Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
Status: Worship site, Roman Catholic
Formerly Known As: Our Lady of the Rosary
63rd & Callowhill Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19139
Original visit: January 20, 2008
Subsequent visits: January 13, 2013
Where Is It?
West Philly! 63rd & Callowhill, or thereabouts.
The Romanesque Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (OLOBS) is a pretty fine church. It doesn’t have a dominating size, but it does have an effective columned, non-cruciform Romesque interior, highlighted by semicircular arches and an arched, barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Special attention should go to the superior paintwork; it's surprisingly understated, particularly on the ceiling, but it's clean, colorful and classy, especially in the character profiles between the arches.
We also get a wonderful set of stained glass windows (courtesy Zettler Studios from Munich), as well as the first organ ever produced by Philadelphia's own Muddler Hunter. Not only does the organ still work, but Muddler actually comes out to service it once a year. How cool is that?
Look for it: The centerpiece of the sanctuary, aside from the angel-flanked altar, is a large painting of the crucifixion of Jesus. You'd likely suspect that a portrait featuring Black characters would not be original to an 1887 building, and you'd be correct. The original painting depicted Mary and the Assumption, but was damaged some years back and replaced with the current one.
(If anyone has a picture of the original painting, pass it on as well. The image I found was neither available nor suitable for publication here.)
Speaking of sanctuaries, OLOBS does something really peculiar by flipping the main and side sanctuary designs. The side altars are placed in rounded apses, while the main altar resides simply against a flat wall. You almost always see it the other way around.
Look for it, Part 2: One of the aforementioned character profiles is the Morningstar, a title normally associated with Lucifer. This leads to a rash of questions: why Lucifer? Is it some celebration of his former status an archangel?
It is possible that the name “Morningstar” has other connotations I’m not currently aware of, but if it doesn’t, then OLOBS has a very strange design feature.
Don't bother looking for it: Also known as, "You might not know to look for it." OLOBS' rather modest spire has a surprisingly illustrious past, as you can see in this 1931 photo:
I personally think it's a little too ridiculous, a little too out of sync with the rest of the church, but what do I know?
Curiosities aside, OLOBS is a very nice addition. It’s not big, but it’s ornate enough to earn the Project’s approval.
Remember our old friend, consolidation? Yeah, he’s been a frequent visitor to West Philly, and he's back again.
Seven years after OLOBS was formed by consolidating Our Lady of Victory and Our Lady of the Rosary, 2013 saw the parish consolidated again with neighboring St. Cyprian. The new parish maintains the Cyprian name, and their building will serve as the main church.
It's a tough break for a parish to suffer two mergers in such a short amount of time — especially one with such great music, passion and friendliness.
The Outsider's Edge: The Project’s very presence attracted the attention of one of the ushers, who enthusiastically spoke to us about the parish and introduced us to another usher and to Deacon Nightingale. (Who, coincidentally, plays the organ, conducts the choir and preaches. He's quite the effective multitasker.)
Parish Love-O-Meter: OLOBS is a friendly, friendly parish. It's not quite to the extent of current champ St. Martin de Porres, but it has enough to earn a solid second-place ranking. I only hope it carries over to St. Cyprian, which seemed to need a healthy dose of it the last time I was there.
If there's a silver lining, it's that the Rosary / OLOBS property at 63rd & Callowhill will remain in use as a worship site, at least for the time being. It's imperfect, but about as good an outcome as we can hope for these days.
OLOBS is pretty well-served both by automobile and public transit options, especially the El, which has a stop four blocks away.
As you’d expect, the neighborhood’s a little sketchy, but not particularly threatening. Of course, that’s Sunday morning. Any other time and you’re on your own.
Our presence was such a big to-do that they insisted we take up the gifts for Communion. We've been to a lot of churches, and this is the one and only time we've done so.
The pastor, Brother Paul, gave a knowing wink as we fulfilled our duties. "Pressed into service, eh?"
You have no idea.
The Final Word
Not sure if you'll be able to attend a true mass here anymore, but it's well worth it if you can.