St. Vincent de Paul

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Founded: 1851
Construction: 1851

Price & Lena Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Visit its website

Original visit: March 30, 2007

Where Is It?

Some back alley in Germantown. Ok, it’s actually the corner of Price & Lena Streets.

The Skinny

Welcome to the Mother Church of Germantown! The Project slides into Germantown with a look at the parish that started it all.

Before I start it all, so to speak, here's a fun tidbit: Once upon a time, the Official Mother of the Philadelphia Church Project used to play guitar at mass here. Somehow, this is a fact I learned only recently. Usually, parents avoid telling their children embarrassing stories of drunken debauchery, but guitar at church? Yes, I can see how that would be shameful.

Anyway, St. Vincent de Paul is a most interesting church visit. There are a lot of very friendly, Fat Girl-esque parishes around this fair city. Parishes where people greet you vigorously, worship passionately, and generally have a ball. 

And then there's St. Vincent.

Sure, they do that, too. But they also congregate in the aisles. They hold hands. They gather around the altar during the Transubstantiation. I had the good fortune to attend the Palm Sunday service, which involved opening the mass outside in the courtyard, and then marching down Price street and back into the church, all while singing and waving wooden sticks with flame-colored streamers attached.

No, I’m not making that up. The whole thing is akin to going to church in the twilight zone.

As for the building itself, in theory it's Italian-Renaissance in design, so there's some beautiful paintwork and murals to be found. Unfortunately, they've gunked it up by embracing some new-age trends, Pimp My Church-style

St. Vincent isn't the worst example you'll see, but they've extended the sanctuary and messed with the seating, and that's more than enough for me. What remains is pretty enough, but for some reason it also doesn't fully like a church anymore. Maybe that's the redesign talking, or maybe it never did in the first place. I don't know.

How's It Doing?

As if the experience wasn't bizarre enough, the really odd thing about the parish, besides the stick waving and hand holding, is that the congregation was almost entirely Caucasian. That in and of itself wouldn't be unusual, except that St. Vincent’s is in the middle of Germantown, an area that's not usually known for such things.

That leads me to believe that this church is like a cult — it attracts people from all over the Philadelphia area. To test this theory, I tailed two of the parishioners home. (Discreetly, of course). Sure enough, they didn't live in Germantown.

That said, if a church can attract a clientele from out of town, it’s doing something right. The Archdiocese must feel the same way, since, with the 2012 closings of Immaculate Conception and St. Francis of Assisi, it's handing St. Vincent the reigns of Germantown.

Not necessarily a choice I would make, but no one bothered to check with me. At the very least, it'll ensure this church sticks around a while.

Travel Tidbits

The church’s address puts it at the corner of Price & Lena, but I wouldn’t venture down Lena, since it’s little more than a really, really shady alley.

Despite the fact that it’s on a side street in Germantown, it doesn’t seem particularly unsafe. You never know with that area, but hey, if you can march down it with wooden poles, it can’t be that bad.

Interesting Note

I can't possibly come up with anything to top what you just read.

Additional Resources

The Closer Comes to Germantown / April 15, 2012

Mailbag 7 / August 6, 2009

Artifacts for Sale / February 14, 2009

Image Gallery

Images taken 2007. Click to enlarge!

The Final Word

Not the most physically impressive church, but it’s worth checking out if you want some charismatic cream with your Catholic coffee.