From the good 'ole mailbag, courtesy Project reader Thomas Day:
Dear Friends, I came across the Philadelphia Church Project and I was delighted. An item about St. Monica Church Catholic Church in South Philadelphia that should be mentioned:
That building was destroyed in a fire maybe 30 or 40 years ago. (Something caught fire during the restoration work on the building.) The members of the parish (largely Italian in heritage) rebuilt the church to resemble the original one as much as possible. Up until about 1970. The parish used to have a vigorous choir of men and boys. They sounded very impressive.
Most of the earliest parishoners were Irish. Years ago I remember being in the old building and noticing all the Irish names of the donors and pastors who were listed on the walls and the windows. Then many Italians moved into the parish.
Best of luck.
With the Project going as long as it has, it's easy to forget some of our early adventures, especially those that don't generate a lot of reader mail. One of those is St. Monica, which was our inaugural voyage to South Philadelphia. And, it should be noted, one of the better ones. Trust us: on many fronts, it was all downhill from there.
The Project was actually aware of the St. Monica fire, although I don't mention it in the review. The event is in included in the stained glass parish history window, although at the time we didn't really understand the true scope of the destruction. Tabula Rasa, anyone?
The impressive thing is that, given the late date of the fire, it would have been easy to close the book on the old building and replace it with some modern monstrosity. The parishioners receive a ton of credit for working to recreate the classic decor, at a time when all of their contemporaries were far less imaginative.
Oh, and yes, a little known fact. Early in its history South Philadelphia used to be predominantly Irish until they moved to other neighborhoods, leaving the area to the Italians, who have since refused to let go.
It's an important lesson: a neighborhood's identity is irrevocably tied to the people who live there. It won't outlive you, and it won't survive if you all move away. In cases like this, it's as if you and those like you never existed.