By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PENNSBURG – May 26, the Feast of St. Philip Neri, is always special at St. Philip Neri Parish, Pennsburg, but this year it was especially so. On that evening Bishop Daniel E. Thomas officially blessed the parish’s new shrine to St. Philip, where a recently acquired first class relic of the 16th-century “Apostle of Rome” can be venerated.

“We got it last June, we moved it to a beautiful shrine in the vestibule (narthex),” said Father Robert A. Roncase, St. Philip’s pastor.

Such relics, in this case a bone fragment, are not easily obtained, and it must be for a church not an inspanidual, Father Roncase explained. The original idea was his, and through a parishioner who knew a Vatican official the procedure for requesting it was obtained. He wrote a formal request for a relic and this was forwarded by Cardinal Rigali to Rome. In time, the relic came back through the Papal Nuncio to the Cardinal, and ultimately to the parish.

The shrine that has been constructed for it is in the center of St. Philip’s narthex in a glass-enclosed area where the baptismal font, which is now in the church proper, was formerly located.

The relic itself is in a large reliquary atop a marble centerpiece, and the shrine also features two stained-glass windows from St. Philip’s original church. They depict St. Philip Neri and St. Aloysius, the latter hearkening to part of the parish’s early years as a mission served by St. Aloysius, Pottstown. There is also a new circular mosaic of St. Philip, which was executed in Italy, the saint’s home country.

“Everyone thinks it is really beautiful and a great thing to have. Father Roncase worked very hard to get this relic,” said parishioner Doris Decker. “The whole Mass was very moving, very spiritual and Bishop Thomas gave a great homily.”

The Mass and shrine blessing were part of the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the canonical erection of St. Philip as a parish. The worship community traces back to a mission chapel established in 1889 for the mostly German Catholics who settled in the area, which was served in successive periods by priests from Blessed Sacrament Parish, Bally; St. Aloysius and St. Eleanor, Collegeville. The present church was dedicated in 1968.

As part of the celebration there was also a parish dinner and the annual parish carnival.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.