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, keepthefaithinfrankford.org.
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.” ••