St. Josaphat community packs the parish for what could be the church’s last Christmas bazaar

The church hall of St. Josaphat Parish was abuzz with activity throughout Saturday morning and into the evening. Parishioners of every age, some coming from as far as Brooklyn, NY, and others from as close as the house next door.

“This is probably the most packed this event has been in 10 to 15 years,” said Paul Karcsh, Jr.

It was a time of celebration and family reunion. Anita Focht, of Chester Springs, brought her mother, Josephine Cetera, 99, to enjoy what could possibly be the final Christmas Bazaar of the Polish community parish. Focht was a 1959 graduate of St. Josaphat School and member of the final 10th grade class ever held there.

“This place has been packed with people all day,” said Focht. “The bake goods table has been sold out since 3 p.m.”

Throngs of people circulated throughout the church hall; playing games, buying raffle tickets for prizes and generally getting a start on their holiday shopping. The smell of Polish cuisine filled the hall vestibule, which caused some little children to plug their noses. Other guests waited nearly 20 minutes on line for the pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut and gulumpky (stuffed cabbage). For those averse to such fare, other items such as hot roast beef and meatballs were also available.

“I don’t understand why they would close us,” said parishioner Joseph Zajko.

Despite the colorful scene and cheery music, there was an undercurrent of sadness as people discussed the rumored closure of the neighborhood church and parish. Some parishioners were still emotional over the prospect of the closure that they refused to speak on the matter. Others were stunned or disappointed.

“We do not owe the Archdiocese any money, unlike some other churches in the neighborhood that I could name,” said event volunteer Kathy Swift.

While the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has made no formal announcement about the closure, members of the church community say St. Josaphat church, along with two others – St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Lucy – will likely close on Ash Wednesday 2012. Other parishioners talked about having a meeting between the parish and the archdiocese, to keep St. Josaphat Church open.

“Originally, they were going to close us before Thanksgiving but there was such an outcry that the archdiocese decided to push the closure back until after the new year,” said Swift.

Swift, who has three children that attend Catholic schools, said her children worry that their schools may close before they graduate from their respective institutions. It has been an acknowledged fact that many Catholic education institutions have closed in urban and nearby suburban areas, due to declining enrollment. 

“My daughter attends [Bishop] McDevitt [High School in Glenside] and said that there was talk of closing that school,” said Swift. “She’s upset because it would be the second school that closed while she attended it.”

News of these possible closures spread rapidly across Facebook, prompting former St. Josaphat grade school alumnus, now Drexel University PhD candidate and lecturer, Mark Boady to create an event labeled ‘Last Ever Saint Josephat’s Church Bazaar’.

Karcsh, Swift and other volunteers attributed the spike in attendance at this year’s event to the closure speculation. 

Because of their historical significance, it is unlikely that these churches would be torn down. According to the archdiocese, the closed churches would still be used for funerals and special permitted events such as weddings. If St. Josaphat Church does close, Polish Catholics would lose the only church in the area that celebrates Mass in the Polish language. If the closures do go ahead as planned, the only two Catholic churches in Manayunk that would remain would be St. John the Baptist and Holy Family.

“Just make sure to tell everyone how sad we are,” said Swift.

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