Mailbag 18: South Philly Defense

The Project is making friends all over the place. From an unnamed fan:

I like and admire the work you've done. I am also a Catholic church buff. A little constructive criticism...

Thanks, but I don't much like where this is going. Sounds too much like "you're a great guy, BUT..."

You make too many references to being white in an African American environment.

What defines "too many?" I bring it up where it's appropriate and relevant to the visit. Especially since this is a travelogue of sorts, it's important to let other people know where services might be different from what they're used to, or where they might be treated differently because they're of a different race. See: just about every predominantly black parish we've visited.

And for what it's worth, I sometimes do the same for black people in a predominantly white environment. For example, Our Mother of Good Counsel, where I warned that you'll probably be profiled. Half-jokingly, of course.

You shouldn't question a culture's traditions. Italians aren't obsessed with statues. It's "weird" to you because you are not familiar with it? When you write "I'm not bashing the Italians but..," it leads a reader to believe you are implying something else.

I don't question traditions--see the aforementioned black churches. Again, the Project wouldn't be worth its weight in pixels if I didn't note things that seem strange or unusual. If I find it interesting, odds are a lot of readers will, too. The Project is snarky, but never willfully malicious or disrespectful.

As to the Italians, my own observations indicate that they value statuary far more than other ethnicities or races. Disagree? Fine. But respect the fact that having 100+ church visits under my belt gives me a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about.

From your perspective, South Philly may be hard to get to and difficult to navigate. It's a grid pattern - how hard can it be? Many people know the area very well since restaurants, cafes, markets, shops, sporting venues, etc have been welcoming people longer than any other non-center city neighborhood. When Philly was in the "Dark Ages" of culture not too long ago, South Philly was thriving.

I never said anything about South Philly being a terrible place to live or work. My own experiences indicate that a lot of things about it, especially the cuisine, are quite lovely. Navigating it by car is not one of them. I've encountered more problems in South Philly than I have in every other section combined; St. Gabriel alone took years off my life. For a veteran city driver, that leads to only one conclusion.

As you know, South Philly is a very old, working-class section of the city. Tight on space. Many churches were built to not draw attention due to Anti-Catholic sentiment. Ironically, the parts of West, North, and North East Philly that grew as people moved away from the older neighborhoods have since fallen apart. Some of the magnificent churches you listed had parishoners with money.

It's not as if South Philly doesn't have any nice churches. It does--it's just that a lot of the church stock is uninspired.

Tight space? Lame and lazy argument. Go pay a visit to St. Bonaventure and tell me how their severe lack of space hurt them. Anti-Catholic sentiment? Also doesn't fly. Most of the parishes in South Philly--or, at least the ones we've visited--were founded long after the Nativist riots, so their church constructions shouldn't have been affected.

Money? Well, sure, that's always a factor. But a lot of working class neighborhoods ponied up big-time. Hell, blue-collar, immigrant Port Richmond did it three times in a seven-block radius. So the Project doesn't have a bleeding heart for parishes that weren't able to get their acts together. We may take it into account, but at the end of the day, ugly or uninspired is just that.