St. Francis de Sales
Status: Active, Roman Catholic
Also Known As: de Sales, St. Francis
47th Street & Springfield Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Original visit: August 11, 2007
Where Is It?
47th Street & Springfield Avenue, in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia.
St. Francis de Sales is not only one of the angles of the Francis Triangle, but it's also a most remarkable church, and one of the best ones Philadelphia has to offer. It boasts a unique, Byzantine-style design based on Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, with white brick construction and a large emphasis on circles and domes. Inside, it’s a veritable tour-de-force, with a breathtaking open expanse highlighted by soaring arches and vaults, and intricate brickwork.
Indeed, its brick decor reminds you somewhat of Immaculate Conception and, to a lesser extent, St. Martin of Tours. It even uses the same red-gold color scheme that Immaculate does, and even if it doesn’t quite match the former’s vastness, it bests it in ornamentation, adding intricate molding on those arches and vaults. And, it features an altar that’s one of the best of we’ve seen.
Boasting a unique, world-class design, this place is a real knockout.
Fun fact: The Ukranian Catholic Cathedral is also based on Hagia Sophia, although, unfortunately for them, far less successfully. In the battle of 1907 vs. 1966 church construction, 1907 will win every time.
How's It Doing?
This parish has a colorful past. As the West Philadelphia location might indicate, it’s seen some tough times as the neighborhood around it has fluctuated. There was even some concern back in the 1990s that it might have to close.
That said, things have significantly turned around this parish. The gentrification of University City has spurred an influx of new blood into the neighborhood, the 2008 closing of Most Blessed Sacrament has solidified its presence as the go-to West / Southwest Philadelphia parish, and it's also finishing up a long-term, extensive repair and renovation to the property.
How long-term? It had already started during our initial 2007 visit, and, well, it's just now ending. Huzzah!
The Outsider's Edge: The return of the Outsider's Edge! This time it wasn't our very presence that drew attention, bur rather, our post-mass wandering. The two ushers, Harold and Usher X (Not his real name, obviously), spoke to us enthusiastically about the parish and their efforts at renovation. Sadly, there were no gift bags, but it was nonetheless a pleasant experience.
I’m not a fan of driving around West Philly, although University City is fairly interesting. The church is pretty easy to find, and it’s even easier to park.
Area is ok. You're sort of in a frontier zone between the gentrification and the...err, wilds beyond, so to speak, so in places the neighborhood can seem a little rundown. Generally, though, it's nothing that should worry you for a visit.
St. Francis de Sales has its own page on Wikipedia. Oh yes, that’s correct. Wikipedia. You can find it here. Not that it isn’t deserving of the attention, but most local parish churches don't rate their own articles.
Hmmm, maybe the Project should get a piece of this action.
The Final Word
Another one of Philadelphia’s great churches, St. Francis de Sales reminds me why I started this darn project. Simply stunning.