The Church in the Changing City: Parochial Restructuring in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Historical Perspective

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2009

Journal Title

U.S. Catholic Historian






On April 2, 1993, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced its decision to restructure parishes in North Philadelphia and the city of Chester. Responding to decades of demographic change and the mounting financial burden of maintaining aging church buildings, the archdiocese determined that the dense concentration of parishes in these two communities was no longer sustainable. Moving beyond standard narratives of protest—and the recent misconception that parish closings have been precipitated by the financial demands of sexual abuse crisis settlements—this paper situates parish closings in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia within their larger historical context. It offers a comparison not only with other Catholic dioceses but also with other religious communities in Philadelphia, many of whom faced their own struggle with congregational decline and denominational planning. It assesses the changing methods and policies employed by the archdiocese to justify consolidation or closure, with particular attention to the recent implementation of localized “cluster pastoral planning.”