Congregants in Frankford plead to keep church open

St. Joachim par­is­hon­ers — as well as those at St. Leo — are try­ing everything to keep their churches open.

St. Joachim, loc­ated at 1527 Church St., is the old­est church in the North­east, foun­ded in 1845.

The folks try­ing to save St. Joachim Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church have gone straight to the top in an ef­fort to keep the church from clos­ing.

Along with of­fer­ing pray­ers to God, they have sent emails to Arch­bish­op Charles J. Chaput.

Pa­rish­ion­ers are happy with Chaput’s prompt re­sponse, but not his an­swer.

“The de­cision is already made, and we are not con­sid­er­ing any changes,” Chaput wrote in a June 3 email re­sponse to Pat Smi­ley, who is head­ing the ef­fort to save St. Joachim.

St. Joachim, loc­ated at 1527 Church St., is the old­est church in the North­east, foun­ded in 1845. It is sched­uled to close on June 30, along with an­oth­er Frank­ford church, Ma­ter Dol­orosa. Those churches, along with Har­rowg­ate’s St. Joan of Arc, will merge in­to Ju­ni­ata’s Holy In­no­cents.

Ma­ter Dol­orosa and St. Joan of Arc are not fight­ing their clos­ings, though St. Joachim pa­rish­ion­ers ar­gue that it was un­fair for the arch­diocese to close both Cath­ol­ic churches in Frank­ford. They have cre­ated a web­site, keep­thefaith­in­fran­k­

In an email to Chaput, Smi­ley wrote that, “It’s about our Church abandon­ing Frank­ford, a com­munity in dire need of its pres­ence.” The arch­bish­op replied that the Church is not abandon­ing any com­munity and urged her to co­oper­ate with the de­cisions that have been made. He wrote that every­body wants to see their church re­main open.

Mean­while, St. Leo is also sched­uled to close at the end of the month and merge with its Ta­cony neigh­bor, Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion.

The St. Leo faith­ful ral­lied after Mass on June 2 and have fol­lowed up with let­ters to Chaput and Bish­op Mi­chael J. Fitzger­ald.

The people at St. Leo and St. Joachim have the same ar­gu­ment, that they are fin­an­cially stable par­ishes that have build­ings that are in good shape. Some sug­gest they are mer­ging in­to par­ishes that are not on such firm fin­an­cial foot­ing.

In mak­ing the an­nounce­ment on June 2 to close 15 churches in Phil­adelphia and Delaware County, the arch­diocese said its de­cision was based on Cath­ol­ic demo­graph­ic shifts; the dens­ity of par­ishes in a geo­graph­ic area; a his­tory of de­clin­ing Mass at­tend­ance and sac­ra­ment­al activ­ity; in­creas­ing eco­nom­ic chal­lenges; a re­view of fa­cil­it­ies; and a de­crease in clergy.

St. Leo and St. Joachim both saw sharp de­clines in av­er­age week­end Mass at­tend­ance between  2007 and 2011.

At Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Joachim, there was a spike in at­tend­ance due, in part, to a series of hon­ors giv­en to the pop­u­lar pas­tor, the Rev. Steve Wet­zel, for his com­munity out­reach.

After Holy Com­mu­nion, Wet­zel was giv­en cer­ti­fic­ates, plaques and a cita­tion and was praised from the al­tar by po­lice Capt. Frank Bach­may­er, com­mand­er of North­east De­tect­ives and former com­mand­er of the 15th Po­lice Dis­trict; the cur­rent 15th dis­trict com­mand­er, Capt. John Mc­Clo­s­key; 15th Po­lice Dis­trict Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil pres­id­ent Mike Thaete; Frank­ford Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Pete Specos; state Sen. Tina Tartagli­one; and state Rep. John Taylor.

Wet­zel, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis de Sales, was humbled by the re­cog­ni­tion. He re­called a say­ing by St. Fran­cis to, “Ask for noth­ing and re­fuse noth­ing.” He has not yet re­ceived his next as­sign­ment from the Ob­lates.

As for the ef­fort to save St. Joachim, the crowd rose to ap­plaud when Taylor said, “This com­munity hasn’t giv­en up on this church.”

After Mass, pa­rish­ion­ers gathered in the church hall to plot strategy to try to get Chaput to change his mind.

Taylor, point­ing to last year’s de­cision by Chaput to save many ele­ment­ary and high schools sched­uled to close, said there is a will­ing­ness to listen at “222,” the slang for arch­diocese headquar­ters, at 222 N. 17th St.

“They have re­versed de­cisions,” he said.

In mak­ing the case that should hap­pen at St. Joachim, Smi­ley noted that it is a han­di­capped-ac­cess­ible, mod­ern church that was built in 1981 fol­low­ing a fire two years earli­er. In ad­di­tion, she poin­ted out that the arch­diocese does not have to as­sign a priest to the par­ish, since the Ob­lates have ser­viced St. Joachim since 1978. She thinks pa­rish­ion­ers can sway Chaput if they get to meet with him. She holds out hope that they will be cel­eb­rat­ing on June 30, not cry­ing dur­ing the clos­ing Mass.

“We have no debt. We have as­sets. We are solvent,” she told the crowd. “We are go­ing to be the little church that could.” ••

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