Celebration of “Little South Philly Cathedral”


One hundred and twenty-five years is an impressive milestone, but St. Gabriel Parish of Grays Ferry has no plans to stop anytime soon.

Dipping its toes into three different centuries and having an origin dating back to 1895 when Grover Cleveland was president, St. Gabriel Parish has stood in South Philadelphia as a beacon for Irish Catholic worshipers for generations.

The foundation of the church which is at 29th and Dickinson Streets is said to have been carved out by immigrant parishioners, who volunteered after shifts at large neighboring industrial companies like the Atlantic Refining Company and Harrison Brothers Chemical Companies, which was later bought by Dupont.

Designed by Frank R. Watson, the church was completed in 1905 and embodies the distinctive features of Gothic architecture. It has been called the “Little Cathedral of South Philly” and known as a treasure among locals.

“The parish was founded to truly provide for the needs and religious support of so many families who had settled in this area and worked in factories and factories,” said Reverend Frank Foley, a native of North Philadelphia. who is the new pastor in Saint-Gabriel. “People were flocking to this area. This area was an Irish pocket. Very quickly, the parish grew by leaps and bounds.

Saint-Gabriel is celebrating his 125th anniversary this year as he now reaches the great age of 126. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the postponement of the official stage and the church has decided to postpone the party for a year until 2021.

On October 24, St. Gabe’s will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the parish with a noon mass, followed by a reception and dinner at 3 pm at the Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building at 100 East Penn Square. Tickets cost $ 100 each and include parking, beer, wine, dinner, and dancing.

“We also have nine people and entities that we honor from the parish,” Foley said. “And then there’s dinner and dancing so it’s going to be a great time. We’ve sold over 300 tickets so far.

The recipients are the Reverend Michael J. Lee. O. Praem, Bro. Doug McKay, Bill Shea, Barbara Gillespie, Basil Merenda, Bob Scott, Claudine Colmon, George Sumner and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lee and Shea will be honored posthumously.

“Father Lee served here as a pastor and passed away last year,” Foley said. “And Bill Shea had a corporate service in front of the church and was universally loved. For both, their families will be present and receive their prizes. “

The parish will look back on the good times of 126 years while recognizing the tough ones. Saint-Gabriel has certainly faced its share of hurdles over the years when the neighborhood has suffered from divestment, drugs and racial tensions.

“I think the last 40-45 years have been tough for the region,” Foley said. “I think we often had the feeling that people felt abandoned by institutions. But they really want to know that there is a future and that is positive and I believe in the grace of God that there is a future and we are going to build on that.

Saint-Gabriel survived while other nearby Catholic parishes closed their doors. King of Peace and St. Aloysius both merged with St. Gabriel and are recognized with banners in the church.

Foley is new to South Philadelphia and recently became the fourth pastor of the parish in the past eight years. He sees similarities with other parishes he has served in the city.

“I grew up in North Philly where there were only townhouses where you could walk around town and you knew your neighbors and that’s exactly the way life is in Grays Ferry,” a- he declared. “I feel like God has put me where my talents can be used and I feel like I’m back home.”

He wants to use these talents to grow St. Gabriel.

“I want this to be my last assignment,” Foley said. “I want to be here for the duration, which hopefully is quite long. I am excited for this and I am humbled and honored and I hope things will continue to grow with the grace of God. Saint-Gabriel is a large parish with a glorious past and a bright future.

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