By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

Holy Trinity Parish, a German personal parish in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, is closing, but the church will remain open as a worship site of Old St. Mary’s Parish, which is two blocks away.

In Montgomery County, St. Justin Martyr Parish in Narberth is merging with St. John Baptist Vianney Parish in Gladwyne, which is two miles away. The church of St. Justin Martyr will remain open as a worship site of St. John Baptist Vianney.

The closing of Holy Trinity is effective July 1. The merger of St. Justin with St. John is effective June 30.

“As the need for a German-speaking priest has diminished in our own day, the existence of Holy Trinity continues as a witness to our forebearers in faith in the United States,” said Father Paul A. DiGirolamo, parochial administrator of Holy Trinity and pastor of Old St. Mary’s.

Since 2000, the parishes of St. Justin Martyr and St. John Vianney have been twinned, meaning one pastor has served both parishes, but each parish has retained its own canonical identity.

According to Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, regional vicar for Montgomery County, St. Justin has less than 350 registered families and less than 900 registered inspaniduals. In 2008, there were seven baptisms, 12 funeral Masses and no weddings.

“The merging of the parish of St. Justin Martyr with St. John Vianney is very difficult for all those who have built and supported St. Justin Martyr Parish over the years,” said Father Donald E. Leighton, pastor of both St. Justin Martyr and St. John Vianney parishes.

“Since the Church is the people of God, together we will be able to have an ever more vibrant Christian community in the Penn Valley, Belmont Hills and Gladwyne communities,” he added.

“We look forward to the day when the St. Justin Martyr parishioners will feel just as much at home in St. John Vianney Church as they did in St. Justin Martyr Church.”

Parishioners who currently reside within the territorial boundaries of St. Justin Martyr Parish, which was founded in 1964, will become members of St. John Baptist Vianney Parish. The boundaries of St. John’s, founded in 1927, will be extended to include the boundaries of St. Justin, and the sacramental registers of St. Justin will be kept at St. John’s.

Holy Trinity was founded in 1788 at Sixth and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia for Catholics of German descent. It is reportedly the country’s first parish church established to serve a non-English speaking group.

Because of its historical significance, Holy Trinity Church will remain open as a worship site of Old St. Mary’s Parish. The sacramental registers will be kept at the rectory of Old St. Mary’s.

According to the parish’s history, French Catholics took refuge at Holy Trinity after the French Revolution of 1789.

The parish history also states that Holy Trinity opened one of the first Catholic orphan asylums in the country in 1797 for children whose parents succumbed to the yellow fever epidemic.

In 1792, the parish school opened in the basement of the church, replacing the German School House, which the parish history states was established in 1787 or earlier by the German Catholic Society.

Classes were moved to a modern school building in 1866. The school closed in 1952 after the enrollment dropped to 42 students.

Land adjoining the church was converted into a cemetery in 1801.

Art aficionados will appreciate the painting depicting Jesus’ crucifixion that still hangs behind the altar today. It was painted by Francis Martin Drexel, the founder of the Drexel family investing banking firm in Philadelphia and grandfather of St. Katharine Drexel, Philadelphia’s second canonized saint.

For more information about Holy Trinity Parish, call (215) 923-7930. For more information about St. Justin Martyr Parish, call (610) 664-0165.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or