Dedication of Saint Gabriel Church, October 2, 1904. Solemn Mass of Dedication (Coram Episcopali) Archbishop Patrick J.Ryan officiated and presided at the Mass.
Recently I came across a website, http://phillychurchproject.com .The site, Philly Church Project highlighted the various Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that are in particular need of architectural preservation and attention. I was quite please to note that my own home parish of Saint Gabriel in the city’s Grays Ferry section was mentioned as one that requires preservation and attention.
The more I explore the topic of Catholic art and architecture, the more I seem to uncover regarding places that are in need of not only preservation of important architectural features…but also restoration of these same features that have often been neglected, mutilated or just plainly destroyed.
That is not to say that everything out there is a superlatve example of art and architecture…it isn’t. However, it seems there is a unique opportunity for Catholics to take “inventory” of our local parishes and make note of the important historical points of local architecture before those points are forgotten, misplaced, altered or even destroyed by well meaning good intentions.
While the demographics of American Catholicism is shifting away from the traditionally large cities, these “brick and mortar” examples of 18-20 century Catholicism are often left as isolated testaments to the legacy of the great period of American immigration and Catholic expansionism. Sadly today, these buildings are incredibly difficult and expensive to heat, cool, maintain and repair. For these reasons it is so important to rely the generosity of others to keep these temples in a viable condition. If indeed they cannot be preserved, then every effort should be made to keep a photographic and historical image of the parish community as it exists and formerly existed in our sacramental memory.
I am always fascinated when reading through a parish history of Saint Gabriel Church from the 1940′s. The photographic representations present in the anniversary books that celebrate this Catholic parish are quite honestly precious time capsules that capture every aspect of American life and Catholic culture as they unfolded through the parochial parish experiences. Not only are these parish histories great tools of research but they also show us clearly the journey of spiritual development our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have experienced in our Catholic faith.
Remarkably in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia the archives housed at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary contains quite an impressive colletion of these parish histories that recall the vivacious life in 19th and 20th century Philadelphia Catholicism.