Neither Fair...Nor a Hill

Right after mentioning Fairhill's late, lamented St. Bonaventure in my last post, the Project received the following letter. As Freud would say, how uncanny.

Thank you for the pictures and report on St. Bonaventure Church. I was raised in that parish and attended the school for eight years. Your report brings back a lot memories. I remember the May processions where we processed from the school to the church and attending daily mass there when I attended the school. I also remember the bad, when there were riots not far from there and you could see the smoke from neighborhoods burning. I have gone to goggled maps and see that my old house is still standing but that of my Aunts is now an empty lot. My family moved from the area in 1966, one week before I entered a convent near Buffalo, NY.

I am curious as to why you call it “Fairhill.” We always referred to that part of the city as “North Phila.”

I hope the Church will be able to restored and used for good. Even the “Bad Lands” need a beacon of hope.

Thank you again for the article.

God’s blessings to you.

Sr. Mary Walheim osf

A letter from a nun? Oh boy, I'd better be on my best behavior, lest I receive a ruler across the knuckles.

First, I'm not engaging in any more neighborhood arguments, so let's just nip that in the bud. I'll tell you what I tell everyone else: I go with the consensus of the current planning definitions. What you called it 40 years ago is interesting but ultimately irrelevant.

Now, on to the really exciting stuff. I believe she's referring to the 1964 Philadelphia race riots, which basically put the nail in North Philadelphia's coffin. It destroyed the commercial districts of many of the major avenues, sparked a hasty and massive white flight, and, thanks to ineffective tactics by the Philadelphia police, engendered a culture of violence, abandonment and distrust that largely still exists today.

If you know little or nothing about the riot, look it up. I'm not going to go on record and say it's the cause of North Philly's current predicament, because Lord knows there are plenty of other factors. But it played a very large role, and it's a good bet the whole area would be in much better shape today had the police been able to put the kibosh on it.

Anyway, it's interesting to hear such specific historical memories, and the Project thanks Sister Mary for sharing them.

Speaking of sharing, though, we don't share her optimism about the church's future. We hope, yes, but unfortunately Bonaventure is quite dead. That place isn't getting restored. Even if you subtract 17 years of unabated decay, no investor is going to be sold on that area. I don't even know how the church is still standing, but the Project is betting that it collapses from neglect long before people with money see any worth in the neighborhood.

Fairhill might yet see a new day. But that church, that parish, that building will not have a second act.

RIP, St. Bonnie's.