On July 2nd, Erin and I decided to drive into the city and partake of some of the city’s Welcome America celebration being presented by Wawa. We got down there a little late but still were able to enjoy some of the festivities, especially the free hoagies being given out. We both LOVE our city and love spending time in it!
As we headed into the city, Erin searched to see how far St Peter the Apostle church was. In our quest to photograph every parish in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, this was clearly on our list. One of the things that makes this church extra interesting is that it is the home of the Shrine of Saint John Neumann.
We only spent a short time enjoying the Welcome America festivities – it was a bit hot out. So, we headed back to the van (where we enjoyed free on street parking). Since we weren’t there long, we had time to visit the church. Once we arrived, I immediately began grabbing shots of the wonderful exterior!
We then proceeded to the shrine. Neither of us had been there and it was an incredible experience. Aside from the obvious beauty of it, it also held the remains of Saint John Neumann on display in a clear glass casket. To see this alone, was worth the trip.
On March 28, 1852, his 41st birthday, then Reverend John Neumann was consecrated the 4th bishop of Philadelphia. He was responsible for establishing the Diocesan school system for the United States and a Diocesan schedule for 40 hours devotion. He was also the first American bishop to be canonized.
Those of Italian decent (like myself) may find this of interest… Then Bishop, Neumann is credited for being the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there were no priests to speak their mother tongue, Bishop Neumann, who studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855, he purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Father John Tornatore, C.M., to be their pastor. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Roman Catholic Church was located at 712 Montrose Street in South Philly. In 2000, the Archdiocese merged St Mary Magdalen with St Paul’s and designated St Mary as a worship site, offering limited masses and funerals.
As we finished our tour of the shrine and museum, which was chock full of historic artifacts and relics of Saint John Neumann’s life, we descended upon the gift shop where I purchased a medal for Michela, my daughter. On one side, it featured a guardian angel. The other side featured Saint Michael the Archangel, Michela’s patron saint.
Before we left the premises, I wanted to see if we could get into the main church, so we walked down to the rectory. We inquired about the church and one of the priests, Rev Matthew Allman, CSsR, offered us a tour. As we walked the halls, on our way to the main church, Rev Allman engaged us in conversation. When we arrived in the main church, we were struck by the ornate beauty of the parish. With her background and education in our faith, Erin was most engaged in conversation as I focused more on capturing the beauty of this wonderful church.
This was by far, one of the most gorgeous churches I have ever been to. A fascinating part of this church was a small side chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was shared with us that during a severe epidemic, prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help kept the parish alive and as such, the chapel was built and dedicated to her.
The land where the church currently sits, was purchased in 1842 by the German Catholic community as they were outgrowing their small parish church, Holy Trinity at 6th and Spruce. As the population moved north, they wanted the church to follow them and sought a parish church in their new area. Acknowledging the parishioners needs, Bishop Kenrick invited the Redemptorists to come to the diocese and help their fellow German speakers. In keeping with their mission to preach the gospel to the most abandoned, the Redemptorists said “Yes” to serving an immigrant church
The community began holding services in a wooden building in 1843 as they worked on the magnificent building that resides there now. St John Neumann never lived at St Peters, but visited often both before and during his time as Bishop of Philadelphia. He was the superior of the Redemptorist mission in America when St. Peter’s permanent church building was consecrated in 1847, and as bishop of Philadelphia he often visited his confreres at St. Peter’s for retreat days and recreation, as well as for pastoral activity. In fact, St. John Neumann celebrated the midnight Mass for Christmas at St. Peter’s just a few days before he died in January of 1860.
We were so struck by the beauty of the church and the hospitality and kindness of Reverend Allman that I wanted to do more research about Saint John Neumann and the church itself. I am fascinated by what I learned and hope to come back one day for mass.