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Though a few people who entered the United States as students settled down in Philadelphia prior to 1970, a large number of Syro Malabarians migrated to the area in 1970s. By 1975 about hundred Indian Catholics, majority among them being Syro Malabarians, lived in Philadelphia. A community was formed in 1977 and the Indian Catholic Association offered services including liturgical service.
In 1983 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia established the Indian Catholic Mission – Syro Malabar Rite and appointed Rev. Fr. John Edappally, a Syro Malabar priest from the Congregation of Mary Immaculate (CMI) to serve the community. CMI priests from the province of Trichur continued to serve the mission until 2003.
Mission Comes under Syro Malabar Diocese
On February 13, 2003 His Excellency Mar Jacob Angadiath, the head of the newly established Syro Malabar diocese of Chicago, appointed Rev. Fr. Jacob Christy Parambukattil as Mission Director.
Rev. Fr. Christy worked tirelessly to accomplish the long-cherished dream of the people to have a place of their own for liturgical services and other activities. The community worked together for the accomplishment of the goal. On January 19, 2005 a Synagogue facility was purchased by the community. After completing the necessary repair and building a sanctuary the Church facility was consecrated by His Excellency Mar Jacob Angadiath on March 19, 2005, on the feast day St. Joseph. On the same day the mission was declared a parish. Today the parish consists of more than 400 families.
On March 19, 2005, Rev. Fr. Jacob Christy Parambukattil was appointed as its first Pastor. He served until he was transferred to Houston in January 2009. Rev. Fr. John Meleppuram served as the second pastor/vicar (2009 – 2012) and Rev. Fr. Augustine Palackapararambil (2013 -2014). When Fr. Augustine was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese, Rev. Fr. Johnykutty George Puleessery became the pastor. All these pastors and the lay leadership who worked along with them made Philadelphia a strong parish community.
Several major initiatives took place during the short history of the parish. All of them helped to lay a stable foundation for the parish community. Consolidation and growth were the hallmarks of these initiatives. Some of them are listed below:
Spiritual Growth and Faith Formation
The first and foremost rationale of existence for a parish community is spiritual growth and faith formation. To realize these objectives the parish initiated several ongoing activities.
Religious Education Program
One of the major activities contributing to the continued development of the parish is the Religious Education program. The parish community and a special committee appointed for the purpose took tremendous efforts to begin the school on a solid base. The school started on September 18, 2005.
The School of Religious Education continues to be the backbone of the parish. During the years the school initiated several programs helping the growth of the parish. Presently, from PRE-K to 12 grade, 14 classes are conducted. Thirty–six members of the parish make up the school staff. About 300 children are receiving faith formation.
Besides the class room instruction, the staff coordinate various activities, such as: Vacation Bible School, Bible Jeopardy, Saints’ Day Parade, Christ the King Feast and Rally, Jesus’ Birthday Party, Vocation Day, Career Day, Food Drive for the Poor and Pilgrimage/Field Trips.
Parents of the students are involved in the running of the school. A Parent –Teacher Association is very active in the parish.
Lay organizations play a great role in the growth of the parish. Presently the following organizations operate in the parish. Syro Malabar Catholic Congress (SMCC), Marian Mothers, St. Vincent De Paul Society, Mission League, Youth League, and Altar Servers.
The parish began novena devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help on every Saturday and Divine Mercy novena on every Thursday. These devotions continue to draw people to the Holy Mass, confession and communion.
The parish conducts spiritual retreats for adults and children during the Lent. Besides these retreats the parish conducts retreats on other occasions too.
Feast of St. Thomas
From the very inception of the community in 1978 the feast of St. Thomas was celebrated in Philadelphia. After becoming a parish, the community started to celebrate it as a three-day festival. It has become a major event in the area attracting many people from other areas too. Besides the main feast, the feasts of other saints are also celebrated.
Philadelphia community as a mission had well defined Ward System in place. As a parish, it continued with the same Ward System and strengthened it with regular monthly meetings. Several activities in the parish, such as Christmas Caroling, Family Night and Parish Picnic, are coordinated on ward basis.
The parish purchased a three-bed room house near the Church as rectory.
Deepti Malayalam School managed by the SMCC has become a major activity in the parish. A total of seventy students are studying Malayalam. These classes are conducted after the CCD classes.
Celebration of Rosary month
The parish celebrates the month of October as rosary Month. The last ten days of the month are set apart for the solemn celebration of Rosary and Holy Mass..
The parish celebrates ettunombu with Holy mass on all days.
Marriage Preparation Course
Pre-Cana course or marriage preparation course is conducted by the parish every other year. The number of participants who enroll continue to grow year by year and they come from all over the country.
Parish Becomes a Forane Church
As a recognition of its importance, His Excellency Mar Jacob Angadiath elevated the parish to the status of a Forane Parish in the diocese on March 22, 2015. Very Rev. Fr. Johnykutty George Puleessery became the first Forane Vicar.
A mere glance at the activities that were organized down the years shows that the Philadelphia Syro Malabar Parish is quite well established and that it is dynamic and continues to grow. Hopefully, in the future, this growth will extend to avenues not yet reached by this community, such as vocations to priestly and religious life, thus supporting the Church in India and engaging in evangelization worldwide, thus fulfilling the ultimate purpose of its existence.