St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, located on the 700 block of Montrose Street, is a gorgeous church with a rich history. Per Philaplace, it was the first Italian national parish in America when it was formed in 1852, and served as a cultural center for the immigrant community. As the Italian population grew in South Philadelphia, additional Italian national parishes appeared in different parts of the city, with the closest being just a few blocks away.

St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church

In recent decades, for a host of reasons, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has gone through a major transition, consolidating parishes and closing down several churches where participation has dwindled. In Bella Vista, St. Mary Magdalen ceased to be its own parish in 2000, merging with Saint Paul Church on the 900 block of Christian Street. The building has continued to function as a worship site, hosting masses and funerals, but it’s not used in a full time capacity anymore. As such, its neighboring convent and rectory no longer served church functions, turning into apartments and the Mario Lanza Institute, respectively.

Former convent
Former rectory

The former convent seems likely to remain in its current state for the foreseeable future, but the former rectory’s days are numbered. As the Archdiocese has consolidated its parishes, it has similarly consolidated its real estate holdings, selling off properties that aren’t being used for mission-specific purposes. And that’s why we weren’t surprised to learn that the Lanza Institute is moving to a new location near 12th & Reed while its former home is getting redeveloped. Earlier this month, developers presented plans to the community to demolish the existing building and replace it with seven new homes. Given the desirability of this neighborhood and the relative lack of new construction around here, we can appreciate how this plan came around.

Because Bella Vista is in such demand, parking isn’t so easy in the neighborhood. That’s why the developers proposed seven homes with garages- people like being able to park at home and pay premium for the privilege. Alas, the neighbors didn’t appreciate the garage fronts due to concerns about eyes on the street and pushed back against the project as a result. Now the developers are planning to come back to the community with revised plans, perhaps sans garages and maybe with designs that more resemble the existing housing stock in the neighborhood. If they do, figure they’ll get neighborhood support and ZBA approval, and that means we’ll probably see some construction on this block sometime over the summer. Checking in here will be a good excuse to grab some water ice from John’s in a few months… not that we’ve ever needed an excuse before.