Polish Heritage Association from Fishtown to march in the Pulaski Parade Sunday, October 2. A bus will leave from Berks Street and Tulip Streets at 11AM. Our division is marking the 134th Anniversary of the founding of the historic St. Laurentius community. Members and friends of this community and St. Laurentius School Alumni are encouraged to participate.
Time and space make it impossible to summarize the now 5-year battle between the parishioners of St. Laurentius and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is a battle that my family has gladly participated in and, to some extent, helped lead. At many turns, this battle has forced us to accept scorn from some long-time friends and neighbors who don’t recognize that we are just trying to preserve the same things for our family that they enjoyed when they raised their children.
Many within the AOP hierarchy view us as enemy number one, despite the fact that my wife has dedicated her entire adult life to Catholic education and the last 8 years to educating kids with significant economic hardship. You may say that we should turn our backs on this institution and walk away. However, that’s hard to do when you are absolutely, totally right. In this battle, we are on God’s side. In an email to other priests, the Archbishop of Philadelphia called me “truly evil.” While I personally disagree with this man on many things and have worn this description as a personal badge of honor, the fact that his man called me “truly evil” based on efforts trying to stop his organization from intentionally demolishing a church with intrinsic historical and economic value and foisting the cost of that willful demolition on our already-struggling parish tells you much of what you need to know about this fight.
Some may suggest that the people of St. Laurentius Church and School should just move on and accept the AOP’s decisions. However, those decisions are not only morally wrong, those decisions have been demonstrated to be fiscally irresponsible. An immutable fact is that our efforts to preserve St. Laurentius from demolition will serve to save the AOP and Holy Name Parish over 1 million dollars. To add perspective to this, the same AOP has been charging the people of Holy Name parish for the high-priced attorneys that fought the historic designation, baselessly under the actual law at the Historic Commission. Though it defies logic, reason and Jesus’ teachings, the AOP is seething with delight at the thought of following through on its bizarre desire to demolish St. Laurentius.
Leo Voloshin is a developer who lives in Fishtown with his wife and children and is proposing to convert the church into a residential apartment building. He has successfully converted other older buildings and adapted them for reuse. His plans are publicly available on this site. Take a look at them for yourself. I thank him for getting involved to preserve St. Laurentius. Historically designated properties, especially one in the condition of our church, are a risky endeavor and he is taking on that risk. He has put together the only feasible plan to save the church, through an adaptive reuse that will ensure St. Laurentius’ continued presence here and provide fiscal stability for our parish and school. As with all real estate developers, his interest is economic at first, but it also includes a desire to preserve this church. He is only one who put his money where his mouth is and stepped up to preserve St. Laurentius. I am thankful he has gotten involved.
People are concerned about parking. I am too. I live on a street where the people across from me are all in the ground and I can’t get a spot for our one car anytime after 6pm. However, parking concerns should not destroy this project. We watched as factories on Eyre, Columbia and Palmer have been remade as residential projects that enhance the community. Are we going to forgo the same type of conversion for a majestic piece of architecture like St. Laurentius merely because of parking? Believe me, there are nights when I curse and scream and drive around for another ten minutes looking for a spot. Would I do that to ensure that St. Laurentius is preserved?
Of course I would. I’m sure that some people say they’d rather it come down, but the conversation about parking is separate from one of development. Walk down your block and count the number of houses on your block. Count the available parking spots on your block. On very few in this community are they equal. On almost every block, there are more houses than parking spots. Should we deny the ability of people to own more than one car in a household? That has more of an impact on parking than any apartment development. FIshtown needs a parking conversation, but it is not at the expense of the plans to save St. Laurentius Church. Just think, if the AOP leadership of destruction gets to follow through on its plans, what do you think will happen to the abandoned lot? A rose garden? A playground? Neither of these options are fiscally possible. The AOP will put that lot up for sale to pay the demolition bill, and I guarantee you it will be residential development that pales in comparison to the architectural marvel it would replace. Oh, by the way, that development will without a doubt add to the parking woes.
A great group, dedicated people, calling themselves “Faithful Laurentians,” have been putting forth a quixotic, unfunded effort to turn the space into a community/religious entity. I admire their hope and continued faith, but their hopes have been summarily rejected by the AOP now and were rejected two years ago. Tim Breslin, who passed away last year after putting much of the last two years of his life into this fight even going so far as to initiate an appeal to the Vatican that we have continued, offered to take over St. Laurentius Church for the same present-sale price of $1 in 2014. The AOP rebuffed him, despite the fact that Tim was a community builder who had developed other properties in Fishtown. He wanted to preserve the church in the same way that this group does. Believe me, if the Faithful Laurentians plan was a funded or even fundable option, I and everyone else involved in the actual preservation battle would be all for it. However, the Faithful Laurentians realistic plan for two reasons: 1) There is no money for it and 2) The AOP will not allow it, especially because their plan calls for it to be preserved as a Catholic space.
I have no doubt that I and many others who have done nothing but stick our necks out for St. Laurentius Church and School will be slandered in the posts below and probably at this meeting tomorrow. I have no doubt that ignorance will attempt to take over this meeting. I also have no doubt that this plan is the only way to save St. Laurentius Church from a sinful, maniacal, un-Christian plan by the AOP to destroy it.
I have put a lot of time in for this community that I am proud to call home. I say this because I want you to view my efforts and my opinion on this matter from the perspective of that service. As with anything I have ever done or any volunteer in this community has done, I want my neighbors to live in and my children and yours to grow up in the best Fishtown possible. I believe that this conversion of St. Laurentius is the only way to achieve the preservation of this historic testament to the people who came before us, sacrificed in the face of prejudice and built a true icon for generations to admire.
I urge you to support the conversion of St. Laurentius church.
It has come to our attention that a new group has formed to Save St Laurentius Church. While that is admirable it is also foolish. Our group has spent the past 3 years working to save our church. We have explored every possible avenue to re-open St Laurentius as a Catholic Church–going as far as hiring canon lawyers, Italian lawyers, and filing numerous appeals to the Vatican. All of those efforts have failed.
It is public knowledge that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Vatican have ignored our pleas to see our magnificent Church once again serve the faithful parishioners. The only success that we have had–and it was huge–was the historic designation bestowed on St Laurentius by the historic commission which insures that the exterior of the building–the symbol of the dedication of the Polish immigrants who built it–will remain.
Fortunately a developer has approached the AOP and offered to purchase the church, which means that the church will remain standing but the interior will be changed. However the recent activities of this new small group may in fact jeopardize that sale. Which will mean that the AOP will claim hardship and then will be able to have the church torn down–which is what they have wanted all along. If you believe that the best possible solution right now is for this historic landmark to remain as a beacon in our community, we ask that you do not stand in the way of this developer.
At Masses over the weekend, father Sibel announced that he and the Holy Name parish council were installing a fence around “Memphis and Berks Streets.” We live in a litigious society so this decision is understandable. But in our hearts, Saint Laurentius is Saint Laurentius and filled with love.
One of us talked with the new head of L&I, Commissioner Perri. It was a good conversation. The AOP and L&I met almost two weeks ago and they agreed to erect the fence. L&I will regularly inspect Saint Laurentius Church and the City Commissioner believes that the building will be saved.
Our Committee to Save Saint Laurentius Church is saddened. We find solace in the Historic Designation of Saint Laurentius Church; we feel very let down by the men leading our archdiocese and by the process in the Vatican.
NEIGHBORS and FRIENDS, let’s work together to get answers. We have been shut out of all communication from the pastor and council and from the archdiocese. Why has there been no public meeting with the decisions makers for Saint Laurentius Church (the aop and the council)? Why isn’t the sale final yet? The Philadelphia Historic Commission recognizes the intrinsic value in Saint Laurentius, so do we and likely, so do you! More importantly, we all deserve to know answers!
Holy Name Parish Council and pastor – PLEASE hold a community meeting! If you agree or if you, too, have questions call Holy Name at 215-739-3960.
Hi. To those who missed our meeting this past week, I will provide a synopsis. It is only a synopsis since the meeting lasted a bit over an hour.
We discussed the generic areas, which impact the integrity of St. Laurentius. It will be for you to personally define the integrity since there are a multitude of factors, particularly within the archdiocese and the Vatican, which we cannot control and which appear inordinately corrupt.
After assimilating all of these variables, some have abandoned the ideal of reopening St. Laurentius as it was because, unless the archdiocese is miraculously instilled with integrity and virtue, there is virtually no likelihood of their resanctifying and reopening St. Laurentius.
Here is the summary:
1) Appeal-Sits in Rome since last spring. It has NOT even been reviewed. The exception is that peculiarly, as a result of speculated intervention by the archdiocese, we were told several days ago that two of the signatures on the appeal were fraudulent. If we did not comply with sending certified signatures, mine and Vince Lipczynski’s, within a narrow window of time, the appeal would no longer exist. Well we got the certified documents and mailed them along with an $1800 check made payable to the Division of the Vatican called the Apostolic Signatura—yes $1800 to review 2 signatures.
Once the appeal is reviewed, it must past through three levels of review. If the first level is denied, we can argue that denial and appeal to the second level. If denial occurs at the second level, the appeal is over. However, if the appeal is accepted at the second level, it moves on to the third level for a required approval to have St. Laurentius reopened,
2) Archdicoese—Here is a representative sampling, though surely not encompassing. Forced Father Frank to stop Polish mass; orchestrated the merger into Holy Name while he was ill; had two representatives visit Father Frank in the hospital telling him he can not live in the rectory when he is discharged and that he needs to sign the merger into Holy Name paperwork; followed no due process in the merger; fabricated an imminent danger of collapse story (interestingly in the storm the other night, the church still stands but part of the scaffolding collapsed); ignored all attempts on our part to meet on multiple levels—Archbishop Chaput, Monsignors Rodgers and Kutys etc etc etc. ; would allow the money from the sale of St. Laurentius Convent and garage to be used for demolition but not to repair St. Laurentius.; hand picked a pastor for Holy Name who would do everything in his power to execute the will of the archdiocese and eliminate St. Laurentius.
3) Parishioners and Friends—Some examples: Raised money in Save St. Laurentius Fund (that money has been used for the attorneys, the recent fee to the Vatican to review two signatures, for the billboard); Sugar House fundraisers; Polish operatic singer at Polish Home; staffed tables at the Annual Festival at the Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa; stood guard watching the church; remained vigilant over any troublesome activity; compiled and completed the initial recourse and subsequent appeal; met with representatives of the church in Rome; gave a presentation about our situation at the Polish Consulate in New York.; searched for buyers for St. Laurentius within the Polish American infrastructure. Large business funding for repairs is a paradox in this scenario with distrust for the archdiocese but would surely emerge if St. Laurentius were reopened.
4) Historic Designation—A big victory. Exterior designation acquired in July 2015. An interior application was written and at my request, its review by the Designation Committee was postponed until the June meeting. This was done for multiple reasons. The interior of the church remains protected until the hearing takes place.
5) Repurposing—This option will maintain the exterior integrity of St. Laurentius. The current buyer has every intention of respecting that integrity. The agreement of sale is in evolution between he and the archdiocese. With the inability of us to make any headway at the appeal and archdiocesan level–some have not yet taken this step–this currently seems to be the only way a part of our St. Laurentius richness will remain. If there is no buyer, and the appeal process sits in limbo, and L and I requests repairs, and the archdiocese says they have no money to fix the church, the potential monster of demolition again resurfaces.
6) Ownership—As you know, several letters of petition were submitted to the Attorney General of PA asking for assistance in resolution of the property trust, which appears to have been violated by the archdiocese. I sent the same along with a comprehensive cover letter and copies of the original deed and transcripted deed. I spoke on Friday with the assistant DA assigned to the case. We spoke extensively and she will retrieve the fed ex mailer from Harrisburg this week, She, at the time of our conversation, did not have the deeds or cover letter in her possession. Understand that the state has no authority to tell the archdiocese to reopen St. Laurentius as a church.
7) Structural Repairs—The repair estimates the potential buyer acquired were congruent with those we acquired as part of our recourse. The archdiocese estimates at the time of the historic designation were inflated to $5 million more. Repair remains an issue, which will require imminent resolution.
8) As an aside, it was announced at Holy Name this weekend that since part of the scaffolding fell this weekend, a fence will be placed around St. Laurentius on Memphis and on Berks up to the rectory. Walking and parking in this vicinity will be prohibited. Holy Name pastor says it was due to L and I but recall the archdiocese said they would do this in July at the historical designation meeting.
Have a great day and thanks for your support…. Bóg Zapłać……..John Wisniewski
After almost three years of fighting to Save Saint Laurentius church, our Committee would like to comment on recent developments.
Like many of you, our main goal was to save Saint Laurentius Church as the vibrant place of worship, community and Catholicism that we know it is. Like you, we felt shocked and surprised that the AOP not only merged our parish, but closed our church under circumstances that were, at best, contested.
After trying to work within the parish and among the men making decisions for the archdiocese, we brought a larger group together to force the hierarchy to acknowledge that our Saint Laurentius Church is historic, beautiful and a community icon. Historians, preservationists & neighbors worked together to have the Historic Commission to deem the building historic.This preserves Saint Laurentius, the building.
You did that. Saint Laurentius church will stand.
Our hope and our prayer was that this was just a step in that process, but it became painfully obvious that there was no process. There would be no meetings. There would be no compromise. After THOUSANDS of emails and numerous calls, neither the AOP nor the parish council would meet with the committee. After all this work, energy and soul-crushing effort, we had no seat at the decision-making table.
We did take an active interest in those developers who took interest in Saint Laurentius church. Please know, we had no direct control and we have not been allowed inside the church.
Leo is a good, solid developer who is also a good person with a good family. He is a neighbor. His development in the church will maintain the building and its history, culture, character while allowing Saint Laurentius school to flourish. We hope that SAINT LAURENTIUS CHURCH will stand as a constant reminder that good and faithful people exist and that Fishtown is a great community. We hope it is a legacy to the Polish immigrants who built it by hand and a testimony that Catholics are not only the hierarchy but are a people who believe in the good in people. We hope it is a legacy to your effort.
Leo has committed to opening Saint Laurentius Church at some point so that all those who love Saint Laurentius church can visit and pray one more time. Again, we know this is not ideal but it is so much more that the AOP has allowed.
Some of us believe that this option is the only legitimate option to save the church. We are not happy but it seems this is that might be the best way to allow the Catholic Community, especially Saint Laurentius school, to continue in Fishtown.
Fishtown, through a complex and weird combination of community cohesiveness, great housing stock and economic shifts, has become a neighborhood of the new urban future. Other communities have gone through but Saint Laurentius Church will stand tall through all of these shifts.
There will be an update meeting on Tuesday, February 23rd at 7:00 pm.
Shissler Recreation Center
1800 Blair St, Philadelphia, PA 19125