Blessed Virgin Mary
Status: Active, Roman Catholic
Main Street & MacDade Boulevard
Darby, PA 19023
Original visit: January 24, 2010
Where Is It?
Some corner of Delaware County. What? Oh, fine. Main Street and MacDade Boulevard in Darby Borough.
I'd gotten a couple of e-mails regarding Darby's Blessed Virgin Mary, or BVM for short. One e-mail is easy to ignore. But two or more? Than you have something. And the fact that multiple people requested the same church made the Project sit up and pay attention.
"Your project is fantastic. Thanks for putting it on-line. A friend told me about it.
Just a note to tell you not to miss B.V.M, Darby. It is a French Gothic gem with classic Old World stained glass windows in deep blues. It may even be a replica of a church in France. I think someone of note may have done the windows, but I can't recall the details. I went to grade school there in the 50's and recall it fondly."
"i just wanted to suggest BVM in Darby at the corner of Main St. & MacDade Blvd. it's a very beautiful gothic church."
After a little background research revealed a decent-sized Gothic church built in 1930, we were on our way. 1930 was a good year for churches, after all. Witness Incarnation of Our Lord, for starters. If BVM was even a fraction as good, it would be a worthwhile trip.
So does it measure up? Well, it's full of things that generally make the Project weep: white, unadorned plaster; dark wood; unimpressive sanctuary; plainer pictorial windows, and on and on.
But BVM is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. The individual elements, when taken separately, don't seem like much. Combine them, though, and you have something that still kind of works. There's enough stone, particularly in the pillars and side aisles, to evoke a very dark, medieval Gothic motif.
The emphasized verticality is also another positive. One of the hallmarks of Gothic architecture, by definition, is what's known as "height and light" — that is, high interiors and large windows. The Gothic, more so than any other style, is meant to emphasize the power and glory of the almighty by creating a design that is very vertically oriented, reminding you of the heavens above. It's also the reason for the points on the arches and windows, which point upward toward...you guessed it, heaven.
(That's not to say other styles can't emphasize verticality. Romanesque can and does, for example. Just look at Our Lady of Hope, a supremely vertical Romanesque cathedral. It's just that Gothic tends to do it the best.)
BVM does this verticality perhaps better than most Gothic churches in the area. It's certainly got the "height" part down, and even if the narrow windows don't quite get the "light" part, it's still very effective.
And that's really the bottom line here. BVM succeeds on mood and feel, not necessary any particular architectural success. Its excellent scope and medieval mood make it a church we can live with. Not one we'd praise from the rooftops, but one that we can swallow.
Oh, and the exterior scriptwork isn't shabby, either.
How's It Doing?
The registered population and average attendance have held surprisingly steady in the past several years, which is good. 400ish attendance isn't ideal, obviously, but it could be far wose.
That said, the 11 a.m. Sunday mass was well-attended, and there's a passionate aura to this parish. The school is surviving, too, and is expected to remain open for the foreseeable future. Or says the pastor, Father Corley, who harshly addressed negative rumors floated by "the other side of MacDade," and ordered parishioners to direct him to any such gossip-mongerers, if possible. He promised to deal with them in short order, even it meant he had to go to prison afterward. (He was kidding. I think.)
I like the approach, frankly, even the prison joke. It's not a safe world for parishes anymore, and they need to get a little down and dirty if they want to survive. Don't just sit there and accept what life gives you — stand up and fight! Remind people what you stand for, what you offer, and don't take "no" for an answer. Refuse to be ignored. This is war!
It all depends on your proximity to Darby. If you're nearby, great. If not, it's not so great. There's no immediate highway access, so you'll have to resort to taking roads like MacDade or Baltimore Pike. It's not bad — certainly not as nauseating as South Philly travel — but it's not a breeze, either.
That general part of Delco isn't very highly regarded, and a lot of the surrounding neighborhoods look kind of run-down in places. It's not really a big safety issue, though. The immediate area around the church looks ok, and they have their own parking lot.
BVM is the first church we've seen that has permanent space heaters installed. Here, they're anchored to the wall just below the windows. I don't know if they take them out or simply turn them off in warmer weather, but they look pretty well-secured to me.
The Final Word
The Project has done far worse.