The last mass: La Milagrosa will close its doors Sunday

Parishioners from La Milagrosa fight to keep their parish open. (Credit: Charles Mostoller, Metro)
Parishioners from La Milagrosa fight to keep their parish open. (Credit: Charles Mostoller, Metro)

La última misa está aquí. The last mass is here.

Latino church La Milagrosa is slated to close its doors Sunday after desperate pleas, vigils and legal representation apparently haven’t been enough to stop the sale of the more than 100-year-old church.

“We’re coming down to the end of our fights,” said 20-year parishioner Miguel Ortiz. “And it seems like we’re losing it.”

Ortiz is helping to lead the committee “Salvemos La Milagrosa” that are making one last plea to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to save the church.

“It has been very emotional,” Ortiz said, who’s been outside the church with a dedicated group of parishioners every day for a week, praying.

La Milagrosa at 1903 Spring Garden St. has been owned by the Vincentian Fathers since 1912, according to Kenneth Gavin, communications director of the Archdiocese. Last fall, the Archdiocese found out the Fathers planned to sell La Milagrosa. Since the Archdiocese never owned the building, Gavin said, they could not prevent the sale.

Ortiz however said he thinks the Archdiocese could have stepped up to either work to stop the sale or buy it.

“The Cathedral parish is not really thinking about their parishioners,” Ortiz said. “They are just thinking about the closing of the building.”

Gavin has said the Archdiocese cannot afford the building due to its “well-known financial challenges.”

Despite community efforts by Ortiz and dozens of others, La Milagrosa’s last mass is scheduled for Sunday morning. But big questions still loom. If La Milagrosa’s sale is out of the hands of the Archdiocese, why won’t they meet with the committee to hear concerns? Why have the locks of the chapel been changed? And, why is the Archdiocese planning on selling the chapel artifacts?

The latter question is a big concern for Ortiz, who said he was told last month the parish agreed the community would get the chapel’s artifacts. Ortiz just found out the Archdiocese would get the artifacts.

“The vast majority of the artifacts will be taken to the Cathedral parish (Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Race Street in Center City),” Gavin said.

When a church building closes, Gavin added, the archdiocese distributes religious artifacts to other churches in the Archdiocese. For the remaining items, an open house is held for priests who may want them in their churches.

“It’s policy they don’t go into private hands,” Gavin said, adding it’s entirely possible Ortiz was misinformed.

As far as the chapel doors being locked, Gavin said he wasn’t aware of door locking outside of the normal security measures.

But the biggest question that is on Ortiz’s mind is what would have happened if he and others stepped in earlier. Would the sale have been prevented?

“Maybe the story would have been different,” he said. “It’s happening because I guess it was meant to happen. Maybe this is going to bring something more powerful.”

After Sunday’s last mass at Milagrosa, parishioners there can attend the Cathedral starting June 30, when a Spanish-speaking priest will hold Mass.

“It’s sad it’s coming—the 23rd will be the last day,” Ortiz said. “I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional.

Through all of this though, Ortiz hasn’t lost his faith.

“My faith in God is becoming stronger but my faith in man is down the drain,” he said. “We’re fighting man, not God.”


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