle. The church, nearly 200 years old, was falling apart.
When members of the congregation approached the Bensalem government for help, Councilman Ed Kisselback and Mayor Joe DiGirolamo stepped up.
“This is history in our community. We want to make this a landmark,” DiGirolamo said during a ceremony honoring the church’s founder, Richard Allen, during a ceremony held in February.
In November, the church was rededicated to the community, complete with an expanded community room, ADA-accessible restrooms and a kitchen. The church also houses its original pulpit, handcrafted by Allen himself.
A new beginning for Bensalem football
It was hard for anyone who follows Suburban One League National Conference football to imagine that Bensalem would sniff the playoffs this year, except for the guys on the team and their coaches.
When head coach Ed Cubbage took over at the beginning of last season, the Fighting Owls had lost 18 consecutive games. In 2015, the team went 0-10.
“We’re looking to do more than just compete,” Cubbage said at the beginning of 2016.
If that was the goal, then the team exceeded expectations. After posting a 5-4 record through its first nine games, Bensalem was poised to make a playoff run if it could beat Truman in the final game of the regular season.
That didn’t happen. The Owls lost a 44-43 heartbreaker to the Tigers, but the team showed major improvement and the potential for a bright future.
“We know if we get to the point where the whole school isn’t going nuts every time we win, then we’ve achieved something,” Cubbage said toward the end of the season. “We want to get used to winning.”
Bensalem passes earned income tax
Frustration mounted for residents as Bensalem Council passed a 1-percent earned income tax for the first time at the beginning of 2016.
“We’ve been holding it off for a while, but the option was either this or cut from our police force, and I refuse to do that,” Bensalem Mayor Joe DiGirolamo said at the time the tax was being implemented.
On a positive note, the tax and the public discussion that followed led to more public meetings between the local government and residents. The first was a town hall on the new tax, which was attended by over 100 locals.
“Who is responsible for deciding that there wasn’t going to be a meeting before this thing was implemented?” one resident questioned at that time, echoing the sentiments of many others. “Does anybody want to take responsibility for that?”
Many are still not happy about the tax, but the silver lining may be improved communication between the township and its residents in the long term.
Bensalem community gets behind police
In a year where community policing fell under intense scrutiny, Bensalem residents stood with the local police department.
This was most evident in residents posting signs reading, “We Support The Bensalem Police Department,” outfront of their homes and businesses.
The police department stayed focused on fighting the local opioid epidemic by announcing a program dedicated to helping community members find treatment with Bensalem Police Assisting in Recovery. The department was also a leader in using narcan to save the lives of people who suffered overdoses.
To connect with the community, the police held townhalls on both police-community relations and substance abuse as well as holding its Citizens Police Academy and Police Athletic Leagues.
Public Safety Director Fred Harran said he would be open to holding more events like the townhalls if the public is interested.
“If there’s opportunity, we’ll be there,” he said.
Tour of Honor continues at Parx
Bensalem has become home to one of the county’s most valued programs for supporting veterans.
In September, over 150 veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War returned from a day trip to Washington, D.C., where they visited memorials from the wars they fought and other sites around the nation’s capital.
The Bucks County Tour of Honor, as it’s been named, ends with a bus caravan and police escort from D.C. to Parx Casino, where hundreds gather to await their arrival and cheer the veterans as they make their red carpet entrance into Parx for a complimentary meal.
The whole Bensalem community gets involved — residents, public officials, the Bensalem High School Band and its largest business, Parx Casino.
Representatives from the Tour of Honor announced last week that there will be two events this year. On June 5, there will be an event for Vietnam veterans and on Oct. 2, for Korean War and World War II veterans.