Watch “Urban Trinity,” the new feature-length documentary about Catholic Philadelphia, and you’ll probably be surprised at what you don’t know about the city’s history. I know I was.
I didn’t know that in the early ’30s, Cardinal Dennis Dougherty, who led the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for decades, told every priest in the city to order their parishioners not to go to the movies – any movie.
The edict, issued by Dougherty in response to what he saw as the moral depravity of Hollywood films, closed as many as 40 percent of the city’s theaters.
And I’d heard of the anti-Catholic riots of the 19th century, but the film’s depiction of Protestant mobs charging up from Independence Hall to Kensington, burning and killing dozens, is moving.
Andrew Ferrett, the film’s director, says the riots had a lasting impact on the city, as Catholics began to develop separate institutions.
“They formed a cocoon, a protective shell in a way, where they could practice their religion, have their hospitals, schools, universities and churches,” Ferrett said, “all separate from the intolerant Protestant world.”
Philadelphia developed the largest parochial school system in the country.
The film comes from History Making Productions, the project started Sam Katz that’s been producing shorter video documentaries of Philadelphia’s history.
The crew began work on “Urban Trinity” before there were any plans for a papal visit here, before Francis became the pope.
“Catholicism in American is largely urban,” Katz told me, “and really the most iconic Catholic city in America is Philadelphia. We not only had the largest parochial school system. We have the most Catholic higher education institutions in any diocese in America, and we had, for a long time, the most powerful clergy.”
So Sam and company embarked on the project, and somehow it’s finished just as the papal visit brings heightened interest.
The film makes good use of a host of scholars and experts, archival film and photos, and re-enactments of older events. And it does cover the child sex abuse scandal.
It’s worth watching.
The 87-minute documentary will be shown on Channel 6 in three chapters – the first two Tuesday evening at 7 and 7:30, and the final one at midnight Sunday, following the pope’s departure from the city.
It will be posted on the production company’s website historyofphilly.com next Tuesday.