On Sunday, July 1, Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated a 25th anniversary Mass for Our Lady of Hope Parish at their beautiful church on North Broad Street in Philadelphia.
But then again, Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated a 100th anniversary at Our Lady of Hope in November 2009. How can that be?
It’s complicated. The original name of the parish was Holy Child, founded in 1909. In 1993, the parishes of Holy Child, Our Lady of the Holy Souls, also founded in 1909, and St. Stephen, founded in 1843, all merged into a single parish at Holy Child with a new parish name, Our Lady of Hope.
One supposes you could say it is 175 years old if you trace back to the founding of St. Stephen.
But a 25th anniversary of Our Lady of Hope it is — although the parish bulletin gives a bow to its roots calling itself Our Lady of Hope Parish at Holy Child Church, which according to canon law (canon 1218) is actually correct. A parish itself might change its name but the church building technically should not.
Our Lady of Hope’s pastor, Father Efren Esmilla, also celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest, and the parish he leads is remarkably diverse. The founding Irish and German families have almost all moved away, but today’s congregation of about 1,100 is mostly resident African American. They are joined by a sizable number of Hispanics and Filipinos who travel into the Logan neighborhood of North Philadelphia.
Easily one of the most beautiful churches in Philadelphia, as Holy Child it was often visited by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who may someday be canonized a saint. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, stopped into the church during a 1936 visit to Philadelphia.
A favorite place for quiet prayer is the unique adjoining shrine to the Holy Child with its elaborate diorama of the Nativity.
“We have about 350 attending our weekend Masses,” Father Esmilla said. “Mass attendance is good. We are continuing our mission of sharing the faith. We do have some parishioners from the time it was Holy Child Parish, but they come a distance.”
Although Our Lady of Hope does not have its own school any more, the kids go to St. Veronica or St. Helena. High schools students might go to Roman Catholic or Archbishop Wood, with some going to the Cristo Rey School which occupies the building of the former Holy Child School.
“Our students get high honors,” Father Esmilla said.
Bill Fox and his wife Catherine are suburbanites, but often come into the city to attend Mass at Our Lady of Hope because they fell in love with the place. Bill serves on the Finance Committee and is an active supporter of the Cristo Rey School.
“We love the diversity and have become very friendly with the people,” he said. “We simply enjoy it and it as a good place to come to.”
One parishioner, now elderly who well remembers Holy Child School, is Lenora Champagne, the widow of former Permanent Deacon Bill Champagne. “It’s a wonderful parish,” she said.
All five of their children went to the parish school. “They were well educated and went on to college,” she said.
The school was then conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. While they are no longer there the convent they occupied is now a temporary residence for a group of recent immigrants, mostly from Africa. It is a collaborative program of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the parish, according to Sister Gertrude Borres, a Religious of the Assumption who is director of Parish Evangelization and Social Ministry at Our Lady of Hope.
“We are a eucharistic community and we have respect for all cultures,” she said. “Our overall theme is ‘One God, One Parish, Many Cultures, Dedicated to Service.’”
That motto certainly reflects the headlines of the day and gives one food for thought.
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