Sacred Heart of Jesus
Status: Active, Roman Catholic
3rd & Reed Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Original visit: August 16, 2008
Subsequent visits: June 10, 2012
Where Is It?
3rd & Reed Streets, in the Project’s paradise: South Philadelphia.
Yes, it’s that time again! The Project dusts off its dictionary of swear words and heads back into the abyss of South Philly.
This time we’re here to look at Pennsport’s Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is an interesting church, despite being full of things that usually piss off the Project. Wooden beams. A plaster ceiling with a rather reserved paint job. Smaller, average stained glass. A set of ridiculously mismatched spires. Heck, the altar has a curtain backdrop. Curtains!
Yet, sometimes a church succeeds in spite of its individual parts; sometimes it becomes more than the sum of its ingredients, if you will. This is one of those times. Sacred Heart works because its gothic cruciform construction has great size and scope. And even if the church is much brighter nowadays (more on that below), the decor still evokes a pretty good vibe.
Look for it: The left side of the transcept is longer than the right side, to accomodate a balcony used by the parish nuns once upon a time. Another case of a St. Francis Xavier-itis? Well, no, because Sacred Heart doesn't let that discrepancy affect the rest of the design.
Pimp My Church: The wood-panelled sanctuary and curtained altar are not original. There was originally a more traditional marble altar there, but one of the pastors had it ripped out in the 1940s and replaced with the current model. Much like the pastor at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, you have to admire his passion if not his taste. Judging by the photo of the original, on display in the back of the church, that was a pretty poor decision.
Put it all together and you have a building that coalesces into something I shouldn’t really like, yet...here we are.
How's It Doing?
Here is where things get interesting. The attendance numbers have risen back into the 500s, which isn’t that great, but at least it's on an upward trend.
More impressively, though, the parish has managed to forge ahead with a dramatic set of repairs. During my first visit, the place was covered in scaffolding (the right side was even entirely roped off), and there was visible paint and water damage everywhere.
Sacred Heart looks much better now, albeit far brighter. The pillars alone are vastly different. Look at the comparison below, the old one first, and you'll see how the darker stone decor has been repainted and colored up a bit.
It's a dramatic change, but to fair, I didn't even realize how dramatic until I went back and looked at my original interior shots.
As for the ceiling, it's still allegedly in need of some work, although that project (pun intended) seems to have been shelved for the time being. As long as it's not covering up a structural problem, the Project says leave it. Original, 1800s-era paint jobs are hard to come by, even if age is catching up with it.
The people are grand. Getting there? Well, that's the hard part. Somebody shoot me, please.
The priest who said mass during our first trip, Father Dean, makes use of Spencer, the black lab seeing-eye dog. Spencer, for his part, is far friendlier than most seeing-dogs:
Project: He’s awfully friendly, but I didn’t think you could pet seeing-eye dogs.
Father Dean: It’s ok. He’s working, but he doesn’t know it.
The Final Word
Odd but memorable.