Status: Active, Roman Catholic
11th & Master Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Original visit: February 10, 2008
Subsequent visits: May 15, 2014
Where Is It?
In the barren wasteland of North Philadelphia. What, not specific enough for you? Ok, try 11th & Master.
West Poplar's St. Malachy, you might remember, is one of the lone intact survivors of the infamous North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction.
I'm not entirely sure why Malachy was spared and other parishes were swept under, but regardless of the causes, Malachy is here, the Project is here, so how about we do some churching?
St. Malachy is one of the rare instances of Pimp My Church being done in a positive manner. The decor you see today dates back to 1900, when the parish decided their original 1852 design no longer suited such a growing, prominent parish (being the home parish of Bishop Prendergast and all). So, they hired one Henry Dagit (he of the Transfiguration and St. Francis de Sales fame) to revamp the place, Byzantine-style.
The resulting masterpiece is a church that's really kind of unassuming, especially from the outside, but one with tremendous staying power. In keeping with the parish's strong Irish roots, you have a lot of green and gold tiling, some masterful molding in and around the ceiling, and windows that are among the best we've seen. Ironically, there's no longer any definitive record of who actually did the windows, but the parish believes it to be the Mayer Company of Munich, Germany — the same company who did the mosaic tile panels in the apse, and the mosaic tile stations of the cross.
Look for it: The green- and yellow-spiral altar rail, which is instantly my new favorite altar rail. Yes, I have a list of favorite altar rails. No, that's no weird.
Anyway, if I had my pick of North Philly parishes to save, this probably wouldn’t have been one of them. That's not as much a knock against Malachy as it just a testament to the sheer number of treasures that the North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction claimed. That said, though, I'm glad this church still stands, because it's lovely in almost every way.
How's It Doing?
Sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands, you know?
By the numbers, this place doesn't look very good. 200ish weekly attendance figures, and only one Sunday mass (and no vigil)? Yikes.
Yes, the building is in good shape, and yes, they still support a robust parish school, and yes, their alumni and sister parish (Saint Isaac Jogues in Wayne) support puts most to shame. And yes, in some ways Malachy is something of a Magnet Parish, as there are no longer any other viable parishes anywhere nearby.
But when it comes down to what is often a numbers game for the Archdiocese, you have to feel a little nervous. I hope the support and passion around this "Beacon of Hope in North Philadelphia" is enough, because this is exactly the kind of community the AD should be building around.
Sunday morning is the only time Broad Street isn’t a complete nightmare, which is good because it’s the preferred method for getting here. Malachy does have a lot, too, although there’s also copious street parking.
The area isn't the greatest, but far from anything that should give you serious pause.
Maybe the most interesting Interesting Note we've ever had:
The grandson of the builder of St. Malachy's organ, Jack Norworth, wrote the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Yes, that "Ballgame."
Images taken May 2014.
The Final Word