A friendly, but bittersweet start for St. Vincent’s newly-formed congregation

St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown bustled with friendly energy on Sunday as the historic parish began a new chapter with a newly-formed congregation. 

As part of the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Planning Initiative, St. Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Conception closed for good and merged with the neighborhood’s long-standing mother church. Sunday marked the first time parishioners from all three churches came together to worship.

Germantown resident Ceci Mangum, who has been a member of St. Vincent’s for over 25 years, said the merger will help bring more diversity to the parish.

“Today, I thought, ‘ Wow, God is really bringing us all here together,” said Mangum. “It’s like the Holy Spirit united the community. There were blacks and whites at this service today. A racial barrier was broken.”

Mangum noted that the Germantown area has seen its “share of problems,” but said she believes faith can help “build bridges” in the community.

Fellow St. Vincent parishioner Jim Bruno of Chestnut Hill, echoed Mangum’s sentiments.

“It’s a great sense of community here,” he said ” We welcome everyone.”

Welcoming new congregants

At least two members of St. Francis attended St. Vincent’s on Sunday for the first time.

Pat Steward of North Philadelphia said she loved being a member of St. Francis, but will embrace her new church.

“It was a beautiful Mass today,” said Steward. “There’s a sense of fellowship here. It feels very positive.”

Heather Wright-Lee said St. Francis was an important part of her life and hopes St. Vincent’s will be too.

“When I first learned that St. Francis was closing, I was very sad and really distraught,” said Wright-Lee. “This will be a new experience for me. I think change is good.”

Another new face was present on Sunday to welcome the newly-merged congregants. Rev. Sylvester Peterka presided as the new pastor of St. Vincent’s.

Peterka, who hails from Maryland, led two Baltimore parishes – St. Cecilia and Immaculate Conception – for 22 years before arriving in Philadelphia.

“I believe the Holy Spirit is with us,” said Peterka following the Mass. “We’re all willing to work together and I have no fear. This is a strong faith community.”

Wright-Lee said there is a transition committee in place that is helping to “smooth things out” for new members.

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