Churches will become worship sites

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Two Philadelphia parishes officially closed July 1, but became worship sites of the parishes with which they were already twinned.

Immaculate Conception at Front and Allen Streets has merged into nearby St. Michael at 2nd and Jefferson Streets. St. Casimir, a Lithuanian personal parish at 324 Wharton Street, has merged into St. Andrew, also a Lithuanian personal parish at 19th and Wallace Streets.

In both cases, Mass and other traditional devotions will continue to be celebrated at the worship sites as in the past, although most other sacraments will be administered only at the surviving parishes.

Immaculate Conception, which has shared the same pastor with St. Michael since 2000, has seen a decline from 429 registered parishioners to 196 in that same period, while St. Michael has grown from 400 to 800. {{more}}

Population has been diminishing at Immaculate Conception for many years, said Msgr. John J. Miller, who has been administrator for both Immaculate Conception and St. Michael. He estimates Immaculate Conception has been getting about 50 worshippers for its Sunday 10 a.m. Mass. The Sunday Mass will continue at Immaculate Conception. “It’s a very beautiful church,” Msgr. Miller said.

The practical outcome of merging the two parishes is administrative, he explained. There will be only one parish pastoral council and finance council instead of two, and other administrative functions will also combine.

Charles Spross, the volunteer sacristan at Immaculate Conception and a parishioner for most of his 84 years although born in St. Michael Parish, said, “I would rather it was still a parish, but we will still have Mass and two collections on Sunday that doesn’t change. People can still be buried there. Even if it did close, I would go to church because I’m a Catholic.”

St. Casimir has seen a decline from 195 parishioners in 2000 to 182 in 2010. St. Andrew has grown from 479 parishioners to 761 in the same period.

St. Casimir has been twinned with St. Andrew for 16 years, according to Father Peter Burkauskas, who has been pastor of both St. Casimir and St. Andrew during that time.

St. Casimir was the mother church for Lithuanians in Philadelphia, dating back to 1893.

“At one time it was really strong,” Father Burkauskas said, noting there was a real influx of people post-World War II, when the pastor, Msgr. Ignatius Valanciunas, sponsored many displaced Lithuanians from refugee camps in Europe.

Now, “you can see the numbers dropping drastically with so many older parishioners passing away,” he said. With St. Casimir becoming a worship site, “we are turning a page,” he added.

He intends to keep the same Mass schedule at St. Casimir, despite the distance between it and St. Andrew. “Thank goodness for I-95,” he said.