Incarnation of Our Lord

Status: Closed, former Roman Catholic

Also Known As: Inky, Incarnation

Founded: 1900
Construction: 1923
Closed: 2013 

5th Street & Lindley Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19120

Original visit: February 10, 2007
Subsequent visits: June 16, 2013

Where Is It?

The Olney section of North Philadelphia. Oh, you want specifics? 5th Street & Lindley Avenue.

The Skinny

I call this the "forgotten parish", since I grew up not two miles up the road in East Oak Lane, and I never once went to mass here. Well, at least a mass I can remember. The Official Mother of the Philadelphia Church Project likes to remind me that I was here as an infant, but I don't think that really counts.

My more mature eyes are better able to appreciate this building's charms. A columned, cruciform Gothic building, Incarnation features a rather common design variation, whereby the nave windows and the clerestory windows are flipped in position, putting the former on top and the latter on the bottom. You can see the same thing at St. Bridget, St. Matthew and St. Matthias, among other places. 

Said nave windows are quite lovely, as is the interior's warm color scheme — gold and white, and bolstered by some nice mural work in the sanctuary. Other charms include the detailed molding and statue work on the exterior, even if harsh realities require that they be wrapped in a mesh screen for protection.

Outsider's Edge: Enter Father Gerald Piñero, undoubtedly one of the more interesting priests we've come across. The young, charismatic father was so excited to see us at mass during our first visit that he picked us out during mass and asked us to stand up and say where we’re from. I know I’m really pasty white, but am I that conspicuous?

Oh, and he excitedly met us after church and gladly gave us a tour of the aforementioned upper church, so we kind of got around the dreaded Upper v. Lower Church. Hooray!

Sadly, that upper church won't see much more use. Read on:

What Happened?

Incarnation was a surprising victim of what I've taken to calling, for now, the Great Purge of 2013. I knew Olney would lose at least one parish, but I thought that would be dinky St. Ambrose, not Inky. Ambrose still stands, but probably not for long, either.

It's a shocking change for a parish that, six years earlier, seemed to be as successful a melting pot as you could hope for in lower Olney, with five masses and a school that had seen its attendance actually increase. But the by the end, Inky was out of money and, physically, starting to buckle. My final walkthrough of the place definitely showcased much more falling plaster than I anticipated.

I suspect some connection to the 2010 removal of former pastor Gerald Piñero, whose extracurricular pyramid scheme may have crossed over into Inky's management. This is pure speculation without an ounce of fact, of course, but it would account for how Inky so rapidly fell off a cliff. At best, his absence created a serious charismatic void from which the parish never recovered.

Moving forward, the parish itself was consolidated into neighboring St. Helena, as was the school a year earlier. (In a puzzling move, half of the parish will actually go south to St. Veronica, but that's a conversation for another time.)

St. Helena neither needs nor wants another church, so given Inky's shape, this place will quickly hit the market and / or the wrecking ball.

Travel Tidbits

5th Street is not nearly the main thoroughfare that Broad is, but it's still major enough that you should not encounter any problems. Would I go wondering around after dark? Probably not, but there are far worse areas to explore.

Interesting Note

During our original visit, one of the nuns in attendance celebrated some sort of anniversary, and walked around after mass handing out those Rocher chocolate balls. Even though I don't normally eat chocolate, I took one anyway because it's really, really hard to turn down a nice old nun who offers you candy.

Additional Resources

Incarnation Pastor Steps Down / November 20, 2010

Image Gallery

Images taken June 2014. Click to enlarge!

The Final Word

Sorry, the urban explorers have it now.