A local legacy
This year marks the 175th anniversary since St. Joachim was founded.
St. Joachim Church’s past and present met Friday, Sept. 28, at the Historical Society of Frankford.
Pat Smiley, an advocate who has fought to reopen the church since it closed in 2013, gave a presentation on the history of the parish and Frankford to a group of Capuchin Franciscan postulants who are currently living at Padre Pio Friary, located at St. Joachim’s former convent.
The Capuchin Franciscans purchased the convent in 2016 and started the friary and Padre Pio Prayer Center at St. Joachim Church. The prayer center hosts public events, including daily Mass, on almost every day of the week.
“Who imagined this? Who could have believed this?” Smiley said. “This was very unusual because so much time had passed — three years. Nothing ever reopens in the Archdiocese after this much time.”
She told the postulants and members of the historical society that this year marks the 175th anniversary since the parish was founded. It was the oldest Catholic parish in Northeast Philadelphia until the Archdiocese made the controversial decision to shut it down five years ago.
“We would later give rise to many new parishes, and that’s why we are called the mother church of the Northeast,” said Smiley, president and executive director of Keep the Faith in Frankford.
Smiley said the congregation was formed in 1843 after 20 Frankford residents gathered and decided they wanted a Catholic church in the neighborhood. When St. Joachim’s was built, it also served people from Fox Chase, Holmesburg, Tacony, Bustleton and Jenkintown, she said.
The congregation of about 4,000 soon outgrew the small church that was initially constructed, so work on a larger church began in 1874, according to Smiley.
“It was a beautiful church,” she said. “Our son was baptized in that church.”
St. Joachim’s second iteration burned down in 1978, and the decision was made to rebuild the church and rectory, Smiley said. The third church, which now hosts the prayer center, was dedicated in 1981.
Smiley also discussed other aspects of Frankford’s history, including the opening of the Market-Frankford Line, the Frankford Yellow Jackets and the development of Northwood.
She told the group about how St. Joachim’s parishioners filed a Vatican appeal after the Archdiocese decided to close the parish and Frankford’s other Catholic church, Mater Dolorosa. Advocates have spent about $20,000 in fighting to reopen St. Joachim’s, she said.
“It may be a moot point now because of the Capuchin Franciscans being here,” Smiley added.
The postulants, who are candidates to be Capuchin Franciscan Brothers, listened intently to the presentation. Some are from the Philadelphia area, but quite a few said they came from out of state.
“New history is being written,” Smiley said.
For more information on the Padre Pio Prayer Center at St. Joachim Church, 1509 Church St., including a listing of events, visit www.piocenter.org ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org