Fishtowners Fight To Save Saint Laurentius Church

Filed under: Faith & Values,Subject Categories |

by Gregory Pacana
In Philadelphia’s Fishtown section, a neighborhood that has seen a significant renaissance over the past decade, there is a war being waged to save a 133-year-old iconic church. St. Laurentius Church, founded in 1882 and located at the intersection of Berks & Memphis Streets, is the oldest Polish Catholic church in the city.

St. Laurentius Church, founded in 1882 and located at the intersection of Berks & Memphis Streets, is the oldest Polish Catholic church in the city.

St. Laurentius Church, founded in 1882 and located at the intersection of Berks & Memphis Streets, is the oldest Polish Catholic church in the city.

In July 2013, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia redesignated St. Laurentius to a worship site, merging it with nearby Holy Name parish. In March of 2014, the AOP in a surprise announcement stated that the church would immediately be closed citing safety concerns and asserting that Saint Laurentius Church was “in imminent danger of collapse.”
Philadelphia’s Dept. of Licenses & Inspection did not reach the same conclusion as the AOP’s engineering firm, O’Donnell & Naccarato. L&I concluded in its inspection report that the church was merely “unsafe” as opposed to “in danger of collapse” and cited several areas where repairs were needed.
Despite skepticism on the part of parishioners and others, the church was immediately closed and has been surrounded by protective scaffolding and retention netting ever since.
Then, in the most-shocking announcement thus far, the Archdiocese announced on Mar. 22 this magnificent church would be demolished, stating the cost to repair and restore it ($3.5 million) far exceeded the cost to demolish it ($1 million). In addition, the building was decertified as a Catholic church and deemed “profane” but not “sordid.”
Ever since the announcement last year by the AOP to close the church, the parishioners of Saint Laurentius and the community of Fishtown have been engaged in honorable war with the AOP in an attempt to save their beloved church.
Their committee referred to simply as, “Save St. Laurentius” and consisting of eight former St. Laurentius parishioners hired a Canon lawyer and filed an appeal with the Vatican in Rome.
In addition, the group recruited the support of some local political firepower in Philadelphia Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Councilman Ed Neilson and Councilman Mark Squilla.
John Masiejczyk is a life-long parishioner of the former St. Laurentius and like many of the parishioners engaged in this fight; his ties to the Polish church go back several generations.
“My grandparents were married in that church, my parents, and many of my aunts and uncles were baptized and received their sacraments in St. Laurentius Church,” Masiejczyk said.
“It’s going to be a very sad day if St. Laurentius Church is torn down. Hundreds of people are praying that we be permitted to use the money that has been raised and pledged to make the necessary repairs to the building and have St. Laurentius re-opened.”
In April, the Save St. Laurentius committee submitted an application to the Philadelphia Historical Commission in an attempt to have the church designated as an “historic site.” Theoretically, L&I is prohibited from issuing a demolition permit without the approval of the Historical Commission. However, there have been instances where buildings designated as “historic” have later gone on to be demolished.
To further muddy things, the Philadelphia Spirit newspaper recently reported the AOP’s engineering firm, O’Donnell & Naccarato, has a past fraud conviction citing a 2006 incident in which O’Donnell & Naccarato misrepresented inspection findings involving a Center City hotel. n 2013, a jury ruled against Naccarato and in favor of the plaintiffs, 46 condominium owners, and awarded the plaintiffs $5 million in damages. The case has since been appealed by Naccarato and is currently in litigation.
Meanwhile the Philadelphia Archdiocese is standing behind O’Donnell & Naccarato and moving forward with its uncompromising plans to demolish this Fishtown church.
The Save St. Laurentius committee thus far has raised over $35,000 in online donations and nearly a half a million dollars in pledges. A petition through has received nearly 3000 online signatures.
Maggie O’Brien is a lifelong parishioner of St. Laurentius and a community leader. Maggie lost her nephew Michael in 2011 in the single biggest loss of life in the US war in Afghanistan. Maggie’s daughter Rose was the last bride to be married in St. Laurentius Church before it was closed.
“St. Laurentius Church is much more than a building to its parishioners. It represents the most-important moments in people’s lives and where those lives begin and end. St. Laurentius is our church, our home, where our minds and spirits are renewed and comforted in times of both joy and sorrow,” O’Brien said.
“We deserve the opportunity the raise the funds necessary to restore and repair this local treasure.”
The relationship between the former parishioners and the Philadelphia Archdiocese has become so contentious that the parishioners formed a “watchdog group” in order to keep a watchful eye on the church, particularly over the Memorial Day weekend.
The group was formed on Facebook and members were recruited to “watch” the church around the clock, 24/7, to ensure that no demolition of either the interior or the exterior of the church could occur.
In the meantime, the community of Fishtown and the former parishioners are anxiously awaiting word from the Philadelphia Historical Commission regarding their application and a response from their legal representative in Vatican City.
To print a letter to send to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and Council President Darrell Clarke, to sign the online petition, or to donate to “Save Saint Laurentius” please visit,

Join over 3.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn how to optimize your blog for search engines, find free traffic, and monetize your website.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.
Share    Send article as PDF   

2 Responses to Fishtowners Fight To Save Saint Laurentius Church

  1. Well wriiten article Greg. Thanks for your efforts.

    June 1, 2015 at 12:27 pm

  2. Let’s Get rid of the cardinal and save St. Laurentius.

    Tony Mosakowski
    June 6, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *