N THE EARLY CHURCH, particular Churches were noted for specific strengths (and, sometimes, specific weaknesses). The same is true even now. There are certain dioceses throughout the world that are especially notable in one fashion or another, for example: Venice, Manila, München und Freising, Westminster, New York, Paris, Montreal, Calcutta, Armagh, and so many others. These sees have become notable on account of various factors. In some cases, what makes the place noteworthy is its historical or political import. In other cases, the significance is the cultural richness of the place. In still other places, it is the saintly figures the territory has produced that make it stand out.
Within the United States, even, there are some dioceses that stand out in unique ways: St. Louis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston, etc. Similarly, within every diocese, there are certain parishes that are especially remarkable, whether on account of history, architecture, outreach, or some other unique feature. As members of a hierarchical Church, none of this should surprise or upset us. After all, when one member of the Body is honored, all of us share in that member’s joy (c.f., 1 Corinthians 12:26).
Philadelphia is my home, so I naturally have a fondness for the place. My predispositions notwithstanding, Philadelphia is objectively a local Church of great richness. It is home to a Latin Rite diocese and a Ukrainian archeparchy. It claims both St. Katharine Drexel and St. John Neumann as its own. Philadelphia set a model for the rest of the country with its Catholic school system and its Forty Hours devotions. It is the birthplace of freedom and the nation’s first capital. Philadelphia has hosted a Eucharistic Congress and a papal visit (from St. John Paul II), and the archdiocese is presently preparing for next year’s World Meeting of Families, expected to bring Pope Francis to these shores.
All of these factors contribute to the richness I see in the Church of Philadelphia. When we celebrated our bicentennial as a diocese in 2008, these blessings were all collected and organized in a history book that was distributed through our parishes. Another factor that distinguishes the tradition of our archdiocese is its long history of sacred music. What is it about sacred music in Philadelphia that is worthy of note? I encourage you to check out this recently published brief booklet to see for yourself.
Beyond the contents of that booklet, there are many other notable facts about this city’s contributions to sacred music. It was in Philadelphia, for instance, that the first American Catholic hymnal was published (Litanies and Vesper Hymns and Anthems as They are Sung in the Catholic Church Adapted to the Voice and Organ, John Aitken, 1787). Philadelphia was home for more than 40 years to Nicolai Montani, famous for his St. Gregory’s Hymnal, which used to be standard issue for Catholic choirs. Lorenzo Perosi, former Maestro of the Sistine Choir and co-writer of Pope St. Pius X’s Tra le Sollecitudini, had connections with St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, for which he composed a Mass. For decades, liturgical music in Philadelphia was under the helm of the incomparable Dr. Peter Lamanna, once dubbed “Mr. Church Music” by a local newspaper. Today, Philadelphia boasts a terrific Archdiocesan Choir, Archdiocesan Boys Choir, Archdiocesan Girls Choir, and a Cathedral Concert series that attracts serious ensembles of the highest quality.
Many great things could be said of every local Church. Collecting a history such as this one might be a worthy endeavor for your diocese.