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September 1, 2014, 1:37 am

Parishioners mourn loss of St. Francis church

Clayton and Valerie Cole hoped to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary at the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Germantown. That will not happen because the church is closing. In fact, the final Mass for the Catholic parish located at 4821 Greene St. in Germantown was held on Sunday.

For Valerie Cole the parish has special significance. When her parents moved to 4915 Royal St. around 1957, they were the first African-American family to join the parish. The family had 10 children, all of whom were baptized, confirmed and married at the church. Valerie Cole and her nine siblings all graduated from the adjacent school which has been renamed the Vincent de Paul School.

“I have so many memories right here in this church,” she said. “My parents are deceased now, but all our family roots are here.”

Valerie Cole now lives in Frankford and attends a local church in her area. But, for her sister Andrea Jones, who still lives in Germantown, Sunday’s last Mass meant that she would have to move to a new church home. In her case it will be the St. Vincent de Paul Church further north in the heart of Germantown.

“I feel as good as you can feel when your church has to close,” Andrea Jones said. “It’s kind of like moving our whole family. Our pastor is going to Baltimore now. The pastor at St. Vincent’s, Father (Richard) Rock, is going back to New York. We’re all getting a new pastor (the Rev. Sy Peterka) now, who is coming up from Baltimore.

“At least I met the new pastor,” she added. “I feel better about leaving after I did. I have already cried when I heard we were closing before July 1. Our family’s been here 55 years, and we were the first Black family.”

Marlene Pryor, a local committeewoman, block captain and voting judge, said that losing St. Francis will affect the entire neighborhood. Her family was the third African-American family to join the church more than 40 years ago. She has lived on West Logan Street around the corner since then.

“This was where everyone went to vote ever since I was living up here,” Pryor said. “This was where all the community meetings were held. I am a member of the Concerned Neighbors of Germantown. I was involved with all the neighborhood children, many who didn’t go to this church, at the Beacon Center here. So, this is a loss to the neighborhood.

“I’ve been through all the pastors who were here, and they have all been involved in helping the neighborhood,” she added. “First, there was Father Green. Then we had Father Rock, Father O’Hara and Father Tim. Now we have Father Gene (Sheriden), and he’s leaving the city now. Of course I am upset. I don’t mind going to church at St. Vincent’s, it’s losing the church that was the heart of the community…”

All members of St. Francis are assigned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to St. Vincent DePaul, 109 E. Price St. Mass times are Saturday evenings at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. St. Francis’ most recent pastor, the Rev. Eugene Sheriden, can be reached at 3300 Clifton Avenue in Baltimore, Md.