Status: Worship site, Roman Catholic
Chelten Avenue and Garnet Street
Philadelphia, PA 19141
Original visit: June 9, 2013
Where Is It?
Chelten Avenue and Garnet Street, right off Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane.
As the Great Purge of 2013 takes hold, it’s quite clear that no parishes are safe, not even the relatively prosperous ones. With the stakes — and the bar for survival — so high, it’s pretty much a death sentence for a lot of the smaller parishes that make up the fabric of our fair city.
St. Benedict, sadly, is one of those churches.
On looks alone, this might not seem like much of a loss. Admittedly, St. Benedict isn’t an architectural treasure. This 1951 edifice is a true tweener through and through. An abundance of faux-marble sheeting, mid-century stained-glass, and, aside from a couple of random murals, pretty plain ornamentation. It has good size and scope, though — if only there were a little more to fill it out.
Pimp My Church: The sanctuary was moved out into the middle of the nave, reducing the seating and turning the old sanctuary into a relic. Blech. A shame, too, because that baldachin is probably the most interesting thing the building has going for it.
Architectural asterisks aside, it’s a nice parish with a lot of nice people. Really, really nice people:
I hope they carry some of that over to St. Athanasius. Oh, sure, at least one mass will continue here for a little while, but we all know that doesn’t mean anything.
Luck of the draw, that’s what. Benedict is just another of the small, not-successful-enough parishes that got swept aside. Or, more accurately, absorbed into their more prosperous counterparts, like a big religious blob.
A shame, too, since the mass I saw was more passionate than most. So passionate, in fact, that the deacon pulled me aside after mass and said:
“St. Benedict’s is *not* closing. Spread the word. We aren’t going anywhere.”
They’ve got cojones, I give them that. But not much else, sadly. Little will change in the short term, but this *is* a closure, no doubt about it. And in time, their weekly mass will give way as the property is ultimately stripped and sold.
That’s life in our new religious reality, where nothing lasts forever.
Like most of Northwest Philadelphia, West Oak Lane isn’t exactly a traveler’s dream. But Ogontz is a somewhat major artery, so that helps.
Safety-wise? Definitely a lot rougher than the property surrounding St. Athanasius, even on a Sunday morning. Nothing to worry about, per se, but definitely something to keep an eye on. Or two.
The parish was having a social function after mass, so there were piles of soft pretzels at the rear of the church, where the Project was sitting. I’ve never attended a mass while being barraged by the smells of fresh soft pretzels, and I hope to never do so again.
“Distracting” doesn’t begin to describe it.
The Final Word
The passion is the real prize here.