Editorial: Upper what?

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. ••

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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