St. Elisabeth’s, Philadelphia (1928)

By Louis C. Cadwallader

SO MANY distressing rumors have been floating around the country with regard to the destiny of the historic parish of St. Elisabeth, Philadelphia, that I offer no apology for requesting you to insert this article in order to reassure the thousands of your readers who knew and loved both the church and the saintly priests who have ministered in the past.

The facts appear to be as follows: On the resignation of Father Ward, the vestry felt that, owing to the loss of membership through removals, the influx of foreign-born to the exclusion of the old parishioners, and other causes, they were unable to continue to carry the financial burden of the parish and executed a deed conveying the property to the diocese under certain conditions. The diocese has long felt the need of an adequate center for social and religious work among the immigrant population and decided that in the parish buildings of St. Elisabeth they had an ideal position for the work. They decided, therefore, that the parish should be used for this purpose, and at the same time determined that the standard of ritual and Churchmanship associated with the parish should be rigidly maintained and the habits and traditions so dear to the remaining members of the church be respected as far as possible.

From various sources the rumor spread among the congregation and through Catholic circles throughout the country that the church was to be turned into an Italian mission with an Italian priest; that English services were to be discontinued, and the whole fabric of Catholic worship swept away and destroyed. I desire to impress upon your readers that these reports are absolutely unfounded.

The new priest-in-charge was selected by the Bishop partly on account of his unrivalled knowledge and experience among the foreign-born. He knows their languages, their psychology, their social side, and their literature. He was furthermore selected after consultation with and with the cordial approval of the leaders of the Catholic party in the diocese.

I have recently made an independent investigation of St. Elisabeth, in order to satisfy myself as to the truth or otherwise of these statements, and in justice to Bishop Garland and as a tardy act of reparation for my own action in accepting them I desire to make the results as public as possible.

During my first visit to the church, I found a small congregation hearing Mass in an unknown tongue. I found that they were Ukrainians, who, coming into the city to sell their farm and garden produce, are provided with the services of their Church in their own rite and language. These people were ministered to by Father Crosby in his last parish and have followed him into the city in order to make St. Elisabeth their spiritual home. On subsequent visits I saw Father Crosby dealing with Greeks, Slavs, Russians, and people of whose nationality I had never even heard. He seemed to be general adviser, doctor, lawyer, and priest. I talked to the one or two young people loitering in the street near the church and found that already they are looking forward to the new scheme of juvenile work already in tentative working order. The whole atmosphere of the Church is redolent of vigor, life, and hope, in distinction to the air of gloom and depression that permeated it a few weeks ago.

A few things he said struck me so forcibly that at the risk of undue length I am passing them on to your readers. The gist of his remarks were as follows: This is a Catholic parish and thanks to Bishop Garland’s wise foresight and sympathetic attitude will remain one. Now is the first chance for the Catholic party to support a definite Catholic foreign-born mission and show what they can do. If the Catholics had supported Father Ward in a practical manner and talked a great deal less, the parish would never have become a diocesan mission. Now is their chance; they are writing letters from all over the country expressing their concern about St. Elisabeth, now let us see what they will do.

We do not want much money; once we get started, if the mission cannot support itself, we have failed. The diocese has promised to repair the parish house and the church. The parish house is practically in ruins through dirt and neglect. We have a comprehensive scheme of work which is all ready to start as soon as we have the means to do it.

The diocese is paying the salary and putting the place in repair. If we are to revive the full glory of the services of the Church, we must have Catholic support. We have no organist, no janitor, no choir, no altar boys. If I can raise $3,000 to put us on our feet I have every confidence that we can revive. I am too busy to go out begging. It is the business of the many friends of St. Elisabeth to prove their friendship by coming to the church and helping us. We need prayers, we need voluntary workers, we need a parish visitor.

In conclusion may I appeal to the Catholics of Philadelphia to rally round St. Elisabeth and its priest? Go and see him and the work—see the conditions and what they are trying to do. Attend occasionally the services in the church—if you can spare the time give an hour or so to work among the boys and girls. There is work for all. Let us thank God that St. Elisabeth instead of being a cause for despair bids fair to become a center of Catholic teaching and a beacon of light among those alien brethren in Christ who can only be reached by this church of ours with its sacraments, its Catholicity, and its Americanism.

The Living Church, December 1, 1928, p. 168.

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