Welcoming the Stranger in St. Vincent’s Parish, Philadelphia

St. Vincent’s Parish marks the second stop on our tour of how the Eastern Province welcomes the stranger. The Pope’s call to welcome the stranger is certainly welcomed in the community of St. Vincent’s parish. In fact, they have been living it well before the Pope issued his recent call.


The parish is within easy walking distance of the Motherhouse of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission. It has been a pillar of the Germantown community since it was founded in 1851.


An article the NCR describes St. Vincent’s Parish as “the social justice parish”. The article looked at the parish Pope Francis’ concept of the church as “Field Hospital”. We take a slightly different but complementary view. As called for by Pope Francis, the St. Vincent’s community welcomes, protects, integrates, and promotes the stranger.


The first sentence of their mission statement undergirds all their welcoming actions. “St. Vincent de Paul is a faith community striving to live Jesus’ gospel message of love, peace, and justice for all peoples.”  A look at the Ministries page invites a response of “let me count the ways”… more than 25 organized ways.


When I asked Fr. Sy Peterka for a list of how the parish specifically welcomes the stranger he responded with the following list. But he also added, “I must admit I was surprised how many ways we welcome the stranger.”




St. Vincent’s is one of the most active area churches in the NEW SANCTUARY MOVEMENT.  This is the primary faith-based agent working for the rights of the Stranger, the immigrant, the undocumented. Our parish NEW SANCTUARY GROUP meets regularly to promote actions and prayer.  We have helped be a support to Sanctuary churches since the Archdiocese has said that we can support Sanctuary churches but not be a sanctuary church ourselves. We have had seminarians assigned to us to work for the  NEW SANCTUARY MOVEMENT. In addition, we have helped provide housing for families that have a non-documented person.



They have
  • Been active participants in petitioning City Council and the Mayor in stopping the police from holding undocumented for ICE agents.
  • Petitioned and held public vigils outside City Hall and the ICE headquarters condemning the arrests of undocumented.
  • Accompanied the Stranger to court.
  • Paid the airfare for an undocumented husband of an American woman to return to his country to get the necessary documents and to return to his family here in the USA.
  • Led petition drives to prevent the police from confiscating immediately the cars of undocumented after they are stopped but to give them 30 minutes to get someone to drive their cars home.
  • Gone to Harrisburg to lobby legislators to allow drivers licenses to undocumented.
  • Invited undocumented persons to come to our Sunday Celebrations to share their story.
  • Supported Bishop Delliman in his efforts to help the undocumented and have attended a prayer service for the undocumented hosted by Bishop Delliman
  • Organized a six-hour prayer vigil for the Stranger and Undocumented.


Promoting and Integrating


Given the way the parish functions it is hard to isolate all the way they promote the human development and welfare of the strangers in their midst. It is as if there is no difference between strangers and ‘regulars”. The same holds true of integration. It is a very organic approach.


To learn more about their community visit


At many levels, the parish already lives many of the priorities expressed for the Congregation of the Mission in the “Lines of Action” approved at the recent General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission.


And yes, they face the same problems other parishes do – finances. To address these they have a “Raise the Roof’ campaign.


In the spirit of their mission statement, they invite you to come and see.


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