A Philadelphia parish that values young people like gold has hit upon a way to lure them.
By Jeff Gammage, Inquirer Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA, June 6, 2006 (www.philly.com) - On Sunday mornings at Old St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, parishioners say, you can see something you wouldn't have seen a few years ago:
Baby strollers. Parked in the courtyard.
Their presence is a small but telling sign of how Philadelphia's oldest Catholic church is accomplishing a feat that vexes so many others - attracting young members.
"It's very important to us," said Louise Cruz-Vizcaino, who has attended Old St. Joe's for 25 years. "You need the longtime members to give support and encouragement, to be the mentors, but you need the young ones to give new blood."
In the last year, the church has registered 159 parishioners - more than half between the ages of 21 and 39, bringing its congregation to 1,172.
Attendance at the Children's Liturgy of the Word on Sunday mornings has grown from five to 25. The class once fit easily into a rectory parlor, but had to be moved to a larger hall.
How did this happen in an era of graying congregations?
Not by accident.
In December, after considerable internal discussion, the church added a fourth Sunday service - at 6:30 p.m. The logic was simple: Young people are out on Saturday nights and sleep late on Sunday mornings.
Average attendance at the Mass, and spaghetti dinner afterward, has grown to 75 people, many of them young men and women.
"I'm confident if we didn't offer that Mass, they wouldn't be there," said the Rev. Mark Horak, who became pastor at Old St. Joe's in the summer of 2003. "You've got to meet them on their own terms."