January 22nd marks the anniversary of Roe v Wade, the 1973 case which legalized abortion in the United States. As Catholics, we choose to acknowledge this anniversary by declaring January, Respect Life Month. Many parishes are coming together to attend the March for Life in Washington DC, an annual event for people of all faiths to attempt to have politicians overturn Roe v Wade. For more information on the March for Life and Philadelphia area parish activities, please visit phillycatholiclife.org.
In December, I traveled to Boston to shoot a Nutcracker and do some audition shoots for some local dancers. I arrived around 5:30am on Megabus and had most of the morning free to traverse the area. I knew going up there that my main goal Friday am was to go visit the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It was a visit I had wanted to make for months. One of the things we wanted to do with this blog is to chronicle visits to the various churches we visit.
After getting lost and a 60 minute sojourn on foot with all of my photo gear in tow, I finally made it to the Cathedral. As I arrived, I noticed a man cleaning debris and trash from the walk. Taking a minute to gather myself from the walk, I approached him asking what time mass was. He indicated it was at 9am which gave me 30 minutes to collect myself and prepare to receive the word. As I stood there winded and freezing from the cold, the kind gentleman said that the chapel was open and I could go in. Taking just another moment or two to shake off the walk, I made my way into the chapel, dragging my gear up the steps and leaving the heavy bags in the vestibule.
Daily mass was celebrated in a small but beautiful chapel, called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, off to the left of the main church. It was a lovely mass. As I sat there listening to the word, I gazed around, taking in the beauty of this shared experience. I am here with complete strangers, from another church and another state, but all here for the same reason. The people were kind and warm to this visitor from Philly. I also marveled at the diversity this parish offers, including a Latin mass.
After church ended, Fr O’Leary greeted his faithful. I was the last one to see him. He was very kind and engaging, telling me that one of his first assignments was in Pennsylvania. I proceeded to ask him if I could venture downstairs and take some photos. He quickly agreed to my request and on my way I went!
At one point during my time there, I did probably one of my more clever check-ins on Facebook, saying I was “seeking His warmth!” A witty play on words – was quite proud of myself for that one!
When I was done shooting, I put all my gear off to the side (minus the large bag which was still in the vestibule) and plugged my phone in to charge. Now I was REALLY seeking His warmth. As I sat there warming up, charging my batteries and killing time, the man who I met right before mass, turned the corner. “There you are,” he said. I was prepared to get bounced out of there! Instead he suggested that I go get my big bag unless I wanted it to walk off. Part of me did so I would not have to drag it any longer. Another part of me wished good luck to the poor soul who attempt the foolish feat!
Listening to my kind host who said I could stay and hang out while I warm up and charge up, I retrieved my luggage. Upon my return, he invited me to leave my belongings in the church office while he took me to the main church so I could grab some photos. I was excited and quite struck by his hospitality.
Once we arrived into the main part of the Cathedral, he offered to turn the altar lights on so I could get the perfect hue in my photos. I had to pinch myself. This was FAR exceeding anything I could have expected! I grabbed a few snaps then he and I chatted some more. We talked about our feelings on Pope Francis and about how pastoral Cardinal O’Malley was. He even introduced me to the guy who ran the gift shop!
He having to get back to work, we made our goodbyes and he said his name was Russell and for me to find him and say hi if I ever make it back. Just so awesome! I then finished my work there and headed to the gift shop. I picked up a coffee mug and a crucifix for Fin. We were in Boston when Erin found out she was pregnant with him, so I felt getting a crucifix and having it blessed there was appropriate. So, I did.
What a wonderful experience there! If you are ever in the area, I suggest you visit! Here are a few of my images from that morning. Enjoy!
I have discovered what may be the opportunity of my lifetime and I need your help to make it happen. In late April, I am hoping to join some of my fellow Catholics on a pilgrimage of faith to Rome. During our time there, some of the highlights of the trip are to see the burial place of St Paul, various Vatican museums, a trip to Assisi (birthplace of St Francis, whose name our current Pope took), the Sistine chapel, St Peter’s Basicila and the possibility of a papal audience! Perhaps the most awe inspiring part of this trip is to be present for the canonization of a pope from my childhood. Blessed John Paul II will become a saint along with Blessed John XXIII. I’d like to take a few more minutes of your time to tell you why this trip is so poignant for me.
I was baptized catholic. However, church, faith and religion were never an integral part of my home life as a child. The first time I realized that void of religion and faith was in my mid 30’s. Acting on this pull, I quickly signed up for RCIA classes and would receive my confirmation, first Holy Communion and first reconciliation. The next pull back to faith came during a visit my fiancé and I made to our childhood parish of St Cyril’s of Alexandria. We sat in the pews and shared our individual stories of the parish. On our way home, we learned that a new pope had been elected. Feeling the undeniable connection we made in St Cyrils and the news of the new pope, we knew we were being called to renew and explore our faith. Out of this, the blog Prodigal Son and Daughter was born. That also led to an ongoing photo series of the churches of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Phaithful.
Photojournalism is the reason I got into photography. It was my sole ambition. It’s still a great passion of mine. While this trip will fulfill ME on so many levels, it will also be an opportunity, through my images, to fulfill those who can’t go. This trip allows me to show my children my commitment to our faith and through my images leave behind a legacy and directly expose them to a world they so far only may have read about or learned about in school.
With your generosity, we can make this trip a reality. To show our appreciation for your pledge, we have set up a wonderful perk program with tiers starting at $10. Please remember, you do not have to be Catholic to support this. You simply have to believe in me and my mission and the beauty of the images I can create!
To make a pledge, please click below! Thanks!!!
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.
The church I was baptized at, St Alice in Upper Darby, is one of the 24 parishes merging as of July 1st. Sadly, it is not one of the ones remaining open in the mergers. Perhaps even more sad is that I just learned within the last week that this was where I was baptized. For some reason, I had thought I was baptized at St Cyril’s. St Alice is also the parish where my mother made all of her sacraments. So, it obviously had great sentimentality to me.
With the impending closure, photographing St Alice for our Philly Phaithful project became a priority. It was also important for me personally to attend mass there before they closed since I had just found out that this is where my spiritual journey began.
As I sat there taking in the mass and the church itself, I was overcome with feelings I did not expect. I expected to be happy and to feel fulfilled having been in the church where these events took place. I was not prepared for just how nostalgic this experience would be for me. The one thought that made the most impact on me was reflecting on just who in my family had previously been in that building, namely my late grandmother.
Recalling that my mother’s mother, my Grandmother Shannon, had not only raised her own two children in this parish, but was there for my baptism gave me such an amazing sense of closeness to her, a feeling I have not had in a while, especially with her being gone for over a year. I definitely felt a connection to her and was so glad Erin & I had decided to go! It also made me reflect on my childhood in general.
Aside from what this trip and the parish means to me in my spiritual journey, it also marks the first church photographed for our Philly Phaithful project. I am not sure how many more experiences like this one I will have myself as we go forward, but I am so very excited to continue on our journey and share these wonderful experiences with Erin.
Check out our indiegogo campaign:
I am very excited about my current project of creating a documentary of the Philadelphia Archdiocese! The end product will be an exhibit and coffee table book!
The documentary will capture the beauty, grandeur and uniqueness of the various churches, shrines and schools in the diocese. To capture this, I am traveling to over 250 parishes, schools and shrines in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
To achieve this, I must raise some funds to cover the various expenses, including gas/travel. So, we launched a fundraising campaign on indiegogo. See the link to access the campaign and the wonderful reward perks.
Strategically, I will tackle this by county. The archdiocese website has the parishes broken down by county – Philadelphia North and South, Bucks, Chester, Delaware & Montgomery. This will be extremely helpful for me so I can focus on a county/township at a time. Since I live in Montgomery County, I will start here.
Please stay tuned for more updates and please do consider donating!
Back in March, I traveled to Tampa, Florida for work. One of my missions while down there was to visit Sacred Heart Church. I had hoped to celebrate Palm Sunday mass there, but alas my schedule would not permit. So, I had to settle for just a quick visit and some photos with my iPhone.
The church was built by Jesuits. The ground was broken in 1895 and was dedicated in 1905. There are 70 stained glass windows in this church. In 2005, the Jesuits relinquished their parish to Franciscans. There is also a nice gift shop attached to the church which I did not have time to patron. Maybe next trip…
Brian has long had a passion for journalism. It is what led him to a career in photography. Prodigal Son and Daughter are certainly an offspring of that passion. It is also a springboard for future journalistic endeavors that will allow him to combine the passion he holds for journalism and for our faith!
In that spirit, it is with great pride and excitement that we announce Brian’s position at The Church of St Mary, Schwenksville. Brian is now part of their marketing committee, in charge of PR and Publicity!
Welcome to the Prodigal Son and Daughter!
This blog will chronicle the journey Erin & I have recently started as we re-explore and renew our faith together! We both felt this was something missing from our lives individually and are thrilled to be able to do it together and excited about what it will do for us as a couple and our relationship.
In this blog, we will share stories and experiences as we visit new churches each month. Our journey will also include visiting different shrines and cathedrals. We will visit the parishes of our family and ancestors. We are excited to learn more and in some cases relearn about our faith and share that with you! Don’t forget to check out the gallery section for photos of our journey!
Yours in faith,
Brian & Erin