St. Nicholas of Tolentine

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Founded: 1912
Construction: 1916

9th & Watkins Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19148

Visit its website

Original visit: April 5, 2008

Where Is It?

9th & Watkins Streets, in...sigh...South Philadelphia.

The Skinny


St. Nicholas is probably the ultimate example of the most hated St. Cyprian Effect: good exteriors, bad interiors. We’ve encountered no other church that has such a disparity between the inside and the outside.

You see, the outside is kind of cool. Not great, but cool — a dark Italian Renaissance-y design highlighted by an oxidized copper trip and steeple. Factor in the 1916 construction date, and you can see why I initially fell for this church.

Inside, though, we get a thoroughly modern design. No crazy sculptures, no amazing paint or brickwork, no sense of grandeur. Instead, there’s dark wood paneling and funky futuristic windows. All it needs is some shag carpeting to complete the effect. Talk about a punch to the gut.

Certainly, this is not the product of 1916 architects. I did some digging and learned that in the 1960s, a zealous pastor by the name of Angelo Allegrini concocted and carried out a total remodeling of the upper and lower churches. No exact reason is given, aside from a desire that, “apart from being beautiful and devotional, the faithful would find them comfortable in both summer and winter.”

You have to admire Father’s Allegrini’s passion, if not his taste. The Project finds this neither very devotional nor beautiful.

Sure, it’s possible St. Nicholas wasn’t very nice to begin with. I’ll make that caveat, because I don’t yet have old pictures of the place. But modern architecture has no place here, especially when it masquerades as a treasure of old.

I’m really starting to dislike South Philly.

How's It Doing?

Pretty well. The vigil mass I attended had a robust turnout, and the overall numbers are in the 600-700-ish range, which is pretty good for an urban parish these days.

It’s All Greek To Me: St. Nicholas was founded to minister to Italian-Americans, and unlike so many formerly ethnic parishes, it actually still does.

Also, the building is in immaculate shape. You could argue there’s not much to decay, but I think I’ve said too much already.

Travel Tidbits

South Philly. :groan:

The area is a little sketchier than what we saw last week, but nothing that should seriously scare you.

Interesting Note

The priest mentioned that they were selling copies of a new magazine devoted to row homes. (Ostensibly as a fund-raising venture.)

A row home magazine? Really? Look, I love row homes as much as the next person, but do we really need an entire magazine devoted to them?

Now, a church magazine on the other hand...

Image Gallery

The Final Word

Do you really need me to say more?