St. Athanasius

Status: Active, Roman Catholic
Also Known As: St. A's

Founded: 1928
Construction: 1953

Limekiln Pike & Walnut Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19138

Visit its website

Original visit: May 19, 2007

Where Is It?

Limekiln Pike and Walnut Lane, in West Oak Lane.

The Skinny

The Project journeys to West Oak Lane to venture a peek at St. Athanasius! I must admit that I had been driving regularly down Ogontz Avenue, not two blocks from it, for over a year before I even noticed it was there. Imagine my surprise, then, at finding a perfectly viable Project candidate!

Anyhow, this is a surprisingly endearing church. In a rare twist, Athanasius is a church that is more impressive inside than outside. Yes, there's a reason it's the namesake of the St. Athanasius Effect! It’s bigger than you’d think, with a nice Gothic cruciform construction and some of the best stained glass windows we’ve seen — magnificent and huge, they’re the dominant feature on every wall.

It’s also worth noting Athanasius has a serious passion for candles — they have real candles and candelabras packed into every nook and cranny, and every single one was lit. Apparently, the fire marshal is no match for the Lord!

The Outsider's Edge: Our presence immediately brought us to the attention of Reverend Monsignor Herbert Brevard, the friendly, fast-talking pastor. He made a direct beeline for us before mass, and spent quite a bit of time chatting about the church and the reasons that brought me there; he even made some recommendations for other worthy parishes I could add to the Project.

Fortunately, he eschewed the “please stand up and introduce yourselves,” but then turned around and introduced us himself (having gotten our names ahead of time). It’s not normally my first choice to be called out by a priest, but he gave us a warm welcome as visitors, and the congregation even added an ovation.

Not too shabby!

How's It Doing?

This section of Ogontz Avenue looks to be a relatively stable area that belies West Oak Lane's sometimes...less than savory reputation. The parish has a strong sense of community and the building itself is in fine shape. Even more amazing is that fact that, when Msgr. Brevard arrived in 1994, the upper church wasn’t even used. It had been turned into storage and its windows left open, inviting countless birds and one flood that eradicated the plaster in one corner. The remarkable renovation speaks volumes about this parish’s heartbeat.

Is that heartbeat strong enough to carry on? We'll see. They still support a school, but the attendance has dipped down under 300, which does not inspire any confidence whatsoever.

Travel Tidbits

Athanasius is in the most inoffensive part of West Oak Lane, so there’s not too much to worry about. It even has its own lot in case you don’t feel like trying the copious street parking.

Interesting Note

Brevard did two things I’d never seen before. First, he tipped his cap whenever “Jesus” was mentioned during mass. Second, he made the sign of the cross to every person while giving out communion. There might be nothing remarkable about those two little acts, but they struck me not only for their supreme reverence, but also because I have never seen anything like it.

Additional Resources

St. Athanasius Fan Page / April 24, 2009

Image Gallery

The Final Word

It’s easy to overlook St. Athanasius, but it’s really a surprising gem. Highly recommended.