Status: Active, Roman Catholic
E. Allegheny Avenue & Thompson Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134
Original visit: July 21, 2007
Subsequent visits: May 31, 2008
Where Is It?
Thompson and E Allegheny Avenue, in Port Richmond.
This week the Project travels to what is probably the most visible, well-known church so far, St. Adalbert.
What, you say you never heard of it? Ah, but bear with me.
Most Philadelphians are familiar with St. Adalbert, even if mentioning its name brings a puzzled look to their faces. This church, you see, is located right of the west side of I-95. That prominent location, as well as its bright aqua roof and spires, make it highly visible to anyone driving along the highway. You’ve probably all seen it at some point without even truly realizing it.
St. Adalbert is the first member of what I like to call “Church Alley.” As if right on cue…
Church Project Theorem #9: Church Alley. This term refers to the seven-block radius along Allegheny Avenue, between Gaul and Thompson streets. That stretch is home to three, count ‘em, three Catholic churches: Adalbert, Our Lady Help of Christians and Nativity B.V.M.
They’re lined up on Allegheny like cute like ducks in a row, and all are quite visible from I-95, although Adalbert is the farthest east and thus most prominent. Granted, only Nativity is a true territorial parish; Adalbert is designated as Polish, and Our Lady Help of Christians is designated as German. Still, it’s a pretty ballsy arrangement.
Back to Adalbert. It’s a large, if not huge, church that scores its points for design. As I mentioned, it’s notable for its bright aqua roof and matching aqua spires, which are really quite pretty.
Inside, the church is even prettier, with a soaring, columned Gothic design. Because this is a Polish church, the paintwork is done in white with a variety of crazy, colorful Eastern-European style designs and patterns. The design is capped by one of the coolest altars we’ve seen yet, a huge, ornate job that stretches from the floor to the ceiling.
We’ve seen a lot of pretty marble pieces before, but this deserves some credit because it’s made out of wood. Ok, wood might be easier to carve than marble, but still, this is pretty cool — big and bold, with a variety of intricate points, latticework, and religious statues, some of which are pretty large. It’s done in a dark color, accented by reds and golds, which makes an interesting contrast to the white plaster around it. Beautiful.
I should also mention the satined glass windows, which, true to Gothic design, are large and very ornate. Each one depicts a Saint in various poses. There is a particularly gruesome one of St. Michael the Archangel stabbing a demon that I assume is Lucifer. I don’t think I’ve seen blood inscribed so artfully on stained glass before.
Look for it: Have you ever seen an aqua gargoyle?
How's It Doing?
You’d think that, in a section featuring three Catholic churches in a seven-block span, at least one of churches would be in trouble. And you'd be right. All three are still open, but this 1950 type of arrangement doesn't work so well anymore.
Adalbert is the healthiest of the three, thanks to the still-vibrant Polish community in this part of town, and should continue to be so for a while. The other two? Well, we'll get to them later, but their outlooks are far less rosy.
Given its location, Adalbert is easily and quickly accessible via I-95. There’s no lot, so you’ll have to wage war with the one-way streets and often precarious parking.
Random crimes aside, Port Richmond is a fairly respectable neighborhood. You should have no qualms about coming here.
I happened to wear a “Wildcats” shirt to mass (go ‘Nova!). On my way out, the priest, whose name I didn’t catch, noticed by shirt and responded by vaguely mumbling “Wildcats? WILDCATS!” He then stuck his hand into my chest with what I can only describe was a half poke, half tickle.
I was speechless then, and I’m still speechless now.
Mailbag 29: Church Alley Update / November 16, 2011
St. Adalbert's Roof / April 12, 2010
Schools, Not Parishes. Get it Right / December 14, 2009
The Final Word
The Project’s first ethnic parish turns out to be a beauty. Recommended.