St. Philip Neri

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Founded: 1840
Constructed: 1841

218 Queen St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Visit its website

Original visit: November 16, 2008

Where Is It?

218 Queen St., in Queen Village.

The Skinny

Back to South Philly? Back to the bane of the Project's existence? Oh, no. Angels and saints, preserve me.

Fortunately, this week’s destination, Queen Village, isn’t deep South Philly. In fact, it’s sometimes not even considered South Philly at all. Its close proximity to South Street and Society Hill means it’s occasionally lumped in with those Center City-ish areas. Personally, I consider anything south of South St. as South Philly, but at the very least this part is less painful than others.

It’s here that we find our target, St. Philip Neri. This parish is actually one of the more historic that Philadelphia has to offer. Founded in 1840, it’s certainly one of the oldest. But it also played a key role in some of Philadelphia’s religious developments.

It was the city’s first free church — meaning that attendees didn’t need to pay for their seats. It was also an unwilling participant in the 1844 Nativist riots, the same riots that burned St. Michael and St. Augustine to the ground. Philip Neri was besieged as well, but was fortunately saved by government intervention before any serious harm occurred.

Despite the history angle, Philip Neri is a church I almost glossed over completely, because...well, face it. Look at that picture. Not exactly inspiring, is it? It wasn’t for me. It kind of doesn’t even look much like a church — certainly the St. Vincent de Paul Effect at work.

However, I had a last second change of heart, and I decided to give the place a chance. It turned out to be a good call on my part, as Philip Neri rates as a surprisingly effective Italian-Renaissance church. Its decor sort of reminds me of another South Philly native, St. Charles Borromeo.

The two share a lot in common, except that Neri utilizes a uniquely reserved ivory-and-white color scheme. Some might find it boring, but I actually like it. It evokes a very classic, classy sensibility, and it reminds you that paintwork doesn’t need to be over-the-top to be effective.

(And, oddly, that seemingly boring exterior design complements the interior design nicely. When is the last time you saw that?)

The setup, also, is somewhat unique. Where a lot of churches alternate the windows and the stations of the cross, Philip Neri uses a paired window and station scheme, where you get two windows, then two stations, then two windows again. Really interesting design choice.

Look for it: Neri is designed in the same bizarrely square shape that we found in Old St. Mary’s.

Did You Know?: While Philip Neri’s building is from the 1840s, the interior décor is from the late 1890s. In 1897, the parish was beset by a fire that spared the exterior but virtually wiped out the interior. A new interior was commissioned and dedicated in 1899. That’s probably why it doesn’t suffer from Old vs. OIder Churches syndrome.

All things considered, a decent time.

How's It Doing?

The good news is that Philip Neri’s attendance and registered population have skyrocketed in recent years.

The bad news is that they now stand in the 200s and 800s, respectively.

Needless to say, that’s really worrisome. Neri is a smaller parish anyway, so it probably doesn’t need a lot to survive, but those numbers aren’t anything to hang your hat on. I’d like to think that the strong historical aspect of the parish is enough to carry it. Hell, if it can carry Old St. Mary’s, it can probably carry Philip Neri.


Travel Tidbits

Queen Village’s proximity to Center City means that parking is a little more haphazard than other parts of South Philly. I found one without too much trouble, but you should give yourself some extra time, just in case.

As for safety, the area, despite the presence of some troublesome projects, is generally regarded as excellent.

Interesting Note

Longtime Project readers may find the name St. Philip Neri familiar. It is; we first encountered it back during our trip to St. Francis Xavier. Frannie’s happens to be home to the Secular Oratory, a community of young adults inspired by — you guessed it — St. Philip Neri. They hold weekly meetings, pray, sing songs, and probably have refreshments. Maybe not church-logo cookies, but refreshments nonetheless.

It begs the question, though, of why an oratory inspired by Philip Neri wouldn’t be established at the parish that bears his name. If anyone from Frannie’s or Philip Neri wants to clue me in, I’m all ears.

Image Gallery

The Final Word

Not a priority, but not a bad trip if you have the time.