One hundred twenty-three years later, parishioners gathered at the brick building on Ford Street on a brutally cold morning in January 2015 for one last Sunday Mass.
Now comes the announcement by Archbishop Charles Chaput that on Jan. 11, 2017, the church will be shuttered permanently, along with Assumption BVM in West Grove and St. Therese and St. Madeleine Sophie in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy section.
The closing is a formality that officially turns out the lights in a building that hasn’t been in operation for a year.
Although St. Augustine had not been welcoming worshippers regularly — a merger with nearby Sacred Heart parish that included Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church had been announced in July 2014 — up until last December it had been available for the occasional celebration of Mass, as well as funerals and weddings, a customary practice in the case of a parish merger, according to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“Because St. Augustine Church was not used that much, the mold issue became significant, manifesting itself on parts of the sanctuary wall and some of the sacristies and I guess there was always a mold issue,” noted the Rev. Tim O’Sullivan, pastor of Sacred Heart, who had celebrated the final Sunday Mass at St. Augustine. “With the building being closed so much I guess it led to the mold being more apparent.”
Information provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia disclosed that necessary annual and deferred maintenance costs to properly maintain the church are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“While the recently merged Sacred Heart Parish, the owner of the building, has some financial reserves, it experienced an operating deficit of almost $300,000 in its first fiscal year of existence,” a statement noted. “While that deficit shrank to just under $200,000 in its second fiscal year, the parish is still working to establish a firm financial foundation.”
With no revenue stream to keep the property afloat, the St. Augustine building was putting the parish in great financial risk, the archdiocese said.
“In addition, mold issues were discovered in the Saint Augustine Church building last year that prevented the use of the building in any capacity. In December 2015 all forms of divine worship were discontinued in the interest of the health and safety of members of the Sacred Heart Parish community,” the statement continued.
“When Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart Parishes merged, all real estate holdings, assets and debts of the former Saint Augustine Parish were transferred to the newly formed Sacred Heart Parish. These transfers are standard procedure in the case of all parish mergers.
“As such, the former Saint Augustine Church building is the property of Sacred Heart Parish. The future disposition of this building will be determined by the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in consultation with his parish pastoral and finance councils in a manner consistent with providing for continued parish viability and sustainability.”
The building’s future will be decided in discussion between O’Sullivan, the parish pastoral council and the pastoral finance council, said O’Sullivan, who noted there had so far been no discussion for St. Augustine benefiting from a situation similar to the one that rescued Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
After being shuttered in the merger, that Swedesburg church once again came alive with the passion of spirituality last December as St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the newest Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a diocese for Roman Catholics in the U.S. and Canada who were once Anglican, but are now Catholic.
“We are not Our Lady of Mount Carmel resurrected,” St. John the Baptist pastor David Ousley had pointed out. “We were able to save (the building) as a Catholic church. If we had not come here it would have gone on the market at some point, probably to a developer.”