By LOU BALDWIN
Special to The CS&T
and CHRISTIE L. CHICOINE
CS&T Staff Writer
Is a suburban parish different from an urban one? Are the challenges of the church in Southampton distinct from the ones in South Philadelphia?
Yes and no, say four priests who have worked at each.
A spanerse mix
Father Anthony J. D’Angelico was pastor of Annunciation B.V.M. Parish at 10th and Dickinson Streets for seven years before moving on to Our Lady of Good Counsel, Southampton, Bucks County where he is completing his seventh year.
“I’ve been happy in both areas,” Father D’Angelico said.
His greatest challenge at Good Counsel is dealing with continued growth and development. Annunciation had 1,400 families and a school of about 200 children; Good Counsel has 3,700 families with 468 school children.
Annunciation, although territorial, had a very strong Italian base and a tradition of Italian festivals. Our Lady of Good Counsel is much more ethnically spanerse; a mixture of Irish, German and Polish and some Italians. In general, his parishioners in South Philadelphia were older than they are in Southampton.
The traditional devotions such as the rosary and stations of the cross were popular in South Philadelphia and they are also popular in Southampton, where there is a well-attended Miraculous Medal Novena and where the rosary precedes the daily 9 a.m. Mass.
But in the younger parish, other forms of worship have caught on too, for instance morning prayer and vespers, which were not part of the routine at Annunciation.
The South Philadelphia parish had both a parish pastoral council and finance council with which the pastor met, but Good Counsel has more groups – and more groups mean a larger pool and spanersity of talents to draw from for the various committees.
Although Annunciation had more senior citizens percentage- wise, Good Counsel, because it is a larger parish, also has a vigorous and active seniors group.
Both parishes have a strong sense of community and a willingness to help families in need.
“Human nature is the same all over the world,” Father D’Angelico said. “There are the same deep, personal needs in Southampton as in South Philadelphia.”
How to retool a parish
Msgr. Edward M. Deliman was pastor of Philadelphia’s Visitation B.V.M. Parish for 12 years before serving as pastor of St. Agnes, West Chester, Chester County, for five and a half years. Three months ago, he returned to the city as pastor of St. Martin of Tours. If there is a common thread throughout his ministry it is that all of his parishes have been territorial, intended for all nationalities, but have all had a very strong Hispanic presence.
“I have always enjoyed Hispanic ministry,” Msgr. Deliman said. There is one difference at St. Martin’s. There is a large contingent of Brazilians whose roots go back to Portugal, not Spain, and this group has taken upon itselfthis group has taken upon itself the responsibility to keep the parish grounds well groomed, Msgr. Deliman said. At St. Agnes, Hispanic presence traces back to the 1960s. He estimates that at St. Martin of Tours, whose huge church dominates Oxford Circle on Roosevelt Boulevard, it’s a recent development.
“The parish is struggling financially and must retool its identity in order to serve a new population, but at the same time reassure people who have been here many years that they have a stake as well,” Msgr. Deliman said. “You give ownership to newcomers, but you don’t disenfranchise those who have been in the parish.”
In some city neighborhoods, people, especially the elderly, are afraid to go out in the evening, which can impact parish liturgies and programs.
“We had people at Visitation who felt that way,” Msgr. Deliman said. “We took a very aggressive stand with the police to make the neighborhood safe. I have always tried to make sure those traditions, such as missions and Forty Hours, are not lost. We cannot be intimidated by neighborhoods. People want to worship, they want to pray well. The priest is called to address that need, whether in the city or in the suburbs.”
Structures of ministry
One-third of Father Roland D. Slobogin’s 36 years in the priesthood have been spent in inner-city ministry.
Since 2004 he has been pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. Prior to that assignment, he had served in Southwest Philadelphia as pastor of now-suppressed Most Blessed Sacrament since 1996 and of St. Francis De Sales after the parishes were twinned in 1999.
Father Slobogin said he administers more sacraments – particularly weddings, baptisms and funerals – in suburban ministry than he did in city ministry. He said he might celebrate as many funerals in one month at St. Charles Borromeo than he did in one year at MBS or St. Francis De Sales.
Whereas St. Charles celebrates five Masses each weekend, the one Sunday Mass at MBS “was the center of their lives during the week,” Father Slobogin said. “It was so important, many of them would come a half hour before Mass.” There, they formed a prayer circle inside the church. After Mass, the parishioners remained at the church for fellowship and parish committee meetings. “It was a full day,” Father Slobogin said.
At the same time, he juggled duties at St. Francis De Sales.
He finds suburban ministry more structured than urban ministry. “Your work comes to you,” he said. “In the city, you don’t have all that structure. Your work has to be out on the streets. You have to adjust to the needs that you’re experiencing.”
Some of the challenges addressed years ago in the inner-city parishes are now slowly becoming part of ministry in the suburbs, he said. For example, the building from St. Charles’ closed parish school is rented by the Upper Darby School District, just as Jefferson Hospital rented MBS parish’s former convent as a home for pregnant mothers who were addicted to drugs.
More parish activities are held during weeknights in a suburban parish, Father Slobogin said, because often in the city “people are afraid to come out at night.” In that regard, serving in a city parish can be isolating, he added. “I learned in MBS, more than any other parish, the importance of prayer,” he said. In lieu of watching television, “I spent many, many hours in the rectory chapel,” he said.
“I think it’s a great experience for priests to serve in the city. It changes a certain perspective of your ministry.”
In city and suburbs alike, the involvement of parishioners points to hope for the future of the Church, Father Slobogin said.
He cited as a recent example the classes his St. Charles parishioners attended as part of the Church’s celebration of the Year of St. Paul. “When you’re looking out at the people and they’re hungering to learn, it’s so beautiful,” he said.
Father Joseph L. Logrip’s 37 years in the priesthood have been spent 50-50 ministering to suburban and inner-city parishes.
Father Logrip became pastor of Mother of spanine Grace Parish in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia in June 2008 after serving as pastor of SS. Philip and James Parish in Exton, Chester County, since 2007. He is also a former pastor of Immaculate Conception B.V.M. Parish in Levittown, Bucks County, and of Mater Dolorosa Parish in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. Last September, he also became the regional vicar for the Philadelphia-North vicariate.
“In the suburbs, there’s the beauty of nature, whereas in the city you have the beauty of neighborhoods,” Father Logrip said. “Here, I am able to walk on my Communion calls. People are out walking the streets, the kids are playing on the corner. There is that almost spontaneous friendliness that exists in a tight-knit neighborhood, whereas perhaps one of the challenges of the suburbs is, it’s so very easy not to know your neighbor.”
At SS. Philip and James, Father Logrip ministered to nearly 3,000 registered families. At Mother of spanine Grace, an Italian personal parish, he serves 700 registered families.
An advantage of the larger SS. Philip and James was that parishioners were provided more parish activities – and an air-conditioned gymnasium and playgrounds onsite to assemble for those activities.
At Mother of spanine Grace, parish school students go to gym class at a community center five blocks away.
While a “happy melting pot of nationalities” was apparent at SS. Philip and James, “here in Port Richmond, we might have within the Archdiocese one of the real centers of the immigration period,” he said. In a 10-block radius, there are five national parishes serving five national groups – Polish, Irish, German, Lithuanian and Italian.
Whether in the city or the suburbs, “as parish priests, we’re there to serve the people,” Father Logrip said.
In return, Catholics continue to support their parish priests “with great affirmation,” he added.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer. CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.