Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Philadelphia, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2018 is a prime example of how parishes can evolve over time to continually serve their congregations. Founded as Italian personal parish, Our Lady of Consolation became a regional parish in 2013 when it was merged with Tacony’s St. Leo the Great Parish. The parish maintains some of its Italian traditions, has adopted some of St. Leo the Great parish’s traditions and has created entirely new traditions as its congregation as grown.
The Building of a Parish
Immigrants from southern Italy began arriving in the Tacony section of Northeast Philadelphia in the early 1900s, attracted by the various industries then located along the State Road corridor. Because virtually all of these new Italian-Americans had limited English skills, as Catholics they sought a place where the proper parts of the Mass could be celebrated in Italian. Initially, they attended Masses at nearby St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum celebrated by Father Cosmo Bruni, the pastor of Mater Dolorosa Parish in Frankford. The Italian Catholics remained at St. Vincent’s until 1917, when Archbishop Edmond Prendergast consented to the erection of Our Lady of Consolation Parish. The founding pastor was Father Alfredo Procopio, himself a native of southern Italy. Father Procopio purchased a lot at Wellington and Edmund streets and quickly had a church built. Surviving pictures suggest it was the lower part of what was intended eventually to have upper and lower churches.
The Congregation Begins to Grow
Ten years later the next pastor, Father Angelo Angelini, purchased ground at Princeton and Edmund Streets. Following the Archdiocesan policy of the time, Father Angelini built a three-story school building. Masses were celebrated on the first floor. The new building was blessed in 1928 just a year before the onset of the Great Depression. The parish debt was $145,000, a huge sum for the time.
A Succession of Dedicated Priests Continue to Grow the Parish
In 1933, Father James Rosica became Our Lady of Consolation Parish’s fifth, and youngest, pastor. The Archdiocese was unsure that the parish should continue to be supported. Father Rosica worked tirelessly to save the parish for over 37 years and is still celebrated as one of its finest pastors. Father Rosica was succeed by Father (later Msgr.) Arthur Centrella who served as pastor for 19 years. Father Centrella succeeded in making the parish debt free for the first time in its history. Many social programs were founded including twice-weekly parish dances and the Feast of the Seven Saints, which was part religious procession and part street fair. The Feast of the Saints procession and festival is celebrated to this day.
Our Lady of Consolation Parish school flourished from 1928 until 2012. For most of its history the school was managed by the Sisters of St. Francis. A number of young graduates of Our Lady of Consolation school ultimately entered the priesthood. Most notable among them is the late Bishop Joseph Cistone, formerly the Bishop of Saginaw, who returned to celebrate the 100th anniversary Mass.
“Our Lady of Consolation is my home parish,” Bishop Cistone commented. “I received all my sacraments there, celebrated my first Mass as a priest there and, the day after being consecrated a bishop, I returned to OLC to celebrate my first Mass as a bishop. Our Lady of Consolation, together with my parents, was the source and nourishment of my faith and my priestly vocation. When I was growing up, the parish was the center of our lives: sports, dances, carnivals, processions and many other religious and community-building activities.”
“The parishioners did not only attend Mass on Sundays, they took ownership of the parish, working hard together to support parish functions and a flourishing grade school. We were blessed with good, dedicated priests whose example of priestly ministry was an inspiration for my own priesthood and what the Sisters of St. Francis of Glen Riddle instilled within us.”
The Parish Continues to Evolve
In 2013, because of the declining number of parishioners at both parishes, Our Lady of Consolation Parish was merged with the neighboring territorial parish, St. Leo the Great. The merger of the two Tacony parishes created a new and vibrant community. Although the Italian-language Masses are no longer offered, parishioners can partake in an Archdiocese-sanctioned weekly Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which draws a small congregation of Catholics from around the diocese who prefer the Meditative for of the Mass. In addition to the English Masses, Our Lady of Consolation now has regularly scheduled Masses, baptisms and weddings celebrated entirely in Spanish, plus new traditions are now celebrated, as the Posadas, celebrated every Advent, and the celebration of the Three Kings, Dia de los Reyes Magos, celebrated on the Epiphany.
Pascual Mota, who is from the Dominican Republic, was baptized but never received his other sacraments until he was received through the RCIA program at Our Lady of Consolation in 2013. Now he is starting his fourth year of the permanent deacon program at St. Charles Seminary. If all goes well, he will become Our Lady of Consolation’s next permanent deacon.
“We have a lot of weddings and baptisms and kids in catechism,” he said. “We get 100 to 115 (people) for Mass with Father Vargas and sometimes Father (Francis) Sariego,” Mota said. “They come from all over, very few are in the parish boundaries. They all have the same story — they went to different places, then came here and they love it. Father Farrell has been outstanding to us.”
Christ Continues to Guide
Our Lady of Consolation Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 22, 2018. This is a prime example of how parishes can evolve over time to continually serve their congregations. The parish maintains some of its Italian traditions, has adopted some of St. Leo the Great parish’s traditions and has created entirely new traditions as its congregation has grown. The parish family remains an active one. The central focus of the parish has always been the living of and passing on of the Catholic Faith. Jesus Christ is the center of the lives of the people. Our Lady of Consolation, if it is God’s will, may celebrate 125 years in 2042.
Baldwin, L. (2017, October 24). From founding Italians to today’s Hispanics, parish sees century of change. Retrieved from http://catholicphilly.com/2017/10/news/local-news/from-founding-italians-to-todays-hispanics-parish-sees-century-of-change/
Chaput, Most Reverend Charles J., OFM.cap. (2013, May 29). Decree of the Merger of Saint Leo the Great Parish, Philadelphia, PA with Our Lady of Consolation Parish, Philadelphia, PA. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia.