‘We’re all going to have to pray together’

Changes and mer­gers among many long-es­tab­lished River Wards churches have res­id­ents ex­press­ing mixed opin­ions and won­der­ing what's next.

Rev. Wil­li­am E. Grogan out­side of All Saints Par­ish, in Brides­burg, which will close Ju­ly 1 as part of a mer­ger. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

A re­gion-wide re­struc­tur­ing of the Cath­ol­ic Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia will greatly af­fect the River Wards.

Arch­bish­op Charles Chaput re­cently an­nounced that All Saints and St. John Can­ti­us par­ishes will merge Ju­ly 1, with All Saints clos­ing and func­tion­ally mov­ing down the street to St. John Can­ti­us. The newly com­bined par­ish will re­tain the name of St. John Can­ti­us Par­ish.

Holy Name of Je­sus Par­ish, 701 Gaul St., and Saint Lauren­ti­us Par­ish, 1608 E. Berks St., will merge on Ju­ly 1 in­to Holy Name of Je­sus Par­ish, Phil­adelphia.

Saint Lauren­ti­us, foun­ded in 1882, was the first Pol­ish church in Phil­adelphia.

The Rev. Joseph J. Zingaro, of St. John Can­it­us Par­ish, 4415 Al­mond St., will be Pas­tor of the new Holy Name of Je­sus Par­ish. Saint Lauren­ti­us School, 1612 E. Berks St., will re­main the same.

The Sanc­tu­ary at St. Lauren­ti­us Par­ish will re­main avail­able as a wor­ship space for spe­cial events. Also, the Rev. Fran­cis A. Gwiaza of Saint Lauren­ti­us will re­tire and reside at Villa Saint Joseph in Darby.

Ad­di­tion­ally, The Rev. Richard P. Con­nors, Pa­ro­chi­al Vicar of Nativ­ity B.V.M. Par­ish, 2535 E. Al­legheny Ave., will leave Nativ­ity B.V.M. Ju­ly 1 to be­come Pas­tor at Saint Dav­id Par­ish, in Wil­low Grove.

The merged St. John Can­ti­us Par­ish in Brides­burg will be led by the Rev. Thomas A. Nasta, cur­rently Pas­tor of Saint Gab­ri­el of the Sor­row­ful Moth­er Par­ish in Stowe, Pa., the Arch­diocese an­nounced Sunday.

“Five feet away from the church, I can see all four edges of my par­ish at the same time. You can get your arms around the whole thing, which is great,” said the Rev. Wil­li­am E. Grogan, of the view of All Saints Par­ish from Thompson and Bucki­us streets.

“But the flip side of that is a small change can tip the scale away from sus­tain­ab­il­ity,” Grogan said.

From 2007 to 2011, All Saints Par­ish, which was foun­ded in 1860, has seen its week­end mass at­tend­ance slip from 344 to about 245 pa­rish­ion­ers. Saint John Can­ti­us Par­ish, which was foun­ded in 1898, has seen its week­end mass at­tend­ance rise from 600 to 635.

Grogan said that the in­creas­ing cost of up­keep and main­ten­ance to All Saints Par­ish, coupled with the di­min­ished at­tend­ance, con­trib­uted to the arch­diocese’s de­cision.

But some neigh­bors of All Saints are con­cerned about the pro­spect of the par­ish build­ings be­ing left va­cant. All Saints’ church, rect­ory, school, and grave­yard take up most of the block on Bucki­us Street between Thompson and Ed­ge­mont streets.

“It’s go­ing to be a de­teri­or­at­ing build­ing,” said neigh­bor Michelle James. “I’m just afraid of what’s go­ing to hap­pen to the neigh­bor­hood now … We don’t want to see it empty.”

James said that after the All Saints School closed, it was van­dal­ized and a few win­dows were broken.

But some loc­als are op­tim­ist­ic that the mer­ger is a pos­it­ive move.

“I think it’s a tre­mend­ous move,” said Ray­mond Panczewk­si, 82, a Brides­burg nat­ive who lives down the block from All Saints Par­ish but at­tends St. John Can­ti­us. “All the pa­rish­ion­ers from that church [All Saints] are go­ing to go to that church [St. John Can­ti­us], and then they’ll have a whole church. … I can’t see where it can’t work out, as long as people want to go to St. John’s.”

But an­oth­er St. John Can­ti­us mem­ber, Mary­ann Gracie, wasn’t so sure the mer­ger will make a dif­fer­ence.

“There’s not enough pa­rish­ion­ers to keep both open,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to go over [to St. John Can­ti­us]. Even­tu­ally, we’ll have no church.”

Rev. Joseph Zingaro of St. John Can­ti­us Par­ish, which of­fers ser­vices in Eng­lish and Pol­ish, did not re­spond to calls for com­ment about the mer­ger.

Grogan said that the All Saints grave­yard will re­main a grave­yard for the fore­see­able fu­ture. All Saints Par­ish will re­main open as a site of wor­ship for the time be­ing for fu­ner­als, wed­dings and oth­er private ser­vices. The rect­ory, school and church build­ings may even­tu­ally be leased or sold.

But Fath­er Grogan stressed that the mer­ger is not a “win-lose” situ­ation.

“We need to make a single whole fam­ily out of these com­munit­ies. We’re all go­ing to have to fig­ure out a way to pray to­geth­er,” Grogan said.

Both Grogan and Zingaro will be leav­ing Brides­burg for newly merged par­ishes, with Grogan headed to Holy Cross Par­ish in Mt. Airy, and Zingaro to Holy Name of Je­sus Par­ish in North­ern Liber­ties. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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