St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi
Status: Worship Site, Roman Catholic
714 Montrose Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Original visit: December 23, 2007
Where Is It?
714 Montrose Street in Bella Vista.
Bella Vista's St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi has had a rather storied history. As the first Italian national parish in the U.S., and the former home of the Delaware Valley’s largest Italian population, this particular church is a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission landmark, complete with an official blue and gold sign.
Mary Magdalen might not be the first church I would designate as a landmark, but there’s no denying it’s strikingly pretty. We get another collection of murals a’plenty surrounded by a blue and pink color scheme, but here it’s bolstered by stunning gold trim and reddish / pink marble.
The church isn’t that large, although the smart use of pillars and vaults gives it the appearance of being much bigger. The real surprise here is that this church features not one but two balconies, which the Project has never seen before. The lower one is for seating, and the top one holds the typical organ and choir loft. It’s rather remarkable.
Most likely due to the usual changing / shrinking demographics, Mary Magdalen ceased being an official parish in 2000. Since then it’s been used as a worship site by neighboring St. Paul, who celebrates mass here once a week. Not in Italian, though, so, you know — It's All Greek to Me!
Paul itself is struggling with attendance and financial issues, and as that parish goes, so too does St. Mary Magdalen. And as South Philadelphia currently undergoes its own pastoral planning initiatives, both churches could find themselves in an uncomfortable position.
You know what I should do? No? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.
I should have all my previous South Philadelphia travel rants on AutoText, so I can just fill this section in without too much work. Really, I haven’t seen anything that greatly distinguishes one trip from another.
I should mention that this church was a little easier to find. Not easy. Just easier. I still cursed, but a little less than usual.
Like most Italian-y parishes, Mary Magdalen has a ton of statues. Luckily I remembered to leave my Jesus costume at home, or else you would never have heard from me again.
The Final Word
The Project approves.