University's Birthplace Celebrates 275 Years with Symposium

Sunday, January 14, 2007

As one of the oldest Catholic parishes in America and the first site of Saint Joseph's University, Old Saint Joseph's in Center City Philadelphia celebrated its 275th anniversary with a day-long program of speakers and presentations on Sunday, Jan. 6, in its original location at 321 Willings Alley. The SJU-sponsored symposium, which was titled "The Catholic Parish in Urban America: The Foundation for Creative Social and Theological Traditions," attracted a wide range of attendees, including regional historians, SJU students and professors, OSJ parishioners and inquisitive Catholics.

Because the parish was so instrumental in shaping early American Catholicism, it was important to commemorate this major anniversary with a public celebration. "From this single parish, the Jesuits were able to lay the foundation for the Catholic Church in the entire Northeastern United States. The Archdioceses of Philadelphia, New York and Boston are all rooted in the little church on Willings Alley," said Daniel Joyce, S.J., assistant to the vice president for Mission and the symposium's organizer.

"Saint Joseph's University was founded in the midst of this dynamic center of urban education and service, where the Catholic tradition of service as a component of faith and the promotion of justice have been made relevant for 275 years," added Joyce.

The symposium featured several presenters on topics important to the evolution of the American Catholic parish. Noted historians and keynote speakers John McGreevey, Ph.D., of Notre Dame University, and Patrick Carey, Ph.D., of Marquette University, spoke about the significance of the parish as a powerful institution and its influence on American culture. Several presentations highlighted key figures in the history of American Catholic life, including SJU's founder, Felix Barbelin, S.J.

SJU Professor of History and symposium convener Randall Miller, Ph.D., said, "The presentations were uniformly original, cohesive, informative and provocative. The day brought together some of the most distinguished, well-articulated historians with young scholars who are currently mapping the history of the urban parish in new directions of inquiry. Every minute was worth the audience's attention."

Miller explained that the presentations generated new ways of thinking about Catholicism, America and the evolution of institutions, and many other ideas, which he hopes will lead to new research and subsequent publications.

"It was a blessing to be a part of the day," Miller concluded.

--Sarah Whelehon '07 (M.A.)

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