Most Blessed Sacrament
Status: Closed, Former Roman Catholic
56th Street & Chester Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Original visit: November 18, 2007
Where Is It?
56th & Chester Avenue in the Kingsessing section of Southwest Philadelphia.
One of Philadelphia's formerly great churches, the baroque Most Blessed Sacrament dominated Southwest Philadelphia for over a century. At one point it boasted the largest Roman Catholic grade school in the world (not a typo), and otherwise occupied a central role as the storied Kingsessing neighborhood came of age.
Then, everyone left and everything promptly went to hell.
Sorry, that's a little brusque. But when writing about this church, and its death, I can't help but lose it a little bit. A once-magnificent structure, MBS' stately exterior housed a pristine tan, red and white plaster interior. There was also masterful mural work in and around the altar, and perhaps the finest stained glass windows the Project has seen.
Great size, great ornamentation and, hell, even a still-functioning organ. This place was a masterpiece, and it we let it slowly slip away, one agonizing piece at a time.
Philadelphia’s church stock took a big blow with this one.
The same old song and dance, that's what. Old urban church struggles with declining attendance, regressing slowly until it becomes a Dead Parish Walking, awaiting a merciful death.
In MBS' case, it was twinned with St. Francis de Sales in 1999. The legendary school followed in 2002, and by the end, the parish itself was down to one Sunday mass and a paltry 80 parishioners. Yes, 80.
The parish did, in one of life's little ironies, get a brand new coat of paint in 2001 for its 100th anniversary. But good looks aside, the heating and sound systems developed chronic problems, and the remaining souls couldn't keep the place warm.
Since the closing "Unity Mass" in 2007, the building has sat vacant. A lot of the ornamentation was stripped and shipped off to St. Bede the Venerable in Holland, Pa. The rest is currently languishing in the sixth year of a particularly tormented Long Goodbye. Graffiti lines the walls, trash is strewn haphazardly around formerly pristine aisles. And through it all, the persistent drip of water echoes through the damp silence.
You can’t legally go inside, but you can at least drive by and see the exterior. 56th & Chester is kind of a shady area, although there's nothing that should make you deathly afraid. As usual with shady urban areas, though, I would exercise standard caution and safety procedures. (i.e., don’t walk around with money sticking out of your pockets, and don’t come after dark.)
The church is not hard to get to, but it’s a fairly lengthy journey through the highways and byways of West Philly.
The Catholic Church, believe it or not, has a Rite of Leave Taking that they do whenever a church is closed. It’s a pretty cool, though sad, ceremony where they go around and pray at various positions in the church — baptismal font, altar — and remove the sacred items, oils and even the holy water.
Holy water? Really, do they think someone is going to start peddling it on the street?
"Abandoned" interior images taken January 2014.
The Final Word
:weeps quietly in the corner: