A pristine blue sky provided the perfect backdrop to Manayunk’s St. John the Baptist Church last week as parishioners and community members celebrated both the congregation’s 185th anniversary and the completion of renovations to the church’s 122 year old bell tower.
The Gothic style masterpiece, which has become known in the community as the “Manayunk Cathedral,” was designed by renowned church architect Patrick Keely and opened on April 1,1894. It is the only operational Keely church in Philadelphia and one of just 600 that remain in the United States. The bell tower was built in 1918 along with the Manayunk Bridge, and together, the two structures have become iconic visions of Philadelphia.
Last year, the St. John’s community learned some devastating news — the church building was in need of some extensive, and costly repairs in order to remain structurally sound. The estimated cost of repair came in at $1 million, and almost immediately a campaign to raise the necessary funds was put into action. Beef and beers, cocktail parties, private and corporate donations as well as the consolidation of three other local parishes — St. Josaphat’s, St. Mary’s and St. Lucy’s — allowed St. John’s to meet and surpass their goal by January of this year. For months, the bells of St. John’s were silent as the 208-foot tower stood covered in construction equipment and scaffolding.
But on the congregation’s 185th anniversary, the bells rang once again. Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving to the parish which now serves almost 2,000 parish households. A rededication of the bell tower and reception in Pretzel Park followed with live music, food and drink, and even a visit from the Mummers.
Alison Whartenby grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, but has lived in Roxborough area for the past several years. Almost every weekend, Whartenby can be found attending a service at St. John’s.
“St. John’s is such an iconic symbol in the Northwest area of Philadelphia,” Whartenby said. “Its steeple and stone structure are hard to miss driving on 76 or walking up the hills of Manayunk.’