Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time Warp: St. Bonaventure

There is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--that the Project loves more than vintage photography. Especially when it's of churches that were closed or demolished before we came along.

You can imagine our extreme joy at receiving the following note from Project reader Patrick Kidd:

I've read your page and blog over the last year and have enjoyed the posts. I noticed tonight that there had been some recent posts about St. Bonaventure's in Fairhill. I'm attaching some .jpegs of photos of the church interior and scenes from the school.

Most date to the 1920s-40s and come from parish anniversary booklets now in the Archdiocesan Historical Center; the school pics are from the Sisters of Saint Francis, who used to run the parish school. I'm also attaching a brief history of the parish and the block on which it sits. I did this as part of a Historic Preservation Studio at the University of Pennsylvania and thought some of the readers might enjoy it.

Never-before-seen (to us, anyway) vintage photography of the late, great St. Bonaventure? Yes. Yes! YES!

See below (click for larger):

Oh my. :drool:

Really great and invaluable stuff. The church, pretty much, is what the Project thought it would be. A gothic, columned and cruciform masterpiece; not huge, but expertly crafted and lovingly ornamented. A black-and-white photo doesn't tell the whole story, but I'm in no position to be greedy. These images are already among our most treasured.

The bonus is the school images, which are obviously (and in some cases ridiculously) staged. Still, they're incredible period artifacts.

Mr. Kidd also provided a portion of a document titled "A Preservation Plan for Fairhill: History of a Fairhill Block," which provides a very comprehensive overview of the founding of the parish and the planning of construction of the church and other parochial buildings. I've provided a download link below.

A Preservation Plan for Fairhill: History of a Fairhill Block (PDF)

The sad thing about reading a history like this is that it reminds you just how much effort went into this parish and this church. The parishioners and the pastor, Father Hammeke, poured their blood, sweat, tears, hearts and souls into creating this place; just read about Hammeke's painstaking efforts to fill out the church's ornamentation over a period of many years.

In better and more caring hands, these creations would have stood forever as a testament to their lives and their hard work. Instead, the ruined husk of Bonaventure is a grim reminder that everything they strove for has been cast aside and forgotten.

I'll give the last word to the good Father:

When I landed for the second time...I decided to live and die in America, and in that parish of St. Bonaventura, where there are so many good people.

Sorry your successors decided those people weren't good enough, Padre.


  1. Very nice to read acompeting article re. History of St.Boneventure Parish.
    Joe Kearney

  2. Beautiful Church!!

    " sorry your successors decided those people weren't good enough Padre,"


  3. How about a Top 10 closed/demolished churches?

    Like Transfiguration and St.Bonaventure?

    Oh, was this parish named St. Bonaventure or St. Bonaventura ? The article uses St.Bonaventure but some of the old photos show St. Bonaventura.

    I should check the AD website.

    I should check

  4. " sorry your successors decided those people weren't good enough Padre,"

    Much more profitable to build those ugly churches in the wealthy suburbs.....and loot places like St. Bonaventure's, Transfiguration, etc.

  5. Hi--to answer Mary Beth K's question, both "Bonaventura" and "Bonaventure" are found in the documents, although it seems that "Bonaventura" was used early on (it's carved on the stone tablet on the old church). I'm not sure when it finally transitioned to "Bonaventure."

  6. A short time ago, I was doing some family research at St.Ignatious Church in West Philly. I found that the really old church ledgers were written in German, from 1880 to 1910.
    I wonder if that has something to do with the parish name of St. Boneventure.

  7. I do not condone the closing of St. Bonaventure nor do I disagree with the decision of the Archdiocese.
    I would like to present the idea that there are many more issues that come into play when the choice to close a building, of any type, is considered.
    For churches
    First and foremost is the demographic of the community and the church congregation.
    According to online information posted by, the neighborhoods that comprise Fairhill exceed city averages in the amount of crime. In 2002, the rate of violent crime per 10,000 people was roughly 200, while the city-wide average was less than 130.
    One explanation for the amount of crime in the area is that over 50 percent of the population in Fairhill is under the poverty level, according to 2000 Census data. Additionally, less than 40 percent of the population is in the labor force, leaving residents to find other sources of income…some illicit.
    As of 2007, three of the top ten drug corners in Philadelphia were located in Fairhill. Third and Indiana is a drug corner that was made famous by Steve Lopez’s novel titled after this corner. It’s unclear whether Third and Indiana is still a drug hot spot, but in spite of the snow on this particular day in February ( 2010 ), two corners between Fifth and Sixth Streets on Allegheny Avenue were in full operation.

    Median household income 2008:
    Fairhill: $17,457
    Philadelphia: $36,976

    Average estimated value of detached houses in 2008 (11.5% of all units):
    Fairhill: $48,295
    Philadelphia: $235,807

    Percentage of population below poverty level:
    Fairhill: 56.2%
    Philadelphia: 22.9%

    Another factor that is very important is the health of the building.
    The basic structure of St. Bonaventure was constructed of brownstone. At the time, it was considered to be the very fashionable stone due to its unique color. Unfortunately as the years have gone by it has become quite apparent that brownstone is a very poor choice as a building material. Replacing the failing stones would be an undertaking of enormous finical investment.
    In my opinion, if the concerns and complaints of people about the closing of this church were truly honest, it would be best to support the church and move into the parish and become an active member of that community.
    If the apostles had fled to their safe and comfortable homes, instead of going to where the people needed the most help, would we today have this faith that we so strongly proclaim?

  8. Nobody in their right mind is going to move INTO "The Badlands."

  9. Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers........

  10. I attended "St. Bonnie's" until I was in the third grade and received First Penance and First Communion in that beautiful old church. The house we lived in, 2804 N. Warnock, is no longer there. Neither is the entire length of the block - both sides! Brick row homes lined the street and now there is nothing! I haven't been back to the old neighborhood in 60 years, but I have good memories to warm my heart.

  11. I've never seen the church in person, but the pictures of the interior and exterior of Saint Bonaventure are breathtaking. What a masterpiece. The tower is amazing, especially with the spire still intact and the clock. I'd love to see a color picture of the interior.

  12. Hi can anyone tell me how I can obtain a copy of my son's baptism certificate he was baptized in 1983, but I never got his certificate from St. Bonaventure. Any help will be greatly appreciated. thank you

    1. Spiritual records for St. Bonaventure are kept at St. Veronica Church, Philadelphia.
      Phone: 215-228-4878

  13. I went tpo school and learn alot was an altar boy at this church.. my mother also worked for this school/churh for many years. I know so much and remember so much. imagine i remember the boling alley in the basement of the school borm in th 80s went there from kindergarden to 5th grade the church was amazing. As you prayed you could keep your eyes off the satuces that look so real. We would demonstrate how jesus was treated throght the street of philly. lookin at these old pic made me feel proud that i went to this school it was a loving and caring parish.. I wish that this church was stil running. let me hit the lotto and I will invest in making this church/parish come a live again.. Even though down the street is a cementery. THE MATERAILS I GOT FROM THIS SCHOOL , FAMILT, PARISH, TEACHERS , FRIENDS LOVE ONEDS I WILL Always remember an cherish.. Humberto figueroa Jr. born in 1980 if still standing would of been class of 97/98

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  15. I started First Grade at St.Bonaventures in 1966 - I was not supposed to attend because I was not German. I believe they wanted to send me to St. Edwards, which was not within walking distance. Somehow they allowed me to go there. The nuns were wonderful. Father Stranzl was the parish priest. He and my dad became good friends, and he used to come over to our home. I remember is dog, a schnauzer. Funny the things you remmeber. By the time I graduated from 8th grade, 1973, most of the students were hispanic and african american. We were lucky and grateful to have St. Bonaventure there for us, and that our parents realized the importance of a catholic education. I've been working at Temple University for 25 years. I can see the steeple of the church..and I still point it out to my patients and say, "you see that steeple over there, that's where I went to church and school." It was sad when they closed down the church.. the memories still exist in our hearts...Thanks for the pictures..

    1. LINDA Z Hi I also graduated from here in 1970. What was your maiden name? I was Deborah Leopold, I have a sister that graduated in 1973 Michele Leopold. The name Linda Cameron comes to mind.

  16. Does anybody know the whereabouts of the school records?
    I am doing history on my Father’s family who were German and my Father went to St. Bonaventure’s and graduated in June, 1928, so I guess, as I received his High School records from Roman and it shows records to come from St. Bonaventure’s. My father always said that he was an Altar Boy till he was 21 and that the priest at that time wanted him to stay interesting as now we have Deacons.
    I have contacted St. Veronica’s Church who has the spiritual records but they said they do not have school records in their files.

  17. I also went to St Bonaventure Church & School.
    It was 1943 thru 1947. It was to be an only German School As it was close to "Germantown"
    Most of the stores along Germantown Ave. were German owned.
    My Mom had to get a dispensation from St Stevens
    Church around Kensington Ave. (not Sure)
    It took a while but she got it. At the time I was the only non German in the school.
    We lived on Orleans St, but now, the house is no longer there. Walking distance to school was not
    a problem. The cemetery across the street was
    a little scary walking home alone, but I managed.
    Loved the Church & I still remember the Pieta at
    an alcove in the back. It was enormous to me at
    the time and I often wondered what happened to it. Those Franciscan nuns were strict even back then. We didn't get along. Even locked me in a closet with 2 others youngsters. Turned off the
    light & left us there for what seemed like forever. We survived!!!
    Its a shame things turned for the worst in the hood. It certainly wasn't progress.....
    Betty MCC.

  18. I graduated from St. Bonaventure's class of 1959. I believe photo number eleven was taken when I was in 4th grade (1955).
    The Nun is Sr. Melitina and the students are Robert Looby, Rita Kaisinger, Carolyn Wollschlager,(myself), and Robert Fitzpatrick.
    We loved that school and are sorry that it closed. I am the third generation in our family to attend. We also lived almost directly across the street from the church.

  19. Sorry,i forgot to identify Geraldine Burkhart in the above-mentioned photo.

  20. Correction. The pony-tailed girl in photo 11 is Mary Keppard, not Rita Kaisinger. This info is credited to my sister, Kathleen.

    1. Mary's sister, Geraldine, was in my class at St. Bonnie's. Graduated there in 1954.

  21. I thought that this school was the high school that was a business school. I remember the name but I can not place where it was located. I went to Saint Edwards on 7th and York. Can someone please tell me the address of this school and can you tell me the name of the school that was the Catholic Business School.
    oh my very hard time with the publish of this.

    1. My family belong to St. Edwards but for some reason my parents did not want to send us there. The only business type Catholic School I remember was St. Thomas Moore.

    2. There was NO business school at Saint Bonaventure Parish, 9th & Cambria, but there certainly was a business school at Saint Peter's, 5th & Girard, where the remains of Saint John Neumann are interred. I don't know whether there was another business school located at Saint Boniface Parish, Mascher & Diamond, but there could've been one there as well, since that served the working-class community of Kensington. -- George Shotzbarger (SBS, Class of '65)

  22. I was a student there from 1951 until 1959 when i graduated to go to SJP on a scholarship funded by St. Bonaventure with money set up by Fr. Hammeke. Pastors I remember included Father Klassen who succeeded Monsignor Herschkorn (something like that, not exactly sure of the spelling). Klassen ( who was VERY friendly with Ms. Susan, the new second grade teacher and not a nun) dropped dead on the street going to administer the last rights and was succeeded by Fr. Stranzl who was Klassen's assistant and claimed the pastorship as one of the few remaining German priests in the diocese. Yes, St. Bonaventure was also St. Bonaventura (engraved on the church and school, I believe). My most vivid memory was of a very young Sister Rose-Immaculate (I bet she was about 25 at the time) who was the first grade teacher in 1951 with about 100 (!) students in one class. She divided us into groups for reading and math. (Red birds, yellow birds and blue birds). Sr. Melatina (or Melitina), pictured above was my teacher in 2nd and 4th grade. The bowling alley in the basement was a special features and we used to take turns serving as pin-boys (no AMF automatic pinsetter there! LOL). Does anyone remember the air-raid drills when we would crouch under the desks waiting for the evil commies to bomb us back to the stone age? The church was beautiful and I remember the crazy organist (Sr. Mary Magdalene Di Pazzi with very thick glasses) who used to play the crap out of that instrument. We sang hymns every morning at 8 AM mass. I'm a musician (now retired) and owe her a lot because of chance to sing (Tantum ergo sacramentum!) Sorry to say that the Catholic Church leaves me cold today (as does all organized religion). At least the Pope plays the piano, LOL.

  23. I attended St. Bonaventure from 1946 to 1954. Lived across the street on Auburn Street. Remember Monsignor Herkorn and Father Classen, who was a good friend of my father's. The nun I really liked was Sister Clair Albertine who we had for two grades, 3rd and 4th. Some of those nuns were unbelievably cruel which has also left me cold on the whole religion thing. I do remember a lot of good times and a lot of wonderful friends while attending the school. The Archdiocese sold the buildings to a couple of different church groups. So it was not the Catholic Archdiocese that abandoned the buildings. Just find it so sad to see the buildings just sitting there while so many happy memories abound from my time there.

  24. I attended in the 50s as well and remember Msr. Hertkorn very well as I was an altar boy...attended 3-6th grade before moving to NJ......what memories....Ms. Susan, Sr. Mary Samuel, Sr. Damian remember still some classmates, but it's stretching the memory banks....Elaine Dell, John Metz...and others........

  25. I attended St. Bonnie's from 1961-1964. My Mom grew up there - the pictures shown above could have her in them :) Her family had the bakery at 8th & Indiana. St. Bonaventure's was a German National Parish. They would not baptize me because my Dad was Irish - I had to go to St. Ed's for baptism, but attended 1st thru 3rd and made my sacraments at SBS. It was a magnificent old church. I often wonder what happened to my classmates - a couple ended up at St. Hubert's with me.

  26. My family was a member of this parrish in the 60's and 70' I went first to 8th grade
    Sr Marie Juilana taught 1st grade then. Sr Gerald Marie principal. My dad was president of the PTA for a while and got the electric class bell system installed. We still have the old hand bell in the family. There are 7 children in my family. I loved going to this school and church I lived around the corner on Hutchinson street of course our home is no longer there. I have so many great memories. I even remember when the repainted those beautiful ceilings in the church.