Status: Worship Site, Roman Catholic
240 Fitzwater Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Original visit: March 20, 2011
Where Is It?
The Project gets some southern hospitality by once again traveling down past Philly's own Mason-Dixon line, South Street. This time our mission takes us to the former Polish national parish of St. Stanislaus. It closed in 2006, but had the good fortune to survive as a worship site for nearby St. Philip Neri. The church gets a surprising amount of work, but only holds one Sunday mass — 9:30 a.m., bright and early.
Who's with me?
Stanislaus is kind of an odd building, and for that we can thank its roots as a Protestant church. Instead of building new, the parish simply purchased a Protestant church and retrofitted it. Kind of like St. Andrew, only this building didn't pull from the Catholic playbook quite as heavily.
The result is an uninspired, forgettable exterior, and a strange bit of organization. The church is actually on the second floor. The first plays host not to a lower church, but to a small chapel, some meeting rooms and assorted other administrative fare. To get to the church, you have to take one of two flanking side staircases.
Very much like St. William, come to think of it, although at least St. William had the good sense to put a lower church on the ground floor.
Once you get up into the actual church, you're treating to a fairly respectable Polish design. The Project, as you know, has nothing but love for the old Polish designers. Because whether they need to work big or small, expensively or on the cheap, they always bring the awesome. Hell, even their tweeners are things of beauty.
Here, they're saddled with a weird building, but they still manage to concoct a pretty if basic decor. Columned and non-cruciform, it features a predominantly blue and gold scheme highlighted by some nice mural and molding work. The three-dimensional stations of the cross and the oversized organ are also highlights.
Sure, the windows are an odd blend of pictorial and pattern, and the wood-panelled, rec-room feel of the foyer is distracting. And yes, everything here has been done better, bigger and badder in other Polish churches.
At the end of the day, though, for what they had to work with, everything comes off pretty well. It will never dethrone the likes of St. Adalbert for Polish excellence, but it's nice.
Look for it: The stations of the cross are paired, but the windows are not. Usually if one is paired, the other is, too.
Look for it, Part 2: This is the first Polish church to feature an Italian-Renaissance scheme instead of a Gothic one. Every Polish church we've seen so far has been Gothic, so it's unusual to see one that isn't. Probably a design choice necessitated by the building itself.
How's It Doing?
What I said about St. Philip Neri still holds true. It's small, but hopefully there's enough historical significance to keep it in business. Neither church building is exactly grade-A material, but both deserve to stick around.
For what it's worth, Stanislaus does what it can by offering fresh coffee and donuts after mass, Protestant style. Won't change the world, but it's a nice touch.
You know what the Project was missing during all our previous trips to South Philly? A GPS unit. The new Official Car of the Philadelphia Church Project, which made its debut last month for St. Mark, happens to have one. Makes a big difference when careening around narrow, one-way streets. Now, yes, Queen Village isn't quite the same as deeper parts of South Philly, but progress is progress.
As for parking, Stanislaus does have a lot, but be forewarned that the numbered spots toward the back are private condo parking, so avoid them like the plague. If the spot's not numbered, you should be fine.
While doing my usual touristy photography routine, a parishioner approached me with the following:
"Are you that guy who blogs about churches?"
"Yeah, you know, there's a guy who goes around visiting churches and writing about the history and stuff."
Mark down this date, Project fans. It's only taken nearly 100 churches, but people have finally figured out what I'm doing and caught me in the act, so to speak.
Ah, the downside of fame.
The Final Word
There are far worse ways to spend an hour.