Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Photo Beyond My Ken.
Every morning, I pass the entrance of St. Laurentius elementary school on Berks Street in Fishtown. “Have a great day, hon!” shouts the principal, who stands outside with two teachers every morning — including every single day of the Polar Vortex — to safely usher her students into the building. Even on the rainiest, grayest days, this part of my commute always makes me smile.
Seeing the plaid-wearing students — their backpacks bigger than their little backs and their stretched-out knee socks flapping around their ankles — run into their elementary school resonates with me deeply. Though I no longer identify as a member of the Church, I know that my 12 years of religious education and worship shaped the way Iive my life now — and not just in my deep appreciation for punctuality and knee-length skirts. I believe in the community that can come from being a member of a parish and how a church — and especially, a school — can anchor a neighborhood and help it weather tough times.
Those of us who grew up in the culture of Philadelphia parochial schools, are bound by them even now. When I chat with childhood friends, we don’t refer to neighborhoods, we refer to parishes. “She went to Cecilia’s,” we’ll say. Or “He moved from St. William’s to St. Al’s,” we’ll explain with a knowing look. (This helps us avoid saying what we really mean: that relocating from Lawncrest to Huntingdon Valley means someone is movin’ on up in the world.)
There was a time when the Archdiocese was brimming with so many devout Catholics that a community, like my current one in Fishtown, could support two churches and schools within three blocks of each other. If I walk out my door and turn left, I am at St. Laurentius Church. If I turn right, I am at Holy Name of Jesus. At one point, both of these churches and schools were full and functional. This is not the reality of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia anymore.
Now, St. Laurentius has a school but no church and Holy Name has a church but no school.
This week, when word came down from the almighty Archdiocese that 16 parishes are closing their doors, I understood exactly the kind of heartbreak the parishioners of those churches were feeling. Read more »