If you're planning a trip to Philadelphia, most people think of heading to the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall. Often people consider heading to the suburbs and Valley Forge to the west and Washington's Crossing to the north. All are major landmarks that celebrate American freedom. However, when William Penn petitioned the king for land in the new world, he asked because he wanted religious freedom. Initially wanting a safe haven for the Society of Friends, he declared the colony of Pennsylvania would welcome citizens of all religions. Penn's Charter of Privileges, written in 1701, guaranteed this religious freedom. Pennsylvania welcomed people of all faiths - from the anabaptist Amish and Mennonites to the protestant Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists to the Roman Catholics.
Catholics flocked to Pennsylvania, escaping persecution from Puritan New England and the more Anglican south. Missionary priests traveled through the colony offering Mass, and in 1733, the first Catholic church, now called "Old St. Joseph's" was built in Philadelphia. In 1789, the Diocese of Baltimore (Maryland) was established, because of Baltimore's history as a Catholic city. Within 20 years, the Catholic population in Philadelphia and the surrounding are had exploded and the Diocese of Philadelphia, the second oldest diocese in the New World, was established in 1808. By 1875, the Diocese's importance and population had grown so much that it became Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Today, there are a number of pilgrimage destinations in both the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. From the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul, the clerical seat of the Archdiocese to the suburban shrine to Our Lady of Czestowowa, there are as many places to explore the history of Catholics in the area as there are general American History. All are open to the public (check individual site information for details.)
Within the city of Philadelphia:
Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul - 18th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. With an exterior designed by architect Napoleon LeBrun (who also designed the Philadelphia Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building Tower in New York) and an interior by Constantino Brumudi (known for his fresco work in the US Capitol building), this building on the National Historic Registry is a gem to study regardless of your faith tradition! Construction began on June 29, 1846, feast day of its patron namesakes, and was completed in 1867. It was originally built with windows near the top of the building only to avoid vandalism from anti-Catholic protestors, with lower windows added during renovations in the 1950s. It was the host church to St. John Paul II's visit in 1978, and a delegation from Philadelphia recently traveled to Rome to personally invite Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
2. Old St. Joseph Church -321 Willings Alley, Philadelphia. St. Joseph Church was the first Catholic church in the British colonies and the home for Jesuit circuit priests who ministered to Catholics in mid-Atlantic. When Catholicism was officially outlawed in Maryland by 1718, priests turned to Pennsylvania for a place to openly officiate at Masses. It is the home of the oldest parish in the United States.
3. St. Peter the Apostle Church/National Shrine of St. John Neumann - 1019 N. Fifth Street, Philadelphia. St. John Neumann was the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia and played a major role of in the establishment of the parochial school system. His body (with death mask) is interred in glass beneath the altar table.
4. The National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia - 1166 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. originally a parish for Italian immigrants in South Philadelphia, the Shrine of St. Rita now hosts a well-attended Solemn Novena (nine days of prayer) and Blessing of Roses each May. The patron saint of impossible causes (along with St. Jude), her intercession is particularly invoked by patients with cancer and other difficult illnesses.
5. The Central Association for the Miraculous Medal - 475 E. Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia. This chapel dates back to 1875, when it was built as a worship site at St. Vincent's Seminary for the seminarians and priests for the Congregation of the Mission. In 1912, Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM, of the seminary was charged with raising funds to build another seminary (at Princeton, NJ). In his fundraising pleas, he included a Miraculous Medal and donations were more generous than he dreamed. In thanksgiving, the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM), a society devoted to Mary's interests, was formed and the chapel rebuilt as a shrine to Our Lady. A Perpetual Novena is held each Monday, with a Solemn Novena in November to commemorate The Feast of the Miraculous Medal. There is also a museum of Marian art open to the public by appointment.
In the Philadelphia Suburbs:
1. The Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa ("Ches-toe-hoe-vah") - 654 Ferry Road, Doylestown PA. This was established in 1955 as a way for Polish Catholic immigrants to celebrate their heritage. It began as a small chapel built into a barn, and was quickly outgrown. In 1966, ground was broken for a new, larger shrine. John Cardinal Krol, of Polish descent and the then Archbishop of Philadelphia, stated at the groundbreaking:
"This place will be an expression of our gratitude for all the graces which came to us, and the millions of our countrymen who found themselves in this new Fatherland. We have something to be thankful for. This Sanctuary is an expression and monument of Polonia for our Fathers..."It has been a cultural and religious center for much of the Polish diaspora, and has been visited by many native Poles as well, including two visits from Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in 1969 and 1976. (Cardinal Wojtyla would be elected Pope John Paul II in 1978, and did not visit on his papal trips to Philadlelphia.) The shrine especially celebrates major Marian liturgical feast days.
2. Shrine of St. Gianna Beretta Molla - 625 West Street Road, Warminster, PA. St. Gianna holds a special place in the Canon because she has been canonized as a lay woman. Many female saints have been married and upon widowhood entered religious life. St. Gianna epitomizes the vocation of wife and mother.
The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel - 1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, PA. St. Katharine Drexel gave up her life as a wealthy Philadelphia socialite and began the religious order Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The order dedicated itself to the education of Black and Native American Children. The shrine is on the grounds of the order's first convent. St. Katharine's story is told through artifacts from the people she and her order serve.
Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul
National Shrine of St. John Neumann
National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel
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