Our first stop was St. John the Evangelist Church, also known for a time as St. John's Pro-Cathedral, located at 21 S 13th Street (near City Hall). As a young Priest, future Archbishop John Hughes was its founding pastor, naming the parish for his patron saint, in 1830. Hughes had been an emigrant from Ireland in 1817. His studies for the Priesthood took an unconventional route. Unable to pay his way, he found a job as a gardner at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, eventually went to the college and seminary there. Ordained to the Priesthood in Philadelphia in 1826, Hughes would leave 12 years later after being named coadjutor of New York (It was during Hughes' tenure that "Bishops" of New York because "Archbishops" of NY). But back to the building.
Starting in 1838, St. John's served as the cathedral for the Diocese of Philadelphia. Bishop Francis Kenrick had begun construction of a newer, bigger cathedral (the future Sts. Peter & Paul), but the building would not be completed until 1864. When St. John Neumann was installed as Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, it was at St. John's. When Neumann died in 1860, one funeral Mass took place here, and another at the Redemptorist-run St. Peter's church at 5th and Girard (the current site of the Neumann Shrine). Neumann had been a Redemptorist. Today St. John's is served by Capuchin Franciscans.
Next we walked down Chestnut Street, past Independence Hall, making our way to Old St. Joseph's Church at the
intersection of 4th and Walnut. Founded in 1733, this was the first parish in Philadelphia, having been established by the Jesuits (who still serve the parish). It was from this "home base" that Jesuit Priests travelled throughout New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and western Pennsylvania, in order to provide the Sacraments for the Catholic families that lived there.
Down the block from Old St. Joseph's is Old St. Mary's Church, located at 248 S. 4th Street. This was Philadelphia's second parish, built in 1763 by the Jesuits as a bigger church for Sundays. St. Mary's is rich in American history:
- In 1779, the first public religious commemoration of the "4th of July" was held. At the Mass were George Washington, the Continental Congress, and representatives of the Army and Navy, as well as delegates from Spain and France. Once the United States was a sovereign nation, the first Ambassadors who were Catholic attended Mass here.
- In 1781, following the surrender of the British, a Mass of Thanksgiving was held. Following the Mass, the flags captured at the surrender were laid on the steps leading up to the altar.
- George Washington visited twice. John Adams, at least once.
- The St. Mary's Cemetery around the back is also worth a visit, most especially for the grave of Commodore John Barry, a parishioner of St. Mary's and the father of the U.S. Navy.
Around the corner from Old St. Mary's is Holy Trinity Church, built in 1789 for the Sacramental needs of German speaking immigrants; the first "national" parish. It's located at the corner of 6th and Spruce Streets. Unfortunately the church is closed during the week, so we couldn't get a peek inside.
There were other spots that I found that, though weren't really places to visit, come under the category of "it happened on this spot" places:
- The house in which St. Katherine Drexel was born used to be located at 433 Race Street, the home of Francis and Hannah Drexel.
- After Hannah's death and Francis' marriage to Emma Bouvier, the new couple along with Drexel's two daughters moved to a new home located at 1503 Walnut Street. This was St. Katherine's childhood home that was often opened up to the poor a few times each week.
- St. John Neumann died suddenly, literally collapsing while running errands. According to historical accounts, Bishop Neumann was walking on the north side of Vine Street heading towards 13th Street when he collapsed on the steps of a home owned by the Quayne family.
As summer approaches, Philadelphia is definitely worth at least a day trip. But bring good, comfortable shoes for your day. Nothing was as nice as my train ride home, crossing back into the Garden State with those warm words of welcome...