Old St. Joseph's
Status: Active, Roman Catholic
4th & Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Original visit: February 1, 2009
Where Is It?
Somewhere in the vicinity of 4th & Walnut, in Society Hill.
Old St. Joseph was founded waaay back in 1733, and went through several different churches before this one was built in 1839. Despite being surprisingly younger, architecture-wise, than Old St. Mary’s, it’s still something that’s tailor-made for Old vs. Older Churches. What that means is that the building itself isn’t exactly an architectural marvel. Given its advanced age, we have an extraordinarily low-key Italian-Renaissance design that’s highlighted by the kind of features endemic to a lot of Old churches: dual sets of stained glass, a cleaving balcony, etc.
Old St. Joseph is much plainer than the others, however. There’s very little attempt at molding or paintwork, and the design-oriented windows are some of the plainest around. Oddly, there are a couple of more ornate ones thrown in, including a very nice one to the left of the altar, where the transept would be if it was a cruciform church. But their inclusion is weirdly bittersweet, since it creates some serious synchronization issues. (The kind that usually only affect Protestant churches. See FUMCOG or Holy Trinity.)
So, aside from a rare pumpkin color scheme (shades of Holy Family), a couple of nice windows and a respectable main altar (thankfully not modernized, like Old St. Mary), that’s really all you get.
Oh, and I should mention this:
How the $#%@ do I get in here? I honestly never thought I’d write this for a Catholic church, but with an Old vs. Older Church, I guess anything is possible. Old St. Joseph is bizarrely connected to two other buildings, meaning that it has neither a front façade nor a, err, rear-end, so to speak. You can only enter through the not-exactly-obvious side doors.
Good for the historical value, but not much else.
How's It Doing?
Pretty well by my reckoning. The average attendance has floated between the high 500s and the low 600s in the past five or so years. Could be higher, but it's stable — and the parish does a staggering wedding business, which points toward a good investment in the younger generations.
Factor in the prime Society Hill / Old City location and the history factor, and you have a parish that doesn’t look to be going anywhere.
Old St. Joseph isn’t as difficult a trip as you might think. You’re smack-dab in the Old City / Society Hill area, which means many of your might consider public transportation. It’s not a bad option; the Market-Frankford El has a convenient stop at 5th & Market, which is a scant two blocks or so from the church.
If you do decide to drive, parking is not hard to find along Walnut in the early Sunday hours. Any other time, though, and you’re very much on your own.
And if you do drive, remember that, despite what some fools may say, you absolutely need to feed the parking meters on Sunday. The Project almost didn’t heed this advice, and came precariously close to getting a parking ticket.
Oh, as for safety, come on. You have nothing to worry about.
Old St. Joseph shares the same curiously boxy shape of its neighbor, Old St. Mary's.
What, not interesting enough for you? Ah, sue me.
The Final Word
If you’re looking for architectural value alone, go elsewhere.