The following is a letter to the editor. It’s content is independent of NEast Philly’s editorial team.
Most of you who know me are aware of my interest in history. So you know it was a nice little small homecoming of sorts when I went to attend mass at St. Joachim for the first time in who knows how long this past Sunday.
As a member of the class of 1988 there, transferred from St. Martin of Tours, I was elated to be able to attend a parish where the role model of all priests, Father Anthony Silvestri, was pastor. I remember being jealous of my cousins who attended SJS (St. Joachim School) for their whole grade school experience. St. Joachim was a close knit community led by a man of God who would d0 anything he could for that community. I was so grateful and proud of the experience there as student, a house worker in the rectory, and for my time spent with Fr. Silvestri’s mother, that I made sure that the picture of the old church on page 31 of a certain book that bares the neighborhood’s name had one of the longest paragraphs.
“Pictured here in 1912 is St. Joachim’s, which is Northeast Philadelphia’s first Roman Catholic Church. Located on Church Street at Griscom Street, the parish was officially founded in 1845 and still continues to serve Frankford today.”
Not a long paragraph but it was a picture book with short, to the point descriptions. Anyways, Sunday’s homecoming of sorts was not entirely for pleasure or curiosity of how the church is doing. Nor was it just happening to be in the area. No,the visit was to stand up for the parish, at least as much as I can. The archdiocese has listed St. Joachim Parish to be closed as of June 30, 2013. If this happens, and I say if, as the congregation does not view the closing as final, it kind of shakes me to think this thought. The statement “…founded in 1845 and still continues to serve Frankford today” will become obsolete.
That is something the congregation refuses to let happen. The people of the neighborhood know what is needed for the neighborhood. As it was put Sunday in meetings to organize the effort to fight to remain open, the people of St. Joachim and of Mater Delarosa (also slated to be closed) “walk the streets of Frankford every day.” They are asking the archdiocese to take that same walk just once. Walk through the neighborhood so that they can see for themselves the need for a Catholic community in Frankford. From Aid for Friends (which helps to feed people in the neighborhood), their work with the homeless in Frankford, involvement with Catholic Daughters, and Pastor Steven Wetzel being a pillar of the community.
The congregation wants a chance to show the archdiocese what Frankford would be losing if the archdiocese closes both churches and leaves the Frankford community. What makes this decision by the archdiocese more heart-wrenching is that St. Joachim itself, as a parish, has no debt. They are in no way a burden to the archdiocese. They are staffed by an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales whose salary is paid for by the congregation, not the archdiocese. They have income from the parish buildings, which are currently in use and not abandoned like some of the other closed schools that the diocese has closed in the past many years. The parish is self-sufficient and continues to be that way due to the work of Fr. Wetzel and many dedicated parishioners.
It made me proud today to see all that St. Joachim continues to do for Frankford. Yes, I may have left the community many years ago, but I never truly left. You know the saying for every Philly neighborhood, you can take the guy/girl out of (insert neighborhood here) but you can’t take the (neighborhood) out of the guy/girl. It hurts to hear something close to you is in danger, and that is on the personal level. Now multiply that by all the current members of this generation there with all the members of past generations that call St. Joachim their church. Its 1845 founding is older than Philadelphia as we know it. Yes, St. Joachim parish predates the Act of Consolidation of 1854*. This act consolidated all of the local townships and villages into what we now know as Philadelphia’s current landscape. So St. Joachim parish is in fact nine years older than Northeast Philadelphia itself. Here’s to seeing it continue to be so, prayers that it will last to see another 168 years.
*My original date mentioned may even be off by a year. A very respected source and researcher, Jack McCarthy, noted in an article he wrote that 1844 is founding the date. So make that 10 year solder than Northeast Philadelphia.
Brian H. Harris is the author of Frankford, a history book about the neighborhood.
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