As a child, I lived in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. Our parish church was Old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley. Old St. Joe’s is one of the oldest churches in Philadelphia. Across 4th street and down from it is Old St. Mary’s. Two churches in the area which are also important are Holy Trinity Church on S. 6th Street and St. Peter Claver at 12th and Lombard Streets.
All of these churches were part of the fabric of my growing up. I did not attend church other than at Old St. Mary’s and Old St. Joseph’s (where our family pew is), but these churches were part of the community and quite frankly the multitude of historic structures we learned about as kids.
Holy Trinity on S. 6th Street had it’s parish absorbed by Old St. Mary’s years ago. It does however, have a small graveyard dating back to the 18th century. Stephen Girard was once buried there as a matter of fact. (His grave was later moved.) Holy Trinity was founded in 1784 by German speaking Catholics. It was the first national parish for Germans and in 1797 they opened an orphanage for children orphaned by the yellow fever epidemic back then. It was the first national parish for any ethnicity in the United States, and was the third parish established in the city of Philadelphia, predating the erection of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Inquirer: St. Peter Claver, Philadelphia’s mother church for Black Catholics, will close for good in January
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the closure of St. Peter Claver, along with three other churches, on Monday.
by Nate File
Updated Dec 13, 2022
A long, emotional fight to protect Philadelphia’s mother church for Black Catholics is coming to its end. On Monday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that St. Peter Claver, the city’s first Black Catholic church, will finally close Jan. 23.
The church was originally dedicated in 1892 and has been a bedrock institution for Philly’s Black Catholic community. It is one of four churches that the archdiocese plans to close next month — the others are Sacred Heart Church in Phoenixville, St. Philip Neri Church in East Greenville, and Holy Trinity Church in Old City.
“In a lot of ways, it’s probably just as important as Mother Bethel A.M.E., because this is the first place that Black Catholics had of their own in the archdiocese and in a city that prides itself on its Catholic heritage,” said Anthea Butler, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
But despite the church’s historical significance, Black Catholics in Philly have felt for a long time that the archdiocese did not adequately support it. They say this conclusion felt inevitable.
St. Peter Claver sits at what used to be the heart of Black Philadelphia at 12th and Lombard Streets. Even aside from its role in a religious sense, the church was a safe, communal gathering space for generations of Philadelphians. “Some of the older people would come in there … some of them would take their shoes off and say, ‘I’m walking on this sacred ground. Because this is where my ancestors came through,’” said Arlene Edmonds, a Black Catholic journalist and author.
Beginning in the mid-20th century, as white flight, urban renewal, and gentrification moved Black Philadelphians to North Philly and West Philly, it became harder for St. Peter Claver to fill its pews. In 1984, the archdiocese closed the church’s parish, and then, a year later, the church was officially “suppressed” by the archdiocese. Together, those actions meant that St. Peter Claver could no longer hold regular Mass or accept new parishioners. It could no longer perform sacraments, like baptisms, marriages, or funerals.
“What it does is strangle a church,” said Adrienne Harris, a third-generation member of St. Peter Claver and the chairperson of the St. Peter Claver archives, in a video made by former parishioners about the church. “That was the archdiocese’s method of strangling the life out of St. Peter Claver.”~ philadelphia Inquirer 12/13/22
Holy Trinity’s church building was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places as “Trinity Roman Catholic Church” on April 30, 1957, and is part of the Society Hill historic district. The exterior cannot be altered without the approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The church was also documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey by the National Park Service. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been killing this church for years, most recently beginning in 2019.
Next up we have another church that oozes history of Philadelphia, black Catholics, and the history of this country. St. Peter Claver at 12th and Lombard. The church was named for St. Peter Claver, who was a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary born in Verdú (Catalonia, Spain) who, due to his life and work, became the patron saint of slaves. St. Peter Claver saw the slaves as fellow Christians, encouraging others to do so as well.
St. Peter Claver’s physical church was founded in 1842, but it was someone else’s church first. As in another denomination. It became the first Black Catholic Church in 1892. I remember going by this church so many times. I remember as a little, little girl weddings spilling out onto the street. It was so alive, so vibrant. And much like Holy Trinity, is a church that the Arch Diocese of Philadelphia has been slowly killing it for years. That and gentrification. This church once sat in the midst of an important and historical black community. But when real estate becomes desirable, we all know the drill, right?
There is a wonderful Scribe Precious Places video on this church:
Here are some images I found:
Flash forward to this week’s latest Scrooge news for Christmas season 2022: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing St. Peter Claver, Holy Trinity, and a church known to many on Phoenixville, PA called Sacred Heart Church. That is not a church known to me, it is on Church Street in Phoenixville. See a couple of photos below. I did take photos of this church once, and I just can’t locate them. Also the fourth closure is the original St. Philip Neri in East Greenville, PA. Apparently that hasn’t been used as a church since the 1960s.
PHILADELPHIA PA – Roman Catholic Church buildings in Phoenixville and East Greenville that are either currently unused or no longer considered necessary will be officially closed effective Jan. 23 (2023; Monday) and no longer will be available as places of worship, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday (Dec. 11, 2022). The real estate parcels may later be offered for sale, it indicated.
The Sacred Heart parish merged with that of St. Ann’s in Phoenixville in 2012, and the combined congregation has since worshiped at the St. Ann’s building on Main Street. Sacred Heart has been unused for “liturgical celebrations” since March 2020 when COVID hit, the archdiocese said. The cost of its continued maintenance and repair could become a drain on parish finances, it added.
The growing St. Philip Neri congregation opened a new church in Pennsburg in 1968, leaving the East Greenville church and other related campus buildings “now empty and unutilized,” the announcement added. Selling those properties would “would help alleviate” parish “financial burdens” by allowing it to pare down existing debt, it stated.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is an institution I have little respect for. I have always struggled with their lack of support towards historic Catholic churches in the region, but as an adult I found their handling of pedophile priests despicable. I still find their handling of abusive priests despicable. I am a Roman Catholic by birth. I was baptized and receive my 1st Holy Communion at Old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley in Society Hill. I remember most of the masses being said in Latin as a child at Old St. Mary’s on S. 4th Street. We moved to suburbia and my church became St. John Vianney in Gladwyne. Our parish priest when we first moved to suburbia and joined the church there was Father Ignatius Reynolds, and my great Aunt Josie had sung at his ordination mass.
You see, back then, churches were an extended part of many communities and many families. But as I grew into adulthood, while I maintained my faith, my faith in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia waned.
Pedophile priests were the nail in the coffin. First for putting a former, then pedophile and defrocked priest back into my then Haverford neighborhood with no supervision. He eventually was convicted and spent a couple of years in jail. When he lived in my neighborhood he would drive big expensive SUVs with a vanity plate. And then there was that monsignor in Wayne also caught up in that scandal, PA who once upon a time was aghast that I wasn’t planning to do pre-Cana. Catholics are supposed to do this before they wed. It used to be the priest that baptized you and knew your family when you were growing up. Today in my humble opinion, it is just a money maker.
I think pedophile priests and the subsequent fall out are STILL a big problem financially for the Catholic church in this region. I think that the Catholic church in the US is so out of touch with reality is another problem. And I just think the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in general is about their power, not the people who are their extended “flock.” They have had Archbishops and occasional Cardinals heading up the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for decades that have been more about what they could get out of the office they held versus pastoral care and what not. It’s more about the eternal bottom line versus the “flock” entrusted to their care. Yes I know, I am blasphemous and going to hell according to them. I think personally God prefers the truth, but I digress.
DECEMBER 13, 2022Archdiocese of Philadelphia to close 4 Catholic churches in city, suburbs
The relegation of the buildings is part of the Pastoral Planning Initiative to merge parishes
BY MICHAEL TANENBAUM
Four Catholic churches in the Philadelphia area, including two in the city, will close their doors in the new year as part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s latest plan to relegate buildings and merge parishes.
The churches – Holy Trinity Church in Society Hill, The Saint Peter Claver Church building in South Philly, Sacred Heart Church in Phoenixville, Chester County and the original Saint Philip Neri Church in East Greenville, Montgomery County – are slated to close by Jan. 23.
Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez has approved the relegation of all four buildings to profane but not sordid use, a formal designation that means the buildings will no longer be Roman Catholic churches. The future of each building will be determined by its respective parish.
The Holy Trinity Church building was the third Roman Catholic Church built in Philadelphia and the first national parish in the country. In July 2009, Holy Trinity Parish merged with Old Saint Mary Parish. At the time, the Holy Trinity church building became a worship site of the newly formed Old Saint Mary Parish and was used for an occasional celebration of Mass.
The building’s exterior is historically designated and cannot be altered without the approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Saint Peter Claver Church, long considered the mother church for Black Catholics in Philadelphia, has not been a parish church since 1985 and has not been an active worship site since 2014. After Saint Peter Claver Parish closed in 1985, the building became the Saint Peter Claver Center for Evangelization. At the time of the church’s closure, Mass was being offered on a monthly basis and was attended by fewer than 15 people, the archdiocese said.
The building has been historically designated since April 1984, protecting its exterior from alterations without approval from the historical commission. The cost of repairs to the church and rectory buildings would exceed $1.3 million, the archdiocese said.
It is expected that the sale of the Saint Peter Claver Church properties would generate funds to support ongoing ministry to Black Catholics through the Office of Black Catholics, the archdiocese said. Many of the sacred items inside the church already have been moved to active parishes that currently serve Black Catholics.
I do not know pretty much anything about St. Philip Neri in East Greenville, but it is another church the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has slowly been killing off. They closed their parish school in 2012, and the church that was there in the 1960s. It is a teeny weeny borough in Montgomery County. The only thing I ever knew about that place is it was the home for Knoll which makes furniture, and is still there today. But it’s so tiny, I can’t find a photo of the old church, sadly.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been doing this for years. They seemingly have little desire in preserving churches. Especially historic and ethnically linked churches. It is literally criminal that they are NOT preserving St. Peter Claver (and if you believe they will give proceeds of any real estate sales to helping Black Catholics in Philadelphia, y’all are skippy in my humble opinion.) St. Peter Claver, like Holy Trinity is is deemed and certified historic.
They will sell off all of these churches to the highest bidder eventually, it’s all about the money and the homogenous modern churches they build today that have little charm and history and lack a feeling of faith and community. That is why I have never joined a Catholic church in Chester County. I have either found too many of their parishioners practitioners of ugly and judgmental political agendas personally, or the churches themselves. You know like Saints Peter and Paul on Booth Road in West Chester. They lost me once they started planting their ugly anti abortion signs. The two churches I find the least objectionable, are just a little too far for me: St. Agnes in West Chester Borough which has the heritage, history, and actual faith that made me like church once upon a time and Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church in Chester Springs, which for a new church doesn’t feel terrible. Also Saints Philip and James in Exton gets an honorable mention, but they did have that priest who was killing Canadian geese.
And for this news of these churches closing coming out at Christmas? It doesn’t get more Scrooge than that.