St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church, an icon in Northeast Philadelphia, burned to the ground on Mother’s Day. As a faithful member of the St. Leo’s community, I, like the church, am gutted.
Everyone in my life knows how much this church means to me and to the community of Tacony.
For more than 135 years, St. Leo’s and its iconic steeple stood proudly on the corner of Unruh and Keystone Streets, keeping watch on the neighborhood and welcoming people at the best and worst moments of their lives. It was a beautiful church, and it held so many memories for those living in Tacony, so many baptisms, first Communions, weddings, May processions, and funerals were held there. My mother and father were married there in 1949, and my husband and I were married there in 1972. It was where we went to celebrate, to mourn, to pray, and to connect.
» READ MORE: Fire guts former St. Leo’s church in Tacony
Even though the parish was closed by the archdiocese in 2013, the church was still close to the hearts of me and so many other members of our community. Catholics in Philadelphia identify themselves when meeting others by saying what parish they are from. Many generations of Catholics living in Tacony were proud to tell everyone they met that they were from St. Leo’s parish.
Beyond the church, the school was also a part of the lifeblood of our community. Thousands of children attended the parish grade school, where the Sisters of St. Joseph faithfully taught there for years. My grandmother, mother and father, aunts and uncles, cousins, and my brothers graduated from the school. I, too, am proud to be a St. Leo’s alumna.
My mom lived her entire 83 years in St. Leo’s parish and was so proud of that fact. When looking for a larger home for our family, she told the real estate agent to only show her homes in St. Leo’s parish. There are so many families like mine in Tacony and throughout the entire region. So many people’s roots grow from the base of St. Leo’s.
» READ MORE: Photos from St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church
The fire is really devastating for us all. To see this grand church burn to the ground so quickly feels like losing a family member or a friend. St. Leo’s was a consistent and reliable part of my entire life. It will be sad to look over and not see the magnificent steeple of St. Leo’s church when driving through Tacony on Interstate 95.
But even as the building lays destroyed, the community of St. Leo’s was always more than a physical structure. It was the people, the experiences, the memories. I will always cherish my fond memories of events at St. Leo’s. These can not be taken away from us.
St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church is gone but not forgotten by those that lived in Tacony and belonged to this church.
Ginny Kilty is retired after a career at St. Matthew School, where she aided learning-disabled children and helped start a pre-K program. She lives in Somerton with her husband of 49 years. They have three sons and three grandsons.