‘We’re all going to have to pray together’

Rev. William E. Grogan outside of All Saints Parish, in Bridesburg, which will close July 1 as part of a merger. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

A region-wide restructuring of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia will greatly affect the River Wards.

Archbishop Charles Chaput recently announced that All Saints and St. John Cantius parishes will merge July 1, with All Saints closing and functionally moving down the street to St. John Cantius. The newly combined parish will retain the name of St. John Cantius Parish.

Holy Name of Jesus Parish, 701 Gaul St., and Saint Laurentius Parish, 1608 E. Berks St., will merge on July 1 into Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Philadelphia.

Saint Laurentius, founded in 1882, was the first Polish church in Philadelphia.

The Rev. Joseph J. Zingaro, of St. John Canitus Parish, 4415 Almond St., will be Pastor of the new Holy Name of Jesus Parish. Saint Laurentius School, 1612 E. Berks St., will remain the same.

The Sanctuary at St. Laurentius Parish will remain available as a worship space for special events. Also, the Rev. Francis A. Gwiaza of Saint Laurentius will retire and reside at Villa Saint Joseph in Darby.

Additionally, The Rev. Richard P. Connors, Parochial Vicar of Nativity B.V.M. Parish, 2535 E. Allegheny Ave., will leave Nativity B.V.M. July 1 to become Pastor at Saint David Parish, in Willow Grove.

The merged St. John Cantius Parish in Bridesburg will be led by the Rev. Thomas A. Nasta, currently Pastor of Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother Parish in Stowe, Pa., the Archdiocese announced Sunday.

“Five feet away from the church, I can see all four edges of my parish at the same time. You can get your arms around the whole thing, which is great,” said the Rev. William E. Grogan, of the view of All Saints Parish from Thompson and Buckius streets.

“But the flip side of that is a small change can tip the scale away from sustainability,” Grogan said.

From 2007 to 2011, All Saints Parish, which was founded in 1860, has seen its weekend mass attendance slip from 344 to about 245 parishioners. Saint John Cantius Parish, which was founded in 1898, has seen its weekend mass attendance rise from 600 to 635.

Grogan said that the increasing cost of upkeep and maintenance to All Saints Parish, coupled with the diminished attendance, contributed to the archdiocese’s decision.

But some neighbors of All Saints are concerned about the prospect of the parish buildings being left vacant. All Saints’ church, rectory, school, and graveyard take up most of the block on Buckius Street between Thompson and Edgemont streets.

“It’s going to be a deteriorating building,” said neighbor Michelle James. “I’m just afraid of what’s going to happen to the neighborhood now … We don’t want to see it empty.”

James said that after the All Saints School closed, it was vandalized and a few windows were broken.

But some locals are optimistic that the merger is a positive move.

“I think it’s a tremendous move,” said Raymond Panczewksi, 82, a Bridesburg native who lives down the block from All Saints Parish but attends St. John Cantius. “All the parishioners from that church [All Saints] are going to go to that church [St. John Cantius], and then they’ll have a whole church. … I can’t see where it can’t work out, as long as people want to go to St. John’s.”

But another St. John Cantius member, Maryann Gracie, wasn’t so sure the merger will make a difference.

“There’s not enough parishioners to keep both open,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to go over [to St. John Cantius]. Eventually, we’ll have no church.”

Rev. Joseph Zingaro of St. John Cantius Parish, which offers services in English and Polish, did not respond to calls for comment about the merger.

Grogan said that the All Saints graveyard will remain a graveyard for the foreseeable future. All Saints Parish will remain open as a site of worship for the time being for funerals, weddings and other private services. The rectory, school and church buildings may eventually be leased or sold.

But Father Grogan stressed that the merger is not a “win-lose” situation.

“We need to make a single whole family out of these communities. We’re all going to have to figure out a way to pray together,” Grogan said.

Both Grogan and Zingaro will be leaving Bridesburg for newly merged parishes, with Grogan headed to Holy Cross Parish in Mt. Airy, and Zingaro to Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Northern Liberties. ••