The most striking part of doing this research was that I did not at all find what I had expected. I had expected the founding of parishes to spread out from the city of Philadelphia in a steady almost concentric pattern. The reality is something much different. Not only did growth not spread out from Philadelphia, it did not even begin there. The first parish to be founded in what is now the Philadelphia Archdiocese was actually founded in Delaware County: St. Thomas the Apostle in Chester Heights in 1729. The second parish was founded in Philadelphia, but the third was founded in Bucks County even farther away from Philadelphia than the first: St. John the Baptist in Revere in 1743.

I had also expected to see more parish closures, more parishes being conjoined or moved. It may be that these are more urban trends, but there were few such instances in the outer counties. There was only one notable case, that of West Chester and the closure of nearly all the local parishes and the establishing of a new parish combining all of their congregations.

The outer counties did not experience an urban growth pattern, with relatively high density spreading out from an urban core. Instead, parishes seem to have been founded around the opportunities for settlement and industry available outside of Philadelphia. This would explain the high concentration of parishes along the river in Delaware County.

Moving Forward

The simple exercise of mapping the founding of parishes provides an intriguing view of the patterns of growth around Philadelphia. This research has presented many, many opportunities for future research.

Foremost among these would be to extend the mapping into the county of Philadelphia. The data was gathered, but the task beyond the capacity of one person for this project. Philadelphia, with its more urban character, may present some of the growth patterns that were initially expected.

The Archives of the Archdioce of Philadelphia contain a wealth of information that could add immensely to the work already done. The archives have many parish histories. The few that were looked at as a part of this project often revealed what brought the original critical mass of Catholics to the area. The archives also have an extensive record of statistics on the parishes in the archdiocese, including the number of families in each parish by year and even the collection incomes of the parishes by year. Linking this information to the locations of the parishes would tell a rich story. The existence of a parish can also be a slightly misleading measure of growth as an established parish can vary considerably in size over its lifetime. This information would convert the existing information about the spread of parishes into actual population and demographic data.

There is a wealth of information at this archive and in this subject to take a unique look at the growth of a distinct segment of the society that settled this area.

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