St. Joachim is oldest Catholic parish in NE

St. Joachim Church in Frank­ford was es­tab­lished all the way back in 1844.

St. Joachim Church in Frank­ford, es­tab­lished in 1844, is the old­est Cath­ol­ic par­ish in North­east Phil­adelphia, and was the moth­er church for many par­ishes that were formed later in this sec­tion of the city.

Like most Cath­ol­ic par­ishes of the time, St. Joachim was foun­ded to serve a par­tic­u­lar eth­nic group, in this case the Ir­ish. Many of the work­ers in the mills of Frank­ford and sur­round­ing areas were Ir­ish Cath­ol­ics who had to travel to St. Mi­chael in Kens­ing­ton or St. Steph­en in North Phil­adelphia to wor­ship. In 1843, a group of five of these men held a meet­ing in the home of Wil­li­am Keen­an in Frank­ford, where they de­cided to pe­ti­tion the dio­cese to form their own par­ish.

For $600, they pur­chased a plot of land at Har­ris­on Street and Frank­ford Av­en­ue for the fu­ture church.  Later, this prop­erty was traded for one on Church Street that would be­come the site of St. Joachim. The Most Rev. Fran­cis Kendrick, Bish­op of Phil­adelphia, ap­proved form­a­tion of the new par­ish in 1844.

Be­fore the corner­stone for the new church could be laid, however, a tu­mul­tu­ous series of events delayed its con­struc­tion. Long-sim­mer­ing anti-Ir­ish/anti-Cath­ol­ic sen­ti­ments in Phil­adelphia, ex­acer­bated by the dra­mat­ic in­crease in Ir­ish im­mig­rants to the city in the 1840s, ex­ploded in­to the in­fam­ous Nat­iv­ist Ri­ots of 1844. Nat­iv­ist mobs burned two Ir­ish Cath­ol­ic churches, St. Mi­chael in Kens­ing­ton and St. Au­gustine in Old City, to the ground. While there was no ri­ot­ing in Frank­ford, lay­ing of the corner­stone for St. Joachim was delayed un­til 1845.

An­oth­er prob­lem for the new con­greg­a­tion was the cost of build­ing the church. Tra­di­tion­ally, the dio­cese would pro­cure a mort­gage for prop­erty and/or se­cure loans to fin­ance the cre­ation of a par­ish, and it was the re­spons­ib­il­ity of the pa­rish­ion­ers to make the loan pay­ments and sup­port the church. While the pa­rish­ion­ers of St. Joachim were not wealthy, they were de­term­ined.  They gave what they could, and some­times more than they could af­ford. The build­ing was com­pleted and the first Mass was cel­eb­rated in the new St. Joachim church in late 1847. Un­for­tu­nately, the found­ing pas­tor, the Rev. Domin­ick Fore­stal, died earli­er that year and did not live to cel­eb­rate Mass in his new church.

As the only Cath­ol­ic church in North­east Phil­adelphia, St. Joachim be­came a mis­sion par­ish to the neigh­bor­hoods of Holmes­burg, Bustleton, Ta­cony, and oth­ers.  St. Joachim priests traveled to these places to ad­min­is­ter the sac­ra­ments. Like St. Joachim, these mis­sions were serving Ir­ish Cath­ol­ics who were mostly mill work­ers and their fam­il­ies.  Even­tu­ally, Cath­ol­ics in these neigh­bor­hoods were able to es­tab­lish their own par­ishes:  St. Domin­ic in Holmes­burg was foun­ded in 1849 for the Cath­ol­ic pop­u­la­tion that in­cluded Ir­ish em­ploy­ees of the mills along Pennypack Creek; Ma­ter­nity B.V.M. in Bustleton was foun­ded in 1870 for the Ir­ish mill work­ers at LaG­range Print Works; and St. Leo the Great was es­tab­lished in 1884 in Ta­cony for the Ir­ish work­ers at Dis­ston Saw Works.

The re­li­gious staff of St. Joachim has a long tra­di­tion of reach­ing out to help oth­ers.  In 1849, a chol­era out­break rav­aged the Frank­ford area. The Rev. James O’Kane, pas­tor of St. Joachim, and the Rev. Henry S. Spack­man, rect­or of St. Mark’s Epis­copal Church, worked tire­lessly, ig­nor­ing their per­son­al safety to help the sick and dy­ing.

When St. Wil­li­am Cath­ol­ic School opened in Lawndale in 1924, two nuns from St. Joachim traveled daily to teach there.  The sis­ters were from the or­der of the Ser­vants of the Im­macu­late Heart of Mary. St. Joachim was the IHM or­der’s first mis­sion when the sis­ters began teach­ing in Phil­adelphia in 1863.

The ori­gin­al 1845 St. Joachim build­ing was re­placed by a Goth­ic-style struc­ture that was ded­ic­ated in 1880. Again, pa­rish­ion­ers con­trib­uted to the new build­ing. St. Joachim con­tin­ued to ex­pand over the years as the Cath­ol­ic pop­u­la­tion of the North­east grew.
In June 1978, Phil­adelphia Arch­dioces­an priests left St. Joachim and were re­placed by the Ob­lates of St. Fran­cis de Sales, who con­tin­ue to ad­min­is­ter the par­ish. In 1979, the church and rect­ory were des­troyed by fire. Once again, pa­rish­ion­ers con­trib­uted to the con­struc­tion of new church build­ings, which were ded­ic­ated in 1981. ••

Jack Mc­Carthy is a Phil­adelphia area archiv­al/his­tor­ic­al con­sult­ant. He is dir­ect­or of the North­east Phil­adelphia Hall of Fame and co-founder of the North­east Phil­adelphia His­tory Net­work. Patty Mc­Carthy is an act­ive mem­ber of the North­east Phil­adelphia His­tory Net­work.

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