Over the weekend, we learned the process will begin this month to relegate St. Joachim Church and rectory in Frankford to profane use and that will enable it to be put up for sale.
Here we are in July 2020 and if this were a regular year, we would be getting ready for our St. Joachim & St. Ann(e) Annual Feast Day Mass! But we know this is not a regular year!
St. Joachim closed and merged with Holy Innocents in July 2013. We know that Mater Dolorosa closed and merged, too, as did St. Joan of Arc, which has remained as an active Worship Site. Ascension was already a part of Holy Innocents Parish.
My intent is not to bring up the pros and cons of the PPA or to rehash what was an injustice and a wrong for us and for so many of the faithful throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
I want to talk about what was right. St. Joachim is us; we are St. Joachim! We are the Catholic Church of Frankford. We are the Catholic community that stayed together – then and now. Keep the Faith in Frankford led the appeal effort to give us time – to do good in the community, to pray to Our Lady of the Locked Gates and to Padre Pio! Our prayers and so many others were heard.
It is unthinkable that a Church, especially in an urban diocese gets a new lease on life. But, thanks to the Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Augustine Province, we did. In 2016, they bought the former IHM convent for their, yes, Padre Pio Friary and have used the Church as the Padre Pio Prayer Center. What I am thinking is that Padre Pio may want them to annex the Church as well. St. Padre Pio, what do you think?
We are grateful to the Lord for these extra years of being able to celebrate Him within the walls of St. Joachim! He has blessed us, just like Lazarus, bringing us back from shuttered doors.
We’re grateful to former Archbishop Chaput! In the end, the Archbishop has to give the okay for whatever happens in the Archdiocese. Without his approval, the sale of the convent and arrival of the Capuchins would never have been. The Archbishop, too, had a daunting task when he arrived in Philadelphia. Thank you, Archbishop Chaput!
Father Tom (Higgins), Pastor, Holy Innocents Parish, from the beginning, was willing to meet with us and talk with us. We didn’t always get what we wanted but he never totally shut the door to us! Father was honest with us and very much in a very difficult position. I know Father worked very hard trying to find a way to re-open St. Joachim. We have got to balance our budgets; Father has his. As the years have passed, Father Tom has been more of a friend to us rather than as an adversary. We never saw him in that light but I’m sure he must have felt that way. Father was very receptive to new ideas and efforts to honor those buried in our cemetery and those still above. Thank you, Father Tom!
You may wonder why I can say we are grateful and blessed! But it’s because we are! It’s because of what we mean to each other! We have a special bond that nothing on earth can break. That will never change! The news of the possible relegation to profane use and sale hits the heart like a heat-seeking missile. But I also know that it’s not over yet! It will take time!
We had our one miracle; I don’t doubt the possibility of another. Going forward let us be the people of hope, diversity and faith! Whatever God’s plan is for St. Joachim and for us, it will be special! Because you and Frankford are special!
Bad things happen to very good people. I had seen this story on the news, one of too many. As I have been talking to our parishioners this week, a Dad told me that his two sons went to school with the victim of this latestes senseless murder, Don Green, and they were “feeling the shock, so senseless” an act. If you’re unaware of what happened Friday night, you can read about it here – “Two Suspects Sought After Juniata Man Gunned Down”. The name, “Don” stuck in my mind and I checked Facebook and realized that I had talked to Don’s Dad, also Don, when we were distributing our information to our fellow parishioners at Holy Innocents. Don had stood outside on a dark, cold, windy Saturday night and listened to me as I explained our desire and need for a weekly Mass in Frankford. His son had gone ahead to the car (I bet to warm it up!!) and waited patiently while Don took the time to listen. A true act of kindness! Don is very involved in Holy Innocents and his community. I shared the story with my brother-in-law because he works at Naval Support Activity on Oxford Ave with Don. He knew Don and had volunteered in a tutoring program that Don ran at Carnell Elementary School. Our prayers, hearts and thoughts go out to the Green family and to all whose lives young Don already touched or would have touched in the future. We are all one community – one in Christ. I am respectful of all that must be happening at Holy Innocents as they prepare to say good-bye to Don, a young man taken much too soon. Lord, may you bless, in particular, the Green family, with all the love and support that they need, during this most difficult time and may the community also surround them with all that they will need.
I have been calling our St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa parishioners regarding a petition to reopen St. Joachim – to get a weekly Mass in Frankford. I realized that Frankford is the community that has kept us going since St. Joachim closed in June 2013. Community is the most often mentioned word encountered when I talk to people and their experiences since both Catholic Churches closed in Frankford. That’s what we miss and that’s what we try to hold on to and it’s what we look for at the many parishes we visit trying to find that “Frankford style of community”! It’s rare. It’s a community where you can speak the truth and people will listen and let you have your say. We may not always agree but we try to work it out. We try to find that common ground – which is our faith – which is ourselves!!
Father Higgins announced over the weekend at Mass that the St. Joachim convent had been sold for $200,000 to the Capuchins. I called Father Higgins this morning and left a message hoping to learn more about the purchase. I also told the secretary that we are sorry for the grief the Green family are experiencing and that all are in our prayers. We are respectful of all that must be happening and that learning more will just have to wait for the appropriate time.
Well, we do know that Archbishop Chaput is a Capuchin. We know that the Capuchins run St. John the Evangelist Church on 13th St. But we don’t know what plans they have for Frankford yet. Until, we know more, we must keep working to reopen St. Joachim and doing what we think (with God’s help) will bring that about.
As for our Frankford community, we do know what has been said up until now. The Archbishop tells us that Father Higgins makes all the decisions for the Worship Site. We know that Father Higgins has told us nothing would change as long as he is Pastor. We know that he did not even acknowledge our requests for a Mass for the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Joachim on December 13, 2015. Our experience tells us that for over 2 years and 7 months, the community of Frankford, the community of St. Joachim, the community of Mater Dolorosa and the community of St. Joan of Arc have not received compassion or a willingness to honor or value our communities.
We do know that at St. Joachim, Father Steve had us say a prayer to Padre Pio before Mass during the time of the Area Pastoral Planning Process. We know that Padre Pio was a Capuchin. We know that we’ve had the Blessed Mother’s ear, the love of her Son, and the watchful presence of His grandfather, St. Joachim. We know “by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
We know that we are steadfast in our hope and belief in the need for a Catholic Church in Frankford. We know we are Keep(ing) the Faith in Frankford and beyond.
God never asks us to do anything easy and neither does the Pope with his belief of mercy for all. Every time I want to get angry and ask for God’s wrath and mighty justice, I struggle with having compassion and mercy towards Archbishop Chaput and Father Higgins for their actions in closing our two Churches in Frankford. Their ease in refusing to see the hurt, the damage done to the faith and to the faithful, not just in Frankford, but throughout the Archdiocese truly boggles my mind. I choose God always so I choose mercy. Whether your Church remained open, was closed and merged, or now, partnered with another parish, we are all affected as we are all members of the “One Body of Christ”.
I seek forgiveness from all those whose parishes started closing in the struggling urban areas of our city starting in back in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. I’m sure I felt sadness as my Mother’s beloved parish, Our Lady of Holy Souls, went through many transitions, but is still alive as Our Lady of Hope. Where was my voice in outcry at the beginning of the abandonment of our city? If you haven’t read this post, “Dooming Us To Repeat History”by David Harris, please take the time and inform yourselves that this effort, especially closing Churches within city boundaries, began long ago. So many people that I’ve met have told me they’ve attended Churches throughout our metropolitan area that were closed, merged and closed again. The sadness is real and did this have to be?
Well, that’s why we need to be the people of La Mancha? Who are the people of La Mancha? You and I should consider ourselves people of La Mancha! We are very real – we believe that we can affect change – and those of us who opposed the severely-flawed Area Parish Pastoral Planning Process can take heart today that we did, ultimately, affect change for those parishes undergoing the process after us. There’s a new model the Archdiocese is using, “Partner Parishes” where a Church is not closed but partnered with another nearby. The “Partner Parishes” share a Pastor, staff and combine their Parish Councils. However, since each Church remains a Parish, they each have their own Finance Council. It seems this model has already been used in other Dioceses – why was Philadelphia so slow to adopt it?
David Harris shared with me earlier this week, the January 10, 2016 Weekly Bulletin from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary regarding the outcome for the five Port Richmond parishes in PPA 570. You may remember they were granted additional time last year to more fully come to a consensus on their futures. (I checked the other parish websites but the weekly bulletin for this week was not yet posted as of this writing.) You can read their decisions that have been submitted to the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop and the explanation of how they arrived at them pictured below here on page 3.
We pray with the parishioners of Our Lady Help of Christians, which will become a Worship Site of Nativity BVM that their Pastor has the mercy to see to it that they have a Weekly Mass celebrated there at the Worship Site. That was all we wanted in Frankford – a weekly Mass. As many have said, “What’s so hard about that?”
What has Archbishop Chaput, the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and, hopefully, the Pastors learned about this PPA Process? A lot and it shows. Here are some changes to the process since we underwent it in 2012-2013:
Meetings were held to “reach agreement”. For PPA 560 (the faithful in Harrowgate, Frankford and Juniata), the meetings were simply to get it done.
When “the Committee was unable to reach consensus”, they were given more time.PPA 570’s experience reflects a real process with invested members treated respectfully and “had the opportunity to contribute and present his or her viewpoints throughout the discussions”. The antithesis of what happened in our process. In PPA 560, we had two Committee meetings and then it was between the Pastors. Father Higgins and the Archdiocese ultimately decided.
“Every member of the PPA 570 Committee stated that he/she would accept and support the restructuring decision made by the ASPC, regardless of what it ultimately would be.” The committee members also had to state this later “publicly”. Someone didn’t want trouble after the decisions were made. I went to our archives to see what I was doing when St. Joachim first closed. Take a look here – Keep the Faith in Frankford. As a member of the Transition Team, I “walked the walk” and gave the “new” parish of Holy Innocents the openness they deserved. I attend Holy Innocents but fervently believe that we in Frankford need and are worthy of a weekly Mass.
As already explained there is a new, to Philadelphia, “Parish Partnership” model. Who has the courage to “right the unrightable wrongs” to parishes that didn’t have this opportunity for consideration? It only leads us to believe that once the Archdiocese took the assets of the 46 plus Churches closed/merged, they had “righted their financial ship” and didn’t have to take such drastic measures. We believe those drastic measures were never needed had the Archbishop and our hierarchy been straightforward, honest and transparent with us rather than using the guise of the PPA process. Real estate, you’re money is in real estate was the rallying cry of those advising our Archbishop!
Keeping the finances separate is a good idea and there must have been some trouble or feedback about combining financials earlier. We estimate, and have proof from financial information shared by Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor, Holy Innocents, that rental income from St. Joachim School was $364,505 and Mater Dolorosa $231,952 for two years totaling $1,190,914 plus Mater Dolorosa had over $900,000 in the bank thus the assets of Holy Innocents gained over $2 million dollar when we both closed. Father Higgins, at the time was Dean, and we believe there was a real conflict of interest. Nevertheless, in spite of our contributions, Father Higgins reports as of this coming fiscal year (2016), Holy Innocents is projecting a loss of $776,871.00
Partnering allows “each parish in the partnership (to) remain a parish”. The parish of St. Joachim was suppressed; we’re appealing and believe no decree can suppress a parish community. It doesn’t work that way. We have had a parish in Frankford for over 170 years when 23 men and women first asked for one. We will not let our forebears down.
“Pastors and representatives all agree that the success of the process will ultimately depend on members of all parishes embracing the new communities…” Here, we can give you all real advice. Don’t fire people from the Transition Team simply because they used their rights as members of the laity to file a Vatican appeal. Don’t say “the decision is already made and we are not considering any changes.” “Don’t tell your new parishioners that “As long as I’m the Pastor of this parish, nothing is going to change”. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!
Father Higgins has refused to allow us to use St. Joachim for either private or public worship except for the occasional funeral, wedding and annual Feast Day Mass. The Congregation of the Clergy in January, 2015 established a precedent in the Diocese of Greensburg in Western Pennsylvania that every Worship Site also have a Mass on their Dedication Day. We wrote and emailed Father Higgins and he ignored us. We have looked to Archbishop Chaput to help us gain justice for Frankford as we have been totally ignored within Holy Innocents. St. Joan of Arc, a Worship Site, has a weekly Mass.
We celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Port Richmond and keep all those, especially those of Our Lady Help of Christians in our hearts and prayers. Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us! The people of La Mancha are with you all as we continue our efforts (to reopen St. Joachim and once again and to have a weekly Mass in our community) and as you await the final decisions of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop in late January or early February. We’re very much aware that such recommendations have not always been so easily accepted. St. Joachim was supposed to stay open, too! The Holy Spirit is with us and our faith is strong! The people of La Mancha still believe that for us things “are impossible but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Here’s a soulful rendition by Luther Vandross of “The Impossible Dream”! Thank you for reading and enjoy!
The weekends of November 7/8 and 14/15, members of St. Joachim, Frankford, will distribute information regarding our current efforts to have a weekly Mass said, once again, in our community. You can read our information below which will be translated into Spanish and Vietnamese. Please pray for us and that our efforts are successful!
We want to share with you, the parishioners of Holy Innocents, why a weekly Mass in Frankford would help you. The Parish Pastoral Planning Process, which closed both St. Joachim Church and Mater Dolorosa Church in Frankford failed and only created “Roaming Catholics” who don’t support any particular parish. Some of us remained with Holy Innocents while others chose other parishes. But we are all the Body of Christ.
When St. Joachim was merged with Holy Innocents, we asked to meet with Archbishop Chaput as Frankford no longer had any Catholic church. Our pastor felt the Parish Pastoral Planning Process should be kept secret and that we should trust him. We had an Oblate priest so we did not depend on an Archdiocesan priest. We were not in debt but our school was rented for several hundred thousand dollars per year and that was ready cash. Since no one would talk with us, we filed a Vatican appeal that is every Catholic’s right under Canon law. That appeal is still pending a review by the Vatican Supreme Court.
Frankford has over 50 churches but not one is Roman Catholic. For many of these people, it is beyond their ability to travel to Holy Innocents or any other church even via the bus provided. Frankford is home to people who have lived there all their lives but also a more transient population who are here for rehab or making their way after being released from prison. Archbishop Chaput tells us we have to ask Father Higgins. Father Higgins has told us, “As long as I am pastor of this parish, nothing is going to change.”
Father Higgins has been sharing with all of us the “state of the parish” these past few weeks. Father Higgins will explain to us that there is a “need for increased giving”. Recently, on Fox 29 News, Father Higgins said that 4 of his 5 Masses here at Holy Innocents were not well attended. Why not be “creative” as Pope Francis has said and say a Mass in Frankford? We have asked over and over again for the use of St. Joachim for public and private worship and would pay all expenses for the upkeep of the Church and cemetery. We recently submitted a proposal to Father Higgins. We offered to pay for a retired or underutilized priest to say a weekly Mass. Holy Innocents would get the collections thus adding to your coffers. We would come to Holy Innocents and support all activities as well. We would evangelize in Frankford making Holy Innocents even stronger. We’d be active parishioners of the “Inn”.
You have all been very welcoming to us. While we are grateful to you and that makes us happy, it’s not the issue. You know how big Frankford is, you may know the problems Frankford struggles with regarding drugs and housing needed for those trying to rehabilitate themselves. It’s not simply a matter of getting on the bus; it’s a matter of worshipping in your own community. A church building is a physical symbol of God’s presence in the community that tells everyone God’s love is for all and there are second chances for everyone.
There is no longer a Catholic presence in Frankford except for us, the parishioners who remain to do the work left to us after the Archdiocese abandoned us. There is no pastoral care for those most marginalized by society in Frankford, an area certainly in need of God’s care. Please ask these questions, too, because placing extra burdens on you when all other avenues of possibilities are not explored is not the answer! If unity is truly desired and we all want Holy Innocents to thrive, then you must include Frankford! We will be here next weekend, too, in case, you have questions or want to talk further! Please keep us in your prayers and we will pray for you, too! God bless you!
Please like us on Facebook at Keep the Faith in Frankford, too!
It began, for us, in 2012. Ascension of Our Lord Church in Kensington would close in October 2012. You can read more about the parish here. Parishioners had a choice of going to Holy Innocents Church or Visitation Church. How much choice the parishioners really had in this decision, they would have to tell you.
St. Joachim, Mater Dolorosa and St. Joan of Arc were part of the Area Parish Pastoral Planning Process taking place in our Deanery (560) during 2012 and culminating with “recommendations” and “decisions” in mid-2013. If you have been following our story, you know that the parishioners of St. Joachim were not involved in this “process” which we maintain is severely flawed for many reasons. Here’s a brief synopsis of our cause. Much has transpired in the more than two years of our Vatican appeal (it’s still active and we are waiting for a hearing before the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican Supreme Court).
We were warmly invited by Dean Jon Clodfelter to work out of St. Mark’s Church. St. Marks, an Episcopal Church, has a history of working with St. Joachim parishioners before when outbreaks of diseases greatly affected the various waves of immigrants coming to Frankford looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Keep the Faith in Frankford participates in the Dining with Dignity program and does other community events, for free, as well as our public efforts to bring attention to all the churches that have been closed/merged.
Most, if not all, of the people we meet have had contact with Frankford at one time or another. When we tell them we no longer have a Catholic Church in Frankford, they are dumb-founded, as we still are as well. We have not yet had any significant interaction with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, other than for him to tell us that he would no longer answer our letters. We write anyway. Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor, Holy Innocents Parish, has told us many times in one way or another, that “As long as I am the pastor of the parish, nothing is going to change”.
Yet, we continue to work to re-open St. Joachim. (We began wanting a Catholic Church in Frankford but only the parishioners of St. Joachim filed a Vatican Appeal.) While St. Joachim is a Worship Site, in effect, it’s closed unless there’s a request for a funeral or a wedding. We have an annual Feast Day Mass in July and we are hoping for a Mass in honor of our dedication of the new Church, December 13, 1981. This second Mass resulted from a Decree this past January that a Worship Site should have at least two Masses. This decree also suggested that weekly Masses do not always have to be at the main Church.
The laity know that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has bigger problems than just closing/merging Churches. They are losing souls because the pastoral care we are receiving is not about God’s saving love, mercy and compassion but the need to fill the Church coffers – it’s always more, more, more. This week’s Bulletin from Holy Innocents shows an $11 decline from last year. $11, I know, not bad, but when you figure that before the mergers, Holy Innocents had less than 2100 families and after the mergers almost 2900 families, there’s a much deeper problem. Also, Pope Francis was just here in Philadelphia and you know, the hierarchy was hoping for a resurgence in faith based on his visit. I think we were just sad when he left.
Both Archbishop Chaput and Monsignor Daniel J. Kutys, Moderator of the Curia, tell us that “The parish of Holy Innocents is under Father Higgins’ leadership so it is up to him to decide what worship sites will or will not be used based on his experience of the needs of the parish at large”. Every liturgical season for two years, we have asked Father Higgins for services at St. Joachim. We have asked for a Mass, for an opportunity for us to hold a Prayer Service (we’re hearing about mission and lay leadership) and to use our Church for private worship. All for naught. After our Feast Day Mass this past July, Father Higgins wanted to have a “conversation” after Mass. We believed he was looking for real solutions to real problems he has. But here again, nothing.
We made and sent a proposal to Father Higgins. You can see our proposal below.
Here is Father Higgins’ response.
Now, think about it. Father Higgins was interviewed and told Joyce Evans, Fox 29 News, that 4 of his 5 Masses aren’t full and could use “hundreds of more people”. (See this interview and our response here online.) Say a Mass in Frankford, you would get our collection! Father Higgins wants to tell you, those who are already attending Mass, the need for giving more during the Masses on November 14th and 15th. This doesn’t make sense. Well, we have another idea for you, Father Higgins. Come and use St. Joachim as the main worship site. Our church is newer, smaller, easier to maintain and upkeep and we have a parking lot. Think this is a crazy idea? It’s no crazier than closing two churches in Frankford.
Satan may be afoot but it took me at least 30 minutes to troubleshoot why the Fox 29 News video wasn’t playing. For you tech types, was it the embed code? Was it a problem with WordPress? No, it was as simple as the “Play” button is overtop the white cloud on the left. Who knew? Now you do and, hopefully, you’ll take the time to view it. Give the first movie a moment to start. Also, therein lies the answer to all of our problems – with God, high above the clouds and that’s where we need to direct our attentions so that we can make a difference in this earthly world here below.
Deacon Phil Geliebter of St. Mark’s Church is a sharing guy and I had just read one of his inspirations today and thought it was perfect for right here. Thanks, Deacon Phil! I also used it for our 8 AM Prayer Service Announcement outside St. Joachim tomorrow morning.
The title of this blog post came to mind because, as Catholics, we do have many beliefs that we consider to also be truths of the Church. Much like our Declaration of Independence has certain truths that our country is based on. But there is a problem – our church hierarchy is spending so much time trying to counteract the voice of the laity when this time and effort could be so better spent in us listening to each other and finding a way to solve the urgent issues of today’s church. As you know, our efforts were featured in the September issue of Philadelphia Magazine in the Bob Huber article titled, “Archbishop Charles Chaput: The Hardliner”. As the Archdiocese was aware of this impending article, Father Higgins is interviewed to counteract us. And so it goes! So, we give you both versions of the story. Please watch both videos! Our churches depend on you being informed!
Last night on Fox 29 this segment aired about Holy Innocents and about many of us. Keep the Faith in Frankford continues to, as my Aunt Pearl would say, “Speak the truth” and try to get justice not only for the closed churches in Frankford but for all closed churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Rather than writing a long explanation of our response to this report, I make a video, too, which I hope you’ll take the time to watch. We would love to hear your “truths”, too! We are brothers and sisters in the one Jesus Christ, who can unite us all!
This past Saturday, July 25, 2015, we celebrated the Third Annual Feast Day Mass at St. Joachim in Frankford, Phila., PA since we merged with Holy Innocents Parish, Juniata. Mater Dolorosa in Frankford and St. Joan of Arc in Harrowgate also merged with Holy Innocents Parish. Ascension Parish merged the year before. Yes, you are correct, that’s quite a few churches. These mergers left Frankford without a Catholic Church. St. Joachim’s beginnings date back to 1843. No Catholic Church in Frankford.
I have been blessed with many gifts from the Lord. Humility is one I really have to work at and, if you know me, you understand that. But God has certainly humbled me over these past two years – every time we need to demonstrate the level of faith that the members of St. Joachim Parish and Mater Dolorosa Parish still have, I am in awe. Saturday was another occasion when I felt so grateful for those who continue to support and believe that Frankford needs and deserves a Catholic Church.
You may remember that we wrote to Archbishop Chaput after the unveiling of the World Families’ icon to say that we felt that St. Joachim, Jesus’ grandfather, was too much in the shadows and grandfathers and grandmothers play a very active role in family life these days for many reasons. Well, the Archbishop thought we were just looking for things to get upset at and as, is his way, the icon is perfect and will not be changed. Take a look and what do you think? I remember my grandfather, James, as a larger than life person. He had one gold tooth. I can still see myself looking up at him and my Mother being devastated when he passed rather early. One of our grandfathers, Jack Hohenstein, wrote a haiku:
Holy Family Icon
“Where is Grandfather?”
“He’s hidden in the shadows.”
St. Joachim and St. Ann are the patron saints of grandparents. Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents, had our grandparents stand during Mass and gave them a blessing. St. Joachim also accomplished and delivered a surprise gift. At the end of Mass, over 100 people were in attendance, he offered to “continue the conversation” after we had our pretzels and water ice outside, supplied of course, by Keep the Faith in Frankford. We would have had even more people at Mass but we knew the air conditioning was not working. Relive our celebration of St. Joachim and our community with us.
At this point, 20-25 people returned to talk with Father Higgins. I admired his willingness to listen to the frustration and pain of the people since St. Joachim closed. This was never about a building; our efforts were aimed at the Archdiocese whom we felt abandoned Frankford and we would not allow that to happen.
Father wanted to talk about how we could be a more active part of Holy Innocents. He started out by telling us that Joyce Evans of Fox 29 here in Philadelphia interviewed him for a piece next month. He said if he could fill Holy Innocents, he would think about what he could do for us/other worship sites?
Father Higgins listened – Bob said it was for the “first time” and heard the people say:
We’ve lost respect for the clergy;
Take our money and then tell us that rental income can’t be counted on for support though you used it to support Holy Innocents;
Wanted at least a monthly Mass in Frankford (overwhelming majority favored this but I said what would the people we are fighting for – the disenfranchised, the marginal, do the other 3 weeks?);
11 year old, Morgen, told Father Higgins, she wanted to worship in her own church because of her important memories and she wants to pass these experiences on to her own children;
Are the two priests of the House of Mercy in Kensington assigned to Holy Innocents? They will be going to assist in other parishes saying Masses. Since they have to say Masses why can’t they come here to Frankford who has nothing?
Hardly anybody would have been here today had it not been for the efforts of Keep the Faith in Frankford and our Vatican appeal. (Why was this Mass “missing” from the parish bulletin. It was never advertised but announced at Mass. Did Father Higgins just want to see who would come after all this time?)
We knew that he was the “poster boy” for the Archdiocesan megalopolis church because he has 22 properties – now, he said he is down to 17
We rehashed the PPA process and the flaws, etc.
Why is it that whenever the laity ask questions, we are labeled as “disloyal Catholics”?
Why, now? Why is Father Higgins talking to us? We listened to:
Reasons why Father can’t give us a Mass – maybe down to 2 priests in 9 months?
If we come over to Holy Innocents to fill it, to contribute…(the two rentals of our closed schools is over $50,000 per month and the tenants moved out. Holy Innocents is feeling the pinch. Is it just for the money?)
Did they know we were planning a future action at Holy Innocent by distributing information to their parishioners why we can’t abandon Frankford?
It was obvious he wanted our passion and energy but what is he willing to give in return?
Many reasons, still, why we can’t have something in Frankford. Not yet a discussion on how to make it happen. We’ll have to see if this “conversation” bears any fruit. Again, Father Higgins, we bless you for being willing to be humble yourself, too. Luke 14:11 tells us all, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted”.
For almost 2 years, we have been asking this question and no one from the Archdiocese will meet with us or talk to us. Unless efforts are made to review and reverse some of the 46 church closings in the last three years, we would have to answer a resounding “Yes” to that question. To learn more of the reasons why we feel this way, please take the time to read a recent post, “Our God of Suprises”.
Organized by Keep the Faith in Frankford and Philly Catholics, please join us as we ask for the Parish Pastoral Planning Process to be redone!
For more info, please call Pat Smiley, 215.520.5616. Thank you and God bless you!
This post was written by Gregory Minetola, a member of St. Joachim Parish and Keep the Faith in Frankford!
Recently, Joe Taylor and I had a meeting with Fr. Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents and Dean of Deanery 12, Lower Northeast Philadelphia, and Joe Paesani, Business Manager. I would not want to comment on the specifics yet I will tell you that it was an open dialogue full of passion and principles on both sides. As I have reflected and prayed on that meeting, a few ideas keep playing in my mind.
The first thing that I have not be able to get past is the idea that they really think there is a Catholic Church in Frankford. When I made the statement there is not a Catholic Church in Frankford I was looked at in disbelief. Joe Paesani stated, “There is a Catholic Church in Frankford, it’s Holy Innocents.” Yes, Holy Innocents does share part of the 19124 zip code yet, we, in Philadelphia, are strongly defined by our neighborhoods. Not only is it where we live, it is where we have loyalty. Some, especially Archbishop Chaput do not understand that because, especially, in his case since he has been in Philadelphia he knows the stats but really doesn’t know his people or the connections we, as Philadelphians, have. In a lecture at St Charles Seminary in Oct 2013 during the Q&A at the end of the lecture he alluded to the fact that Philadelphians often introduce themselves by which parish they are in. He stated no where else do they do this. That is right! We are deeply connected to our neighborhood and the parishes in them. There is a disconnect with our Archbishop. If you look at his public calendar he is very often somewhere else in the country or in the world other than truly leading his flock. If he was here long enough to learn about our neighborhoods he would learn that Juniata is 1.025 sq miles with 23,000 people to Frankford’s 2.6 sq miles with 56,000 people. The question arises, How can one parish serve so much area effectively and with no one falling through the cracks?
It was interesting on their understanding of why we have an active appeal. They think it is only about the building. To a certain extent it is. It is our Church! In 1843, 20 people meet in a small home to consult and devise plans to build a Catholic chapel. They knew the people in the area needed it. Our ancestors saved, built and sacrificed during the depression for much needed renovations, scraped to send their children to Catholic School and volunteered to do things to make up the difference of what they could not contribute. They were doing it for their faith community. The understanding was that this was our Church with ties to the Archdiocese and in turn Rome. Well, one would say we have been baited and switched. A little known fact is that The Bishops changed that and put our churches “in trust” for the people.
Then, years later the Archdiocese of Philadelphia creates “the PPA process”, which is copied around the country. Then, in our wave of parishes under study with little conversation with the people and very hush-hush meetings, it is decided that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa, which St. Joachim helped to establish for the Italian immigrants of Frankford, will close and in one document by the Archbishop dissolve and suppress 172+years of history, honor, tradition and leave the community with no church to worship in. Wait, didn’t we build and maintain it? Why have they decided our fate? Church is not about numbers. Where two or more gather in his name! So it is about the building even though it is the third St. Joachim Church. It is our ancestor’s legacy and what they left for us – a comforting place where we can meet socially and spiritually. Our Church is an inheritance from our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers. How would you feel if after you parents died your childhood home was taken with no one asking?!! This is what has happened, Our church has been taken!
Fr Higgins and Joe made it clear that without the rental income from the school, we could not have been able to operate the parish.Those properties, too, are our ancestor’s legacy as well. The rental income fact may be true but we did not decide. Pope Francis has called for a smaller church overall that reaches out to those in need. Should we have been the ones to decide our fate? Maybe a storefront church on Frankford Ave. Maybe we sold one or two of those properties? We were not given the chance, it was decided for us. When St. Joachim closed, in one of my letters to the Archbishop, I asked where all of the rental income from the school & convent building went. He,or someone writing for him, stated it stays in the parish. Since St. Joachim Church was closed in June 2013, the parish of Holy Innocents has realized $600,000 plus in revenue from the school alone not counting the convent. What the Archdiocese doesn’t realize many people know is that parishes are required to keep a certain percentage of their funds in a Archdiocesan account that the Archdiocese borrows on and makes investments with.
Then there is the fact that Fr Higgins is the Dean of our Deanery and pastor of the merged parish. Is this conflict of interest? As he has said many times “I thought there should be a Catholic Church in Frankford, but the Archdiocese didn’t think there should be”. Why would he say that if he didn’t feel it was right or if he thought our Church could not be supported? One would thinks as the Dean he would say “I think there should be a Catholic Church in Frankford and I am going to fight for one”. This is about obedience. The Archbishop likes to used this word especially with initial contact with us. The clergy with important positions know they have to be obedient to look good in front of their boss and keep those positions of power, potentially even move up. In 2011 now retired Msgr. Rodgers who was the mastermind behind the PPA process said “The role of the Deans is to offer a better means of communication between the Archbishop, the priest and the people”. This quote is very telling. We are told what to do from communication handed down from our Archbishop never having a chance to participate in this process or in communication with the Dean and then Archbishop. This is the PPA process in a nutshell.
I was told to my face in this meeting that “There are very few Catholics in Frankford”, that “The Parish was on life support”, that “There will be no cooperation or collaboration as long as there is an active appeal”, that “We are not going to have people look over our shoulders” , that “Lots of time and money has been wasted on this appeal”, and “Don’t continue”. Well, our ancestor’s legacy, our history, our spiritual life and our neighborhood is too important to not continue.
Do you believe that St. Joachim RC Church should be used more often, providing pastoral care now lacking? Is St. Joachim a “Worship Site”? As Advent draws to a close, I wanted you to know our efforts to have St. Joachim truly be a “Worship Site” as the Archdiocese itself defines one. We have written to Father Higgins (cc’ing Archbishop Chaput) several times during this year requesting services at St. Joachim other than for our funerals and weddings. You can read our latest letter for yourself here – Letter to Father Higgins Nov 17 2014. In this letter, we asked for:
A weekly Advent Mass or allow us to conduct a weekly Prayer Service inside the Church (after approval of the Prayer Service);
A special Feast Day Mass on Monday, Dec. 8, as our beloved Blessed Mother’s parents were Sts. Joachim and Ann; and
A Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
We also said that “We, the laity, are willing to provide what spiritual care we can for the parish, why not let us use the Worship Site to do that?” We can do a prayer service or a blessing of the Advent Wreath by the rights given to us with our Baptism.
For the first time in over 50 years, our Church made me feel like a “guilty Catholic” on Thanksgiving Day. Bob and I went to Mass at Holy Innocents, where we are registered. It was a beautiful Mass. It was trilingual, there before us, the Spanish choir, the Vietnamese choir, the English choir and three priests and a deacon on the altar. I felt guilty because I could get to Holy Innocents but what about my brothers and sisters in Frankford who cannot? I also thought, as beautiful as that Mass was, did we need three priests and a deacon on the altar. Could not one of them be spared to say a Mass for the parishioners of the two churches that were closed in Frankford?
to allow greater accessibility of the faithful to liturgical services; and
to reduce the inconvenience of the faithful traveling a great distance for worship;
These are indeed reasons we should be using St. Joachim Church more often for worship. We know from our parishioners, themselves, that many cannot get to church – except the Mass that’s provided on TV. The Route 89 bus runs every hour on the weekends. These regulations go on to further state that:
“4. One Mass is permitted to be celebrated on Sundays in a worship site within the parish in addition to those celebrated in the parish church. For pastoral reasons, and when sufficient priests are available, Mass may also be permitted in such a worship site on a holy day of obligation and/or on a weekday. There are 3 priests at Holy Innocents.
6. For pastoral reasons, devotional services (such as ceremonies associated with a patronal feast, a public novena, stations of the cross, etc.) also be permitted in a worship site within the parish other than the parish church.” Here, again, “pastoral” care justifies the use of St. Joachim more often.
Father Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents, responded that “..the services … requested for St. Joachim’s for December, we already celebrate at Holy Innocents. We are not able to provide these services at any of our Worship Sites, except our weekly Spanish Mass at St. Joan of Arc”. Well, according to the Holy Innocents Parish bulletin dated 11/16/2014, at St. Joan of Arc, there was a Novena to Our Mother of Divine Providence ending Nov. 16 at their weekly Mass. There was a bilingual Thanksgiving service at St. Joan of Arc on November 25, 2014 according to the 11/23/2014 parish bulletin. What to think?
Father Higgins also stated “Just for the record, Pat, I as dean, did not recommend that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa be closed…I proposed to keep St. Joachim open…” In all sincerity, did you go to the mat for what you believed, Father? I’m sure you can understand that we don’t think it’s so easy for you to just “wash your hands” of this decision. Sadly, too many don’t find it worth fighting for what they believe or what they think is right.
You can read Father Higgins email response to our letter below:
From: Thomas Higgins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Response to your letter
Date: November 26, 2014 at 3:12:56 PM EST
To: email@example.com, Archbishop Charles Chaput <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thanks for your November 17th letter. As you know, all the services that you have requested for St. Joachim’s for December, we already celebrate at Holy Innocents. We are not able to provide these services at any of our Worship Sites, except our weekly Spanish Mass at St. Joan of Arc. This was decided by our Transition Team last year. We have discussed these possibilities in the past, so nothing has changed in the past 18 months.
Just for the record Pat, I, as dean, did not recommend that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa be closed. I explained at our first Transition Team meeting that I proposed to keep St. Joachim open, with Mater Dolorosa and St. Joan of Arc as Worship Sites. However, the Strategic Planning Committee of the Archdiocese did not accept my proposal. They did not see my proposal as viable for the long term. This planning committee then put forth the current configuration which was approved by the Council of Priests and the Archbishop. And now we are doing our best to make it work. So, I can only continue to encourage you and anyone appealing this decision to become active members of the new Holy Innocents.
Blessings on your Thanksgiving.
Fr. Tom Higgins
Archbishop Chaput has not answered us as of the writing of this blog post. What shall be our answer? What response will open their eyes and hearts to know that a Catholic Church is needed in Frankford? That is our mission and I hope that you make it yours as well!! I would love to hear your thoughts!! God bless us all!