Status: Active, Roman Catholic
19th & Wallace Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Original visit: September 14, 2008
Where Is It?
19th & Wallace Streets, in the city’s Fairmount section
St. Andrew is an interesting church because it actually used to be Protestant. The parish's plans to build their own church were waylaid because of the Great Depression, so instead, in 1942, they bought this building and converted it to their use.
Catholics borrowing a building from the Protestants? How ridiculous!
Structurally, it’s smallish church that’s a little grungy and very rough around the edges; the front rose window is missing a couple of panels, the other windows have minor chipping damage, and the door arches out front show glaring signs of recent painting / renovation.
Despite not looking particularly well-cared for, and despite featuring white plaster and wooden ceiling beams, St. Andrew has some interesting things going for it. The most notable is a very lovely sanctuary and apse that’s almost entirely surrounded by a gigantic mural. That’s right! Why bother with little pictures when you can decorate the whole wall? There’s some additional work on the ceiling, but the gigantic front mural is the star here.
Speaking of the sanctuary, the color and ornamentation is really pretty fantastic, especially with a rarely seen reddish-gold marble. If they’d kept the same motif throughout the rest of the church, I might honestly be putting it in the upper echelon. Still, what’s there is pretty cool.
Look for it: The organ pipes are not set in one bank, as is customary, but are separated into two equal banks that flank the rose window. Kind of an interesting effect.
Too much white plaster and wood makes the Project an unhappy boy. Fortunately, some other touches more than make up for it.
How's It Doing?
I wouldn’t have thought that there would still be any Lithuanian people living in and around Fairmount. But since St. Andrew is still here and still offering a mass in that language — yep, no It’s All Greek to Me! — they must have survived the North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction by hiding in the sewer, or they pull a St. Vincent de Paul and come from all over.
(I doubt it's the former, but it wouldn’t hurt for you Fairmounters to check your sewers. Just to be safe.)
St. Andrew offers exactly two masses: one Lithuanian, one English — and the 300ish attendance is pretty shoddy. That said, since they're the now the only Lithuanian parish left in the city (since the 2011 closing of St. Casimir, which remains in use as a worship site), St. Andrew probably has more leeway than most.
Like a lot of city sections, it’s more difficult to find parking in Fairmount than it is to actually drive there. So be prepared! (Unless you feel like taking the BSL and walking over from Broad & Fairmount.)
As for the area’s health, well, see St. Francis Xavier. Much the same applies here.
This mass was notable for omitting the homily and the sign of peace, both of which are (I thought) integral parts of the Roman Catholic mass. St. Andrew also distributes communion by having people kneel at the altar rail — something I haven’t seen a Roman Catholic mass do in a good 15 years.
I don’t understand what’s going on, but it good to see at least one of these ornate altar rails still being used. And to think, some churches had the audacity to remove them altogether!
The Final Word
Sure, why not?