Monday, November 19, 2007

The End of Empire

But a half-century ago, with 3,800 students spread over multiple buildings, Southwest Philadelphia's Most Blessed Sacrament parish was home to the largest Catholic school in the world.

In its heyday, the plant of buildings at 56th and Chester stood as the unparalleled symbol of the church's dominance in the city, the burgeoning heart of one of the most-storied communities the American Catholic project has ever known.

The school closed in 2002... and yesterday, with all of 80 parishioners left, the vaunted MBS saw its final Mass.
The parish began in 1901 in the heart of an Irish Catholic neighborhood. As many as 35-hundred children attended its school at one time. The church itself is a sight to behold: vibrant stained glass windows, oil paintings, ornate detail beneath a vaulted ceiling freshly painted just 6 years ago.

Jim Bell came back to his old neighborhood for today's farewell mass. "It's sad cause it's the end of an era. It's like so many children have come here and gone and now when you come back you see a couple hundred people."

The congregation has dwindled to just 80 members. The heat hasn't worked in a year. The building will now close so the congregation can join another blocks away.

"My heart is heavy today. I have a lot of fond memories of this church. I got married here. I've been here throughout the years," said Diane Reed.

At the end of the service the congregation said a blessing, draped the doors and locked them symbolically, ending 106 years of baptisms, funerals, marriages and masses in a holy place thousands of Catholics have claimed as their spiritual home.
In haler days, it used to be said that "As MBS goes, so goes the church."

And the more things change....