Plan Philly: Under East Poplar’s Golden Dome
It is not uncommon for a church to reach out to its community. Known for its golden dome architecture, the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is no different.
When the church opened in 1966 on North Franklin Street, there were about 1,000 families within the parish. All of the members put the little money they had together to help build the Cathedral. Now, there are around 300 families who belong to the parish, and money is even tighter than before.
Although the numbers have dropped significantly, the church still gets involved with the surrounding area. Father Ivan Demkiv, who has been part of the church for 20 years, said, “We are known in the community. For example, at least twice a year, we have a food collection.”
Members of the congregation have also found a way to help with fundraising for the church. Every Thursday volunteer parishioners sell their homemade pierogis (pyrohy), a popular Ukrainian food, to the local community. “They have cabbage, cheese and potato,” said Sister Evhenia Prusnay. “It’s a big help for the parish because that’s where most of the money comes in, with people buying pierogis. It helps to support the church.”
The church also assists with outside organizations. “We are in a good relationship with the Philadelphia Forensic Science Center,” Demkiv said. “They use our facility if they need it, and we use their parking lot for big events. They even use the church for fire drills.”
Demkiv said the congregation has helped the Philippine church on 5th Street and Girard Avenue by opening up their hall to them for their traditional Santacruzan celebration.
The church holds an annual bazaar which takes place the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and it is open to the community. “Once a year we have our Christmas Bazaar,” Demkiv said. “Because it is the first bazaar in the area, it’s really popular in the neighborhood.” This event has food, gifts, raffles and a Chinese auction.
Even though this event only happens once a year, the church still gets visitors from within and outside the community every day. The Cathedral is connected to the Treasury of Faith Museum at the Sheptytsky Educational Center. Founded in 2002 by Reverend Archbishop Stefan Soroka, it was created to showcase the Ukrainian Catholic faith and its history.
Sister Timothea Konyu said, “The late Pope John II’s greatest desire was to have all the archdioceses in the whole world to have a museum and Archbishop Soroka decided to use this empty school building for the museum.”
Each of the eight rooms at the Faith Museum represents the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America, displaying artifacts, pictures, works of art and replicas. “All of the artifacts are from churches that either closed or new churches were built and the old artifacts from the churches that were closed are brought here to the museum,” Sister Timothea said. “Most of the artifacts are from parishes of upstate Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, some in New Jersey, some in Delaware, mostly on the East Coast.”
The museum is maintained and updated by the Missionary Sisters of Mother of God. Both Sister Timothea and Sister Evhenia work Tuesday through Friday, offering tours throughout the day. They even allow groups to schedule tours over the weekends. “All people are welcome to come to the museum and it is free,” Sister Timothea said.
The Sanctuary Room, located on the first floor, holds many antimensions from different deacons and martyrs. These were used to hold the relics which are crushed up bones from the martyrs. “They were signed with dates, the name of the church and the archbishops’ names,” Sister Timothea said. “The antimensions were then placed on the altar.”
The Liturgical Room has displays of old prayer books, shrouds, crosses and tabernacles. There is also an ancient rosary from Rome made from stone.
On the second floor, there is a room dedicated to the hierarchy and clergy of the church. Photographs, vestments and mitres display the many looks of martyrs, deacons, priests, bishops, metropolitans and Popes of Rome who have helped support the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Although the museum has become an attraction of the church, the most popular piece people come to see is the replica of the Shroud of Turin. Located inside the Cathedral, the body of Christ is imprinted on linen showing that he suffered from physical trauma due to the crucifixion. Coming to the United States from Rome three years ago, the Shroud has been temporarily displayed in many churches around the country.
People tend to be drawn in by the museum, however, the church still gets weekly visitors for Mass.
“It’s mostly elderly people. Young people, today don’t pray much…,” Sister Evhenia said. “This church doesn’t have a lot of parishioners because a lot of people moved from here, but they’re coming back because it’s changing. Hopefully there will be much more in about ten years.”