Celebration of the century


It is apparent Alfred Capaldi has taken an active role in his local church. Why else would he have served as an altar boy until age 21?

Before pursuing this position at Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in fifth grade, he had to accomplish a difficult task: mastering Latin. For a man with a deep dedication to his faith, it was a small burden.

Now 81, Capaldi still refuses to be a mere spectator at Mass; you can find the tenor singing his heart out with the rest of the church choir during Sunday services.

The parishioner has nothing but devotion for the priests and clergy he has encountered inside the building at 11th and Jackson streets.

"They were good, solid men doing their job," said Capaldi, of the 2500 block of South Warnock Street.

And he only sees the church – and the community it serves – as getting better with age.

This year marks the centennial of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish, whose boundaries are Seventh Street to Broad Street and Porter Street to McKean Street.

Numerous residents beaming with parish pride have adorned their windows with posters stating the celebration’s theme, "All Are Welcome!" Even Jackson Street has outdoor banners displaying the saying.

The slogan was chosen "in order to embrace the people of the parish and people outside the parish," said Giovanna Cavaliere, celebration co-chairperson. "No matter where you live or who you are, you’re always welcome into God’s house."

In February, parishioners began organizing a committee and fund-raising for the event. The church’s youth group raised about $1,000 with a carwash. The parish received additional funds by hosting a mandolin concert and dinner, as well as an event that raffled off 147 donated items from local and non-local businesses.

Cavaliere could not provide the specific amount of money acquired, but said "the most important thing that was raised was the awareness of the people of the parish coming together as one united again."

Before some 300 residents attend a celebratory dinner at Colleen’s Restaurant, 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, this Sunday, Cardinal Justin Rigali will preside over a 3 p.m. Mass at Epiphany.

The church is expected to swell since 22 priests and eight members of the parish who pursued a religious vocation will attend the event, said Cavaliere, of 12th and Wolf streets.

An Epiphany parishioner for 63 years, Cavaliere has appreciated the loving and supportive atmosphere she finds at her church.

"There’s a wonderful feeling of family and we have a pastor that makes you feel so welcome," she said.

EPIPHANY WAS CREATED as a division of the Annunciation Parish under the leadership of the Rev. James Nash, the church’s first pastor. A formal announcement was made in 1889 about the new worship site.

Four weeks after construction began, the church celebrated its first Mass on Christmas Day. Parishioners sat on the plasterers’ scaffolding and knelt on bare floors while listening to the priest conduct services behind a temporary altar made of boards.

Nash then embarked on a fund-raising trip the following year to Neshaminy Falls, but the money was spent on the neighborhood’s needy.

"He used the money to comfort the poor in the parish rather than use it for the building," said Sister Peg Oravez, Epiphany’s associate in pastoral ministry. "What I like about him is that he seemed to have a heart for the people and the poor."

Consisting mostly of Irish immigrants, the community continued to raise what it could to create the church and its neighboring school, which opened in 1897 and encompassed the parking area now at the church. The elementary school is now at 13th and Jackson streets.

A drawing of a house on Porter Street was sold, raising $16,000, which was enough to finish the church.

The church "wasn’t built on big donations," said Oravez, from the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which has worked at the church for nearly 100 years. "It was built on faith and money of the poorer people. That’s why it took a long time to build."

The building was dedicated in 1905, the starting point for this year’s celebration.

One hundred years and six pastors later, the church continues to grow and change. Parishioners constructed a new "adoration chapel" inside the church Oct. 6, 2004, which constantly displays the Blessed Sacrament, Cavaliere said.

An influx of ethnic groups, including Asians, Cambodians, Indonesians and Mexicans, continue to change the demographics of the neighborhood and the church, said the Rev. John Pidgeon, Epiphany’s pastor for more than a year. Their arrival in the neighborhood gives a sense of poignancy to the centennial’s theme, he said.

"We want to communicate that everyone is welcome at Epiphany, no matter what their ethnic background," he said. "They’re most welcome to worship with us."

Looking forward, Pidgeon anticipates a positive future with hopefully 100 more years of warm memories.

"I’m really excited," he said. "We’ve got a lot of hope. A lot of life. I think many blessings will come to our parish."