Status: Active, Roman Catholic
236 Hermitage Street
Philadelphia, PA 19127
Original visit: October 18, 2008
Where Is It?
236 Hermitage Street, in greater Roxborough.
The hills are alive...with the sound of the Project! This week we return to the Schuylkill and the slanted streets beyond to visit Roxborough’s Holy Family.
There’s actually some debate as to whether Holy Family joins St. John in Manayunk. The church’s address falls, according to most planning definitions, within the boundaries of the Rox. Yet, that same address has the ‘yunk’s 19127 zip code, not the 19128 of Roxborough.
So which is it? Hell if I know. As I’ve said before, I’m in the church business, not the planning business. But I’m going with Roxborough on this one, since, you know, they haven’t really gotten to participate in the Project’s fun, and I hate to exclude anybody.
Locational quandaries aside, Holy Family is a stout entry, with a solid non-cruciform Italian-Renaissance design that’s highlighted by a soft-pumpkin color scheme, fairly intricate script and mural work, large and brilliant stained-glass windows, and some nice marble altars.
The most intriguing thing, though, is the exterior. No, not the building itself, which, aside from a pretty spire, is a mostly standard granite design. The curious thing is the placement and the landscaping. Unlike most Catholic churches, which go out of their way to be prominent, Holy Family seems to be trying really hard not to be found. It’s set far back on a double-elevated plain and surrounded by bushy, towering trees. That means that only the spire is truly visible; and I didn’t even see any signage that confirmed that, yes, this is a church. Heck, I haven’t seen a parish so strangely invisible since St. Athanasius; I drove past that sucker for over a year before I realized it was actually there.
In theory, this majestic setup could be nice if they actually landscaped it and didn’t hide the church with a bunch of trees. Think St. Bridget. As it stands it’s just really confusing.
Still, Holy Family is pretty good, and I only wish I could show you more of it. But the Project’s camera had an untimely meltdown, so I couldn’t get any interior shots. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and get them at some point, because they’re very much worth seeing.
How's It Doing?
Ok. Like a lot of churches, Holy Family’s attendance has been steadily declining — where 10 years ago it once stood at just under 1,000, it has now dipped below 500. That’s still not bad, although you’d wish at some point the hemorrhaging would stop.
Regardless, there’s still enough life here to sustain the parish. The Project spoke briefly to one of the priests after mass, and I complimented him on the pristine condition of the church. He responded that they had a successful restoration drive a few years back, and that they were lucky to “have good people” in the parish.
Given the recent closures in Manayunk, however, more "good people" had better start stepping up.
There are many ways to greater Roxborough, and all of them are varying degress of painful. Like Manayunk it’s known for big hills and bad parking, and both are very much on display. I didn’t have a lot of problems in that regard, but keep it in mind nonetheless. Even if you do have to park far away, the geography means that the ensuing walk will do your calves a world of good.
(Holy Family does appear to have its own lot, but I have no idea how to actually get to it.)
The Rox is also a very solid area, so you shouldn’t have any safety concerns.
That same priest mentioned the large number of churches in the general area, and opined that of all of them, he’s glad Holy Family is the way it is, and he wouldn’t trade it for any of them.
The Project, however, chooses very differently.
The Final Word