In 1986, Cardinal John Krol suppressed it. In 2014, it was formally closed. And now, in 2016, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is petitioning to remove the final bar to its sale — a deed restriction specifying that the real estate at 1212-1222 Lombard Street is held “in trust” for Black Catholics in Philadelphia — unless enough written objections to the petition are received by the Clerk of the Orphans’ Court Division of Philadelphia before a hearing to be held Monday, June 6, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. at Court Room 416 in City Hall.
The property in question is St. Peter Claver, the mother church for Black Catholics in the city since 1892, and a site of real symbolic and historical significance for more than just African Americans.
Although the register of Old St. Joseph’s shows that both free and enslaved Black people attended Mass in the Old City worship site opened in 1733, Masses there were segregated, with just a few Black Catholics believed to have been able to rent pews in the balcony gallery. The Black Catholic community which grew greatly during the 19th century thanks in part to an influx of Haitian emigres, commonly experienced having to sit in the balcony or back pews of churches during Mass, and having to wait for all white congregants to receive Communion before they could go to receive.
St. Peter Claver, dedicated in 1892 in the former Fourth Presbyterian Church on 12th and Lombard Streets, was the first and only Catholic church where Black Catholics could feel comfortable and at home. It had been purchased by members of Old St. Joseph’s, Old St. Mary’s and Holy Trinity churches who formed the St. Peter Claver Union and with the assistance of Philadelphia heiress (and later, saint) Katharine Drexel, they were able to purchase the property that first included a school for African Americans, and later the church and attendant property. Read more »