We were startled on Sunday when we opened an email from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with a headline that told us of the imminent merger of Catholic parishes in “Upper” Northeast Philadelphia.
“Why would they do that?” we thought, knowing that many Far Northeast parishes have remained stable and even thrived amid declining membership elsewhere.
Our alarm subsided after reading further from the Archdiocesan news release. In the first paragraph, there was a mention of Bridesburg parishes, and at the bottom of the second page, the two troubled parishes were identified by name — All Saints and St. John Cantius.
While this would be a relieving revelation for true denizens of the “Far Northeast” (as the area is known to most folks who live, work and visit here), it begs the question: Why does the Archdiocese think that Bridesburg is in the Upper Northeast, or is in the Northeast at all?
It is our understanding that not even the folks of that proud community call themselves Northeasters. Rather, to all of us, Bridesburg is part of the River Wards.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese explained via email that church authorities use place names provided by the University of Pennsylvania’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Some browsing of maps on the Archdiocese’s website reveals that All Saints and St. John Cantius are grouped within the “Upper North East Philadelphia and Lower Bucks County Deanery,” a sub-division within the Archdiocese’s “Region IV.” That region covers all of Northeast Philly and Bucks County.
According to these maps, the Bridesburg parishes are indeed in the Upper North East, while a church like St. Cecilia in Fox Chase, which is about seven miles due north of All Saints, is part of the “Lower North East Philadelphia Deanery.”
Similar discrepancies exist elsewhere. St. Christopher of Somerton is grouped with the Central and Upper Bucks parishes, while St. Joseph the Worker of Fallsington, four miles from Trenton, is with the Upper North East and Lower Bucks parishes.
The Archdiocese spokesman, to his credit, acknowledged the potential for confusion and resolved to modify the news release on the website. We suggest avoiding the use of administrative designations in public communications and employing widely accepted place names. If it’s Bridesburg, just say so. That would reduce undue alarm for unaffected Catholics while giving clear notice to those in more unfortunate circumstances. ••