Grace Kelly arriving to Santa Fe Depot in Pasadena in 1956 after riding the Super Chief train from Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, she got engaged to Prince Rainier III and returned to a mob of reporters. (UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections)

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In 1926, an article in the Wilmington News Journal made note of a Delaware priest who played a pivotal role in one of the 20th century’s most famous love stories.

“Father J.F. Tucker Given Automobile As Great Surprise.”

John Francis Tucker was a man of firsts.

Born in Wilmington in 1889, he became a priest at age 17.

Tucker was the first American to join the order of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales. And he was among the first to attend Wilmington’s Salesianum School.

In the mid-1920s, Tucker became the founding priest for St. Anthony of Padua — the Delaware city’s first and main parish for Italian-Americans.

It was an eyebrow-raising choice given Tucker’s Irish ancestry, but he and the parish thrived.

In his 25 years at St. Anthony’s, J.F. Tucker became a community linchpin.

He founded the parish’s annual Italian Festival, which remains beloved in Wilmington.

He also emerged as a major voice on social issues.

Scenes from the modern festival in the Wilmington News Journal

Tucker opposed prohibition and school segregation (which was legally enforced in Delaware at the time).

He also spoke out against sex education in schools and what he considered indecency in literature and movies.

In 1949, Tucker began the second phase of his life — the one that would put him on the world stage.

After being summoned to the Vatican, Tucker was named chaplain of St. Charles Church in Monte Carlo. He was also named personal chaplain to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

This much we know…

For years, Prince Rainier dated a French actor named Gisele Pascal. It was widely reported that Tucker broke up their relationship

As one wire service put it, Tucker “gently pulled” the prince away from Pascal.

Gisele Pascal

Shortly thereafter, Prince Rainier began a relationship with Philadelphia-born movie star Grace Kelly — a romance that generated a worldwide media frenzy.

Some reports say Father Tucker introduced Rainier and Kelly. Others say he merely encouraged the relationship.

Tucker claimed he told the Prince: “Monseigneur, that is the kind of girl I want to see you marry.”

And Father Tucker did accompany Rainier to Wilmington, where he secretly visited Grace Kelly in Philadelphia.

This was right before they announced their engagement.

Tucker denied that he was the initial link between Rainier and Kelly

Still, until Tucker’s death in 1972, there were rumors that he “may” have been the matchmaker.

In one telling of the story, a couple that were summer neighbors of the Kelly family on the Jersey Shore (of course) stirred up the idea of a courtship between Grace and the Prince, and then Father Tucker helped facilitate.

Father Tucker’s exact role in bringing the couple together may be lost to time. But we know this: the Wilmington priest left quite an impression in his hometown.

As the News Journal wrote after his death:

“He was a legend in his own time.”

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on April 20, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...