For many decades the future of the former St Peter Claver Church – a significant treasure for the Black Catholic Community of Philadelphia and beyond, has up for discussion. A civil judge involved in the process has requested that all parishioners receive this communication from Father Owens.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia received a petition from individuals who desire to block the relegation of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church. Recognizing the history and legacy of Saint Peter Claver Church, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has developed a historical timeline of St. Peter Claver Church and St. Peter Claver Evangelization Center with hopes of outlining a contextual background for the proposed relegation.
St. Peter Claver Parish was founded because of racial segregation within our society and church. In response to racial segregation of the time, Black Catholics formed the St. Peter Claver Union with the assistance of Rev. Patrick McDermott, C.S.Sp. to address the pastoral needs of Black Catholics. One of the goals of the St. Peter Claver Union was the purchase of a church for Black Catholics to gather for worship.
The closure and the proposed sale of St. Peter Claver property is primarily due to the demographic shift of Black Catholics. The history and legacy of St. Peter Claver Church is truly a powerful testament of Black Catholics’ perseverance, resilience, courage and struggle for equality and religious freedom within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Historical Timeline of St. Peter Claver Church:
- St. Peter Claver parish was established in 1886.
- On January 3, 1892, Archbishop John Patrick Ryan dedicated the newly purchased church as St. Peter Claver Church. Parishioners of St. Peter Claver, together with the help of others within the Catholic community, most notably Saint Katharine Drexel, and Patrick Quinn, assisted with the purchase of the former Fourth Presbyterian Church.
- The Congregation of the Holy Spirit, a Roman Catholic religious order, provided pastoral care to the St. Peter Claver parishioners.
- St. Peter Claver property was titled over to the Congregation of the Holy Ghost by Archbishop Patrick John Ryan in 1896, and various other deeds for the parcels comprising the parish property, including a deed by Francis P. Maurer in 1904. This deed conveyed the portion of the parish property located at 1212-1222 Lombard Street and contained language restricting the parcel’s use as a church, parsonage and school for Black Catholics.
- In 1892, Saint Peter Claver Church was the site of the Third National Black Catholic Congress. Father Augustus Tolton celebrated Mass for the congress participants.
- On June 30, 1985, John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia, suppressed the parish of St. Peter Claver because of changing demographics, and in light of other parishes having since opened their doors to African American Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
- The Congregation of the Holy Spirit requested permission to continue to staff the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories at St. Peter Claver Church. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia granted permission to the Holy Ghost Fathers in recognition of the devoted service given to the St. Peter Claver parishioners. Rev. William Maguire C.S.Sp. faithfully and diligently carried out this pastoral ministry until his death in September 1988. The Holy Ghost Fathers continued assist with the pastoral needs of the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories until its closure.
- The Office for Black Catholics supervised the movement of many sacred items from St. Peter Claver Church to active parishes in the Archdiocese where African American Catholics currently worship.
- The St. Peter Claver Evangelization Center was dedicated on September 15, 1995, by Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, the Archbishop of Philadelphia. The center officially opened to the public on September 16, 1995. The center was located on the lower level of the church, consisting of an assembly room, meeting rooms, and kitchen facilities.
- The title of St. Peter Claver Church property, now consisting of the properties known as 1200-1234 Lombard Street, was transferred by a combined single deed dated January 27, 2010, from the Congregation of the Holy Ghost to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia (Office for Black Catholics) sponsored fundraising initiatives to support the St. Peter Claver Evangelization Center and a modest restoration of St. Peter Claver Church.
- St. Peter Claver Evangelization Center (SPCCE) was closed on October 31, 2014. As the Black Catholic community spread to many areas of the Archdiocese, the SPCCE became utilized by fewer and fewer people over the years. The SPCCE has not been used for any pastoral purposes since that time. The decision to close the SPCCE was made as a result of evangelization ministries taking place at a number of Black Catholic parishes, as opposed to one centralized location.
- The Archdiocese filed a Petition for Cy Pres in the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas requesting application of cy pres to modify the deed restrictions of record on the portion of the property known as 1212-22 Lombard Street, which prohibited the sale and restricted the use of the property using racial descriptions, and to further direct that a portion of the sale proceeds of such property be specifically designated for the use of the Office of Black Catholics, under the Secretariat for Evangelization of the Archdiocese, for purposes of evangelization. The doctrine of cy pres is utilized by courts to prevent charitable gifts from failure when the donor’s original intent cannot be fulfilled.
- Notice of a hearing on the Petition for Cy Pres for St. Peter Claver was published in Black Catholic parishes’ bulletins during the weekends of May 22, 29 and June 5, 2016, and by weekly email correspondence via Flocknotes to the Black Catholic community in advance of the hearing.
- A hearing on the Petition for Cy Pres was held on Monday, June 6, 2016 at 1:30 PM whereby the Archdiocese requested that the Court apply the doctrine of cy pres to the St. Peter Claver property as described above.
- By Decree December 12, 2017, the Court found it was appropriate to remove the prohibition against sale and the racial restriction concerning the use of the property, so that the donor’s charitable intent could be most nearly fulfilled. Per the decree, one third (1/3) of the proceeds from the sale of the St. Peter Claver property must be specially designated in a trust for the use of the Office for Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Upon further approval of the Court for the disposition of the trust funds, the Archdiocese anticipates that the trust will be supervised by the Office for Black Catholics with a board of laity and clergy serving in the African American community.
Funds from the proposed sale of St. Peter Claver will be used solely for the evangelization of African Americans. Specifically, the trust will support parish-based programs such as: The Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA), programs for youth and young adults, and a curriculum on the history and legacy of Black Catholic to preserve Black Catholic History and legacy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Also, the Trust will be available to support programs of evangelization in the Independence Mission Schools (IMS) and other Catholic elementary, high school and universities serving African American students.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has continued to promote the evangelization of African Americans namely through its support of the Office for Black Catholics, and vibrant Black Catholics parishes throughout the local church of Philadelphia. In addition, the following financial resources are made available to Black Catholics: Black & Indian Mission Grant from the United States Conference of Bishops, Msgr. John T. Mitchell Scholarship Fund, and the Martin de Porres Foundation.
Peace and All Good,
Rev. Richard Owens, OFM Cap
Director, Office for Black Catholics