Manayunk: Divine and Dividing Issues

Cardinal Rigali greets the community after Sunday Mass at St. Josaphat's.]

As they struggle with long-term demographic changes and the impact of a new round of clergy abuse scandals, the Catholic parishes of Manayunk warmly welcomed Cardinal Justin Rigali on Sunday.

Cardinal Rigali greets the community after Sunday Mass at St. Josaphat's.

Cardinal Rigali celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Josaphat’s Church and preached a homily that referred  to the problems outlined recently in a Philadelphia grand jury report that led to charges against four priests and one former Catholic school teacher.

“There are many limitations,” Rigali said to the congregation. “There are many sins. There are many weaknesses. And yet, God loves us. But we must also recognize that we are imperfect and that our neighbors are imperfect. It’s not an excuse for not trying over and over again.”

“As Catholics we are hurt and confused and perhaps even quite angry,” the cardinal had said earlier in a statement.  “At this moment, as people of faith we must reach out in compassion and support for one another and for all who are affected by this news.”

In an interview before the cardinal’s visit, Rev. Charles Zlock, the pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Manayunk, acknowledged the challenge of overcoming the allegations and attracting people back into the parish.

Rev. Charles Zlock of St. Mary of the Assumption Church encourages the younger generation to engage in spiritual activity.

He recommended focusing on younger generations.

“We must look across generational divides,” Father Zlock said.  “We’re not offering them anything that enhances their spirituality.”

He said the church needs to adjust in an age of text messages and iPads.

“If your church isn’t on their screen, it doesn’t exist,” Zlock said.  “We are stumbling with this, and but we are looking at it.”

Father Zlock said it is too early to measure what effect the latest abuse allegations will have on parishioners’ connection to the church, but he said, but that Cardinal Rigali’s presence Sunday will bolster confidence.

“Rigali is a shepherd more than anything,” Father Zlock said. “The churches are stable and viable and if we are wise stewards, with a declining number of priests, we are going to address the abuse allegations.”

Manayunk has five Catholic churches, all of which feed into Holy Child Catholic School. Besides St. Mary’s and St. Josaphat’s, they are St. John the Baptist, St. Lucy’s and Holy Family.

Parishioners step into the sunshine after Mass at St. Josaphat's.

Manayunk’s quaint setting and lively scene have lured college students and young professionals to the neighborhood, changing the dynamics of a neighborhood whose working-class families used to be more oriented to parish life.

Responding to the shrinking and aging of congregations, the five parishes joined together to run Holy Child  School.

Mary-Jane Hennessy, the 86-year-old historian of St. Mary’s church, has memories of the place that go back to her childhood days. “I remember getting told to sit up straight,” Hennessy said.  “I remember hoping I wouldn’t have to go here, but I’d miss it when I wouldn’t go.”

Hennessy, a mother of seven children, echoed Father Zlock’s concerns about declining membership due to an influx of youthful residents, but she remains hopeful that young professionals will form families in Manayunk instead of moving to the suburbs.

“People are very dedicated to their parishes,” she said. “If a parish goes down, each church wouldn’t survive.”


  1. Cardinal Rigali, Bevilacqua, and all of the others that committed crimes should go to jail.

    Push the DA to prosecute Rigali for “reckless child endangerment”, since, according to the New York Times in
    he said publicly that there were “no priests in active ministry who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.” He was absolutely, positively, lying.

    Then the grand jury report came out a few days later. If you haven’t read the first 6 pages at you’ll see how horrific child rape still is in the Catholic church, and you’ll see that these priests were allowed to move freely for 8 years.

    As God knows, the truth eventually comes out, and the casual Catholic attitude towards raping children will be the one thing that future generations will think about when they think of the Catholic church. The church no longer controls a large part of the media. Children of the future will read about the Catholic church and wonder what monsters ran it and what types of people would follow them.

    If Catholics don’t rise up and take the church back from the priests, bishops, and cardinals that have destroyed it, it will probably disappear in a couple of generations, since every young person will be so sickened by the practices of child rape, lying, cover-ups, and ignoring the victims, that they will never see the good of the church.

    Prosecute Rigali. Prosecute all of them. Save the church, or God’s going to ask you why you didn’t, and He has eternity to wait for your answer.

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  3. It’s a sad time now for parishioners of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Manayunk with the news being that the parish will be closing on Ash Wednesday A.D. 2012. The parish and its beautiful stone church, built in the architectural style of the Late Middle Age wooden churches of Poland’s southern piedmont (Podkarpacie) region, is a monument to the fervent faith, hard work, and bravery of several waves of Polish immigrants to the hills of Manayunk. One of the brightest stars the parish and one-time parish school had produced was the late Frank Piasecki, founder of Piasecki Helicopter Company and pioneer of the tandem rotor helicopter. His company is now known as the Vertol Division of Boeing Corporation and is based in Ridley Park, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
    We are all very, very sad. This parish should still be thriving. The death knell to both the school and the church was lack of parking and the former regional vicar, Monsignor Francis Beach, who favored his parish, Holy Family, as being the host of the regional school despite St. Josaphat’s facilities being in much better shape, the parking problem notwithstanding.
    Richard M. Popielarz

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