By Jeanne Murphy Curtis
Philadelphians, we have to save St. Laurentius.
The church on Berks Street in Fishtown was established in 1882, when Polish immigrants pooled their own funds to start a parish that would carry on the language and religious customs of their homeland. St. Laurentius grew into a gem that we should all cherish as a testament to the hard work, vision, perseverance, and tenacity of our ancestors.
St. Laurentius is more than just another old church; it is a masterpiece. The brownstone exterior is humble, almost rustic, and in many ways belies the magnificence of the sanctuary. The elaborate interior, with its priceless paintings, wood carvings, and stunning stained glass, inspires awe and wonder, as it was designed to do.
Master architect Edwin Durang listened carefully to his patrons, and the result is a church that embodies the essence of some of the most elaborate late Gothic churches of Central and Eastern Europe. Due to the care and thoughtfulness of parishioners, St. Laurentius remains remarkably intact. With the exception of the deteriorating mortar, this church is in outstanding condition.
The beauty of St. Laurentius lies in its graceful proportions and carefully articulated, well-maintained interior palette, which purposefully and symbolically makes a transition in a vertical plane from earthly tones of sage, gold, and brown to heavenly blues. Along the aisles, pink graces the walls, not unlike the color of the sky as it graces the horizon at dawn and sunset. All of this was intentional and symbolic. What is truly remarkable is that everything that was done to this church, every update, was made with thoughtful care and with respect to the original plans of the founders and their architect.
I'm the daughter of a retired Philadelphia firefighter who used to tell me stories of gorgeous structures around Philadelphia being left to rot. He told of fires in abandoned brownstones in North Philly, and through his eyes I could imagine the beauty that was. As stewards of our city's history, we must be mindful that once these treasures are lost, they are gone forever. And often, once the physical structures are gone, so are the knowledge, skill, and artisanship required to rebuild them.
The people in the neighborhood who love St. Laurentius are standing firmly behind their vibrant, historical parish. In doing so, they are showing the rest of us that they are not only Catholics, but also citizens who understand the meaning of community. And all they are asking for is the opportunity to rehabilitate their church with funds they have raised so that they can reopen and continue celebrating Mass at St. Laurentius as Philadelphians have been doing since the late 19th century.
The community of St. Laurentius is sending a strong message. They are saying, "We care. Our parish, our history, and our community matter. Please hear us and help." If we choose to ignore their fight, we are slighting what it means to be a Philadelphian. If we let this church fall, we let our neighbors fall too.
Regardless of one's ethnicity or creed, this church is a city treasure. For the sake of future generations, Philadelphians should stand up and do everything we can to save it. Please sign our petition at www.savestlaurentius.org and help preserve this beautiful piece of Philadelphia history.