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?
Here is what the official church document says regarding “Regulations for the Use of a Worship Site Within A Parish Other Than the Parish Church”. This can be found on the Archdiocese’s website. There are “just causes” for establishing a worship site and two of them are particulary relevant to us here 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.
David Harris did a report on closed/merged churches regarding their use as a Worship Site. You can see his report here – “List of Worship Sites PPA 2012-2014”.
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!
Father Judge High School has been a prominent fixture in Northeast Philadelphia since 1954. My husband, Bob, attended Father Judge as well. It’s interesting to note that Father Judge’s boundaries were broadened in 1957 to help reach their enrollment of 3500 students and that’s how Bob attended Father Judge while both his older and younger brother went to North! He’s always been the man in the middle!!
Not so much is commonly known about Father Judge. But he believed in the power of the laity and that we are the ones to “Do Good! Be Good! Be a Power for Good!”. The Church needs to focus on the laity as the center of a circle, if you will, with the clergy being the outer part of the circle. A circle symbolizes unity, cohesiveness, respect. Father Judge saw the great potential when the laity were viewed as real partners with the clergy in carrying out the missionary spirit of the Church.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis raised the question of why so many people are leaving the faith. Read about it in this article, “Pope Francis and the Catholic Crisis”. In this article, you’ll find links back to a meditation from Pope Francis during Advent last year, explaining that by the power of Baptism, we are called to be prophets. That’s right, you and me and everyone else who is baptized. Pope Francis’ meditation from Dec. 16, 2013 – “The Eye That Is Opened”.
Pope Francis concluded his homily recommending “a prayer over the course of these days, as we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth”. He prayed to the Lord that prophets not be lacking among his people: “All of us who are baptized are prophets. Lord, may we not forget your promise; may we never grow weary of going forward; may we never close ourselves in through a legality that closes doors. Lord, free your people from the spirit of clericalism and come to their aid through your spirit of prophecy”.
So, as we reflect on these final days of Advent, what can you and I do to more fully develop our powers of prophecy and to do and be the good in our world so desperately in need of our gifts and talents? How does this influence the work we do to reopen St. Joachim? How do we be a “Power for Good” as the Catholic presence in Frankford?
Picture this – almost 20 children under 3 years old, 25+children from 4-17 years of age and their parents, grandparents and guardians coming together to celebrate what we all feel at this time of year – we believe! We may believe different things but we’re all the same in wanting the best for our children.
Keep the Faith in Frankford sponsored the “Ho Ho Ho Holiday Party” held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Friday night, December 12. Knowing we would not be able to accommodate everyone this holiday season, we decided to invite the mothers from Overington House, those we meet in ministry with the Dining with Dignity program and some of the congregation of St. Mark’s. We expected 45 children ranging in age from 3 months through 17 years old. Parents and grandparents were also invited.
Totally through donations, we were able to provide twin set sheets for the mothers of Overington House, a toy that each child could choose, and a board game for the other families. Most likely, if you’re viewing this video, you are directly responsible for the smiles that you see because of your donations – whether toys or money. Your generosity was awesome!! May you be rewarded for it! (Any child invited but who was unable to attend will receive their toy.)
Part of our mission statement says, “we believe that the greater diversity of people within a community strengthens that community”. We focused on Hanukkah, which begins 12/16, Christmas on 12/25, Kwanzaa which begins on 12/26, and The Three Kings on 1/6/15. We learned from one of our Muslim mothers about Ramadan which begins Thursday, June 18 and lasts until July 15, 2015. We stamped with Hanukkah symbols, made a Nativity door hanger or story wheel and played Kwanzaa bingo.
We shared our individual beliefs, cultures, customs and traditions. We celebrated them, honored them and reminded ourselves we have much more in common and that unites us. We are not so different after all. That’s a good thing any time of the year!
Enjoy the show! For more information about Keep the Faith in Frankford please visit us online here or on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter at @fkdfaithful
Yes, 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 Catholics 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!