The Closing of St. Joachim RC Church Has Opened Even More Hearts!

Up close creche and treeYes, this was not what the Area Pastoral Planning Process was supposed to do! At the end of this process, we were supposed to have at least one Catholic Church in Frankford! Now, we have none! If that doesn’t speak to the wisdom of this process!! But God does work in mysterious ways!

Christmas reminds us of this so very well. How would the Redeemer come to save us? The government would announce a census and all citizens had to return to their hometowns. Thus, Joseph and Mary (9 months pregnant) would have to make their way back home. Not finding anywhere to stay, an innkeeper let them use a stable. So, in this humble stable, and sharing his nursery with the animals, Jesus was born. A great and bright star would hover overhead and lead the Wise Men to this wisest of children. Those of us of St. Joachim Parish know what it is to be on the outside – to no longer have a true spiritual home. But has it weakened our faith? Have we become disbelievers? No, we are even more determined to reach out to others, who like us, know even better what it is to be marginalized, voices unheard and unwanted. Joseph and Mary must have felt pretty lonely and alone, too!

During our prayer service today, we sang “The First Noel”! This is a first noel for us, of sorts, too. The first year, in 169 years, there was not a Christmas vigil Mass or a Christmas Day Mass at St. Joachim. (The fire in 1979 disrupted the Church but immediately there was talk of rebuilding.) We have filed an appeal with the Vatican and cannot be sure of the outcome. The Congregation of the Clergy has ruled that Archbishop Chaput did not do anything canonically wrong. That does not change the unjustness or obvious preference of the Church here in Philadelphia to “follow” the monied pointsettias and treeCatholics to the suburbs and insist that Catholics have left the city, so it’s alright if they do, too!

But we have said, “No”, that’s not the right thing to do! We have met so many people during our efforts who have been touched in some way by St. Joachim and/or Frankford! Here we are! St. Joachim Parish is alive and well! St. Joachim Parish is telling all who listen our story, calling all who remember to help and asking those who want to give and give back to join us in our efforts to reopen the Church and open our hearts further to our brothers and sisters in Frankford.

This Christmas, we can celebrate that St. Joachim Parish has rallied together to keep united, to keep the faith alive and to hope that we are able to reopen St. Joachim.

Yes, indeed, God works in mysterious ways! May your Christmas be blessed in a special way this year and may we work to keep the light of Christ even brighter in our hearts in 2014!






If Faith Can Move Mountains, It Can Certainly Change Our Minds and Hearts (including those of our hierarchy)!

faithkeySt. Joachim, the Church, has been closed since June 30, 2013. However, St. Joachim Parish is alive and well! We are committed to staying together and working together as a parish community to reopen St. Joachim Church. In fact, we have begun a nonprofit organization, Keep the Faith in Frankford, to continue the work of the Church in our community.

We meet weekly, we demonstrate downtown, we hold our prayer services, we participate in Archdiocesan events, we visit Holy Innocents and other churches to fulfill our weekly obligation of Mass but we long for the day when St. Joachim reopens. How can we do that? What makes us think that we are able to change the minds and hearts of our hierarchy and accomplish what some people feel is a battle already lost? The answer is simple – it’s our faith!

We have had so many opportunities to walk and live by faith as Catholics. Since our Church closed, our faith has increased and become even more meaningful! This past Sunday,October 13, 2013,  to commemorate the Year of Faith now ending, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia invited all to participate in a Pilgrimage of Faith. From different “landing points”, the faithful would walk to the Basilica to “Rediscover the Joy of Believing in Christ and His Church”. Sandwiches and water from Williamson’s would be distributed. A holy hour would take place at 5 PM with Exposition and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Archbishop would say Mass at 6:30 PM.

We have been blessed to meet and work with other brothers and sisters whose parishes have also been impacted by decisions over which they had no voice. One such group is La Milagrosa whose efforts to resolve the sale of their chapel to a building developer is being led by Miguel Ortiz and Gilberto Gonzalez. Miguel and Gilberto, along with their families and fellow parishioners, have been models of humility, devotion and a real love of the Lord.

So together we would walk to the Basilica from La Milagrosa Chapel and witness our faith and say a Rosary for Justice for our Churches and all Churches that have been closed. Al and Mary McK., Al S., Ann Y., Barbara J., David and Shannon H., Florence S., Gregory M., Josephine L., Maryanne S., and Pat and Bob Smiley stepped off. (La Milagrosa started a little later than us but we all met later.) As we walked to the Basilica, we passed a group of homeless men in a park along the parkway. Greeting everyone with a God bless you and friendly faces just didn’t seem enough in this situation. I will never forget when Al S. and David H. talked to Williamson’s about donating the extra sandwiches to those men in the park. They assured them that’s what they would do after everyone had arrived and had been fed. It’s great to have faith but you have to use that faith to help others. The Lord constantly uses us to teach and learn from each other using our own gifts and talents to help make it “heaven here on earth”.

Yesterday, we walked, we sang, we talked and shared with others about what our faith means to us! Now we have to put it into action! What will you do as part of St. Joachim Parish to love, serve and witness your faith with and for others? Let us work to reopen St. Joachim to continue our witness which began back in 1844.



Who Are We?

redvotivecandlesAs we work to reopen St. Joachim Church, it’s not an easy road to walk. But the rewards are well worth it! I have gotten to know so many wonderful people, connected with St. Joachim and not, but caring about the fact that anytime a church is closed, the candle of faith burns less bright! But we are tenders of that light and it is up to us to keep it burning bright – in spite of not having our beloved church. We are like the other believers who, after Jesus was crucified and His followers were persecuted, scattered to other parts of the world and became the first missionaries. We merged with Holy Innocents who have been very welcoming to all who have lost their church – we of St. Joachim, Mater Dolorosa, St. Joan of Arc and last year, Ascension. But we also have many people looking for that “spiritual home” mentioned in an earlier post. We hear each other talking about being “Roaming Catholics” (Maureen and Agnes) instead of Roman Catholics.

I came across this article in the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales’ Pillars of Faith section on their website where Father Kevin Naldoski, OSFS, Director of Communications and Development, wrote “Eulogy for a Church” based on Father Steve’s sermon and Judge Timothy Savage’s own “Eulogy” at our last Mass on June 30. I thought how we are coming up to the one month anniversary so very quickly. Father’s words so eloquently say what we have been living, what we have been doing.

“Yet, our Spirit is bigger than any one place. Perhaps that is why Jesus was able to appear to his disciples in a locked room. God cannot be limited to any one space. God is larger than that. So are we.”

You are so right, Father! Psalm 77:13 “God, your ways are holy! What god is as great as our God?” Our prayer is that we always walk in holiness in all we do, in all we are!

It’s Official…

Today we received the acknowledgement from the Apostolic Nunciature that our “recourse for St. Joachim’s Parish in Philadelphia has been forwarded through the diplomatic pouch to the Congreation for Clergy”. You really have to love the intrigue of this!

What we don’t appreciate, quite frankly, is that your voice and my voice were not involved in the Parish Pastoral Process. I appreciate that the hierarchy was involved, that our Pastors along with three representatives were involved but, and we must make it clear in the case of St. Joachim, “interested parishioners” did not receive information about this process along with the rest of the parishioners. We truly believed in this process and it turns out our faith was truly misguided.

What makes an “interested parishioner”? Was this term used because you didn’t want to tell all of us what was going on – which took us 30 days to find out that our Pastors and representatives believed that St. Joachim parishioners and Mater Dolorosa parishioners had irreconciliable differences and would not, could not find a better solution than shuttering two viable Churces? Did anyone question that 4 people may not have been fully representative of 200-300 others in the parish? Hand picking representatives doesn’t lead to a diversity of thought but commonality of beliefs. This is the same idea that my husband and I couldn’t work as caring members of the Transition Team because of our concerns about how this process was handled and the subsequent decisions made. (For the record, we still received information and shared it with our parishioners. It’s not hard. Try it.) Who was really listening? Was this process just “lip service”? Did this give you another out to blame us for your flawed process? Did you have to be selected to be an “interested parishioner”? Each of us received a letter telling us our Churches were closing. Each of us received a letter welcoming us to the “new” old Holy Innocents. Why did each of us not receive a letter informing us of the status of this process and it’s progress. It appears that to do that would have been troublesome and opened up debate.  Real debate that all “interested parishioners” could have participated in. Imagine having a discussion on the future vitality of the faith in Frankford BEFORE closing two viable Churches? Well, surely we qualify as “interested parishioners” now!

We would hope and pray that as this process moves forward these same mistakes and judgements are not repeated. We will be watching closely and offering other parishes the benefits of our woeful experience with this process to safeguard their Church from those more interested in their “process” than “parishioners”.


Receipt from Apostolic Nunciature




Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Poor

You may have heard that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing churches.  It has been in the news of late but there has been very little follow-up except to say that people are naturally unhappy.

Frankford (a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia with a population of about 50,000) is in a unique situation in that the two churches in the heart of Frankford, Mater Dolorosa and St. Joachim, are both being closed.  They are within a few blocks of one another and both are in the the poorest area of Frankford.  However, both of those churches are financially independent thanks to the astute financial management of their pastors, Father John Large and Father Steve Wetzel.

During the period while this issue was being studied, people in Frankford thought that the two churches would eventually have to merge.  They were prepared for that likelihood but the announcement that both would be closed was sad and puzzling.

So, naturally, they are asking a very simple question of Archbishop Charles Chaput.  Why is the Archdiocese closing two financially sound parishes and abandoning the Catholic population in Frankford?  They are being cut loose without the slightest care for the hardships the parishioners may endure as a result of this callous treatment by their Church.  Many are seniors on fixed incomes.  Some are physically disabled.  All are the faithful that have stuck with their church over these past years of scandal and shame caused by that same Archdiocese.  Now they are being treated like criminals rather than the victims of a money driven Archdiocesan Planning Committee.

So what happened to bring this about?  Father Tom Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents Catholic Church and Dean of Deanery 12, Lower Northeast Philadelphia, has indicated that he made a proposal to the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to close one of the Frankford parishes and merge the other into it.  He has said that he believed Frankford should retain a Catholic Church.  His proposal was rejected.

He then offered an alternate proposal to close both parishes and merge them into St. Bartholomew in Wissinoming.  That also was rejected.  The end was dictated by the Archdiocesan Planning Committee that both Churches along with another, St. Joan of Arc, would all be merged into Holy Innocents.

Well, if they did not listen to the Dean, who did they listen to?  It might have been the cash register.  We can’t say for sure but that is the only reasonable explanation for this crazy idea.  It’s like a corporate raider has taken over the Catholic Church.  The parish’s assets are worth more liquidated than operating.  Those stained glass windows in these old churches alone are of significant value.  The land and buildings, even in Frankford, are going to bring in cash.

Given that the Archdiocese is bleeding red ink, this makes it too tempting.  Why leave these working class parishes continue when their assets can be put to use supporting other favored projects, like paying off lawsuits, legal fees and making up the deficient pension system for retiring priests.

Sounds like Gordon Gecko in a Roman collar.  For their sake, let’s hope that Jesus doesn’t turn up at 222 N. 17th street any time soon.  I can’t imagine he would approve that the occupants have placed the god of money above the welfare of souls.

Smileys Unable to Accept Merger Plan So Removed From St. Joachim’s Transition Team

Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents, reached out to Bob and Pat Smiley, the Transition Team representatives from St. Joachim. The Smileys were invited to meet with Father Higgins at the parish rectory. We met today. The beginning of the meeting was very cordial with Father asking how everything was going and we asking about his work. Father shared with us, as he has said from the beginning, that he believed there should be a Catholic presence, a church, in Frankford.

This pastoral planning process was long and arduous for all. That we can all agree on! Father told the Smileys that he had made two proposals himself suggesting first that St. Joachim merge at Mater Dolorosa and St. Joan of Arc at Holy Innocents. When that was not accepted, Father tried again with St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa merging with St. Bartholmew and St. Joan of Arc merging with Holy Innocents. Again, that was not accepted. The Smileys thanked Father for his efforts and believe that someone in the Archdiocese will have the wisdom to overturn this unfair and unjust decision.

JuniataAs it became clear that the Smileys would not cease trying to “Keep the Faith in Frankford” by keeping one Church open in Frankford, Father expressed concerns that the Smileys would not be able to truly “be on the same page” with Father and the rest of the Transition Team. The Smileys, especially Pat, restated their committment to helping in this important process while acknowledging that, according to Father, we wanted the same thing, a Catholic presence in Frankford. Pat Smiley asked if either Smiley had done anything to warrant or cause these feelings. Emails Father has received from the Archbishop, Monsignor Rodgers and the latest article from the “Juniata News” titled “St. Joachim Parishioners Want to ‘Keep the Faith in Frankford’ by Keeping Their Church Open are evidence of the successful efforts that St. Joachim parishioners and supporters have demonstrated regarding the unfair and unjust decision to close St. Joachim. Father indicated that we were not accepting of the Archdiocesan decision to merge our parish. Father felt this gap was too big to be able to be bridged and he was not comfortable with the Smileys remaining on the Transition Team. As of today, the Smileys are no longer on the Transition Team. The Smileys expressed regret that Father felt this way and wish the entire Transition Team and staff of Holy Innocents only the best and many blessings on their efforts.