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A bittersweet parade march for three Manayunk churches

Wagons, floats and marching bands paraded through Manayunk, Lyceum and Ridge avenues yesterday for the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July celebration. The 182-year-old tradition, known as the “Independence Day Parade of Churches and Sunday Schools and Synagogues”, brought out residents of all ages, from toddlers in strollers, to locals who’ve been part of the parade for decades. 

With three local Roman Catholic churches closing this year, St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Lucy’s and St. Josaphat, residents took time to reflect on the sense of community that will help continue the parade for years to come.

Deanna Burke of Wissahickon says she has fond memories of the parade, which include the traditional picnics and watching members of the city’s mounted patrol unit ride their horses.

“I’ve been attending this parade for 75 years,” said Burke. “I believe they’ll always have the parade here, it’s a truly great part of our community.”

Nina Bellina of Manayunk has been attending the parade for 47 years. She brought her two children in a red-white-and-blue decorated wagon. 

“I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve always come out for the parade,” said Bellina, proudly. She noted that there are less families each year, which she says may be the result of closing churches.

For Nancy Sahms of Roxborough, who has been attending the parade for 60 years, it represents a sense of community pride.

“It’s special that we have this parade every year,” said Sahms, “I hope it will always continue.”

A strong congregation at St. Mary’s

As Frank “Butch” Adamo of Manayunk admired the official parade plaque, which honors the parade creator, Samuel Lawson, he said he still hasn’t accepted that St. Mary’s will not be a part of the parade next year.

“The parade started in 1831,” said Adamo. “There’s a lot of tradition here. A lot of people have been a part of St. Mary’s their whole lives. It’s generational. Some families can trace being a part of the parish back 160 years.”

Bob Fitzmyer of Belmont Hills also attended St. Mary’s. He says that, by definition, the congregants are supposed to go to St. John’s, but added that some members of the church are appealing the Archdiocesan decision to close the parish.

“There was more support this year than ever,” said Fitzmyer. “We’ve raised money and hired an ecclesiastical lawyer and are taking our case to Rome. It will at least stop them from selling or closing the rectory for a year.”

On the Saturday night before the closing, the church held a beef-and-beer fundraiser for the parents of a Roxborough man who is on the 2012 Olympic Rowing Team.

“We had so much support, you’d never have thought the church was closing the very next day,” said Fitzmyer.

Olympic-sized support

Roxborough residents Lee and Joanne Ochal are the proud parents of Glenn Ochal, who is on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team. Thanks to their fellow St. Mary parishioners, they will soon be able to see their son compete in London. 

“They raised the plane ticket money for us,” said Lee. “It’s pretty amazing.”

His son attended Roman Catholic High School and Princeton University and later became a rowing coach at Princeton.

“We’re very proud of him. We found out in mid June and now, thanks to St. Mary’s, we’ll be able to go see him. It’s like a final parting gift from the church,” said Lee.

Joanne Ochal, who has been a part of the parish for 54 years, says she had a sense that the parish might close, but always held out hope.

“It’s hard no matter what, it’s hard to replace it in my heart,” she said, tearfully, “we had something special there.”

The Ochal’s said they don’t know which parish they will be a part of for the parade next year, although they do plan to attend the parade again, despite losing their longtime parish.

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