By Carla Lucas, Correspondent
The walls of Parroquia de San Roque, (St. Rocco’s Parish in English), the only Hispanic national parish of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, are rising on Sunnydell Road near Route 41. With a southwestern/Mexican style similar to Mission Capistrano, in California, this new addition to the community is targeted for opening on August 16, 2011, the annual celebration feast day for St. Rocco.
The creation of this ethnically-centered parish (as opposed to the other geographically-centered Catholic parishes) elevates the Mision Santa Maria from a mission serving the needs of the local Hispanic community to a full-fledged parish dedicated to the local Spanish-speaking population. Father Frank Depman, who was the chaplain of Mision Santa Maria, is now the pastor of St. Rocco parish.
Father Depman came to southern Chester County in 1990 charged to establish a mission for the area’s growing Spanish-speaking community. By 1992 Mision Santa Maria was providing Spanish-speaking religious services at the five existing Catholic parishes in the area and working out of the bottom level of a small strip mall on Route 41 in Avondale, Pa.
In the last 20 years this community continued to grow where today St. Rocco’s Parish has approximately 12,000 members. Four Argentine nuns and two additional priests (besides Father Depman) serve the needs of the community. There are six Masses a week with an average attendance of 2,000 people. St. Rocco’s performed 425 baptisms this year, more than any other parish in the Philadelphia Archdioceses. On the weekends the Parish has between two and four special events such as weddings, baptisms, and quinceañeras. St. Rocco’s CCD program serves 1,100 children in its afterschool programs, which they pick-up from the various schools via their fleet of six school buses.
“It was becoming more difficult to find space at the local parishes,” said Father Depman about the Mision’s needs over an average week.
The creation of a new parish and house of worship was made possible through the generosity of a benefactor, (a former Wilmington-based businessman who wishes to not be mentioned by name), who in 2006 read a story about Mision Santa Maria, in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He contacted Father Depman and said he wanted to build them a church and he wanted to call it St. Rocco’s after the saint for which he felt a great affinity. St. Rocco is a popular saint in France, Italy and Mexico with many churches named in his honor. Of particular note is St. Rocco’s church in Moroleón, near Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, Mexico. Many of the local Mexican population come from this region of Mexico and know of or attended the church when in Guanajuato.
After much searching, the 22-acre L-shaped lot with an existing building facing Route 41 and a large empty field behind was chosen for the new parish. This site had enough space for the new house of worship as well as space for additional outbuildings such as a convent and housing for the priests.
The existing building (former Amish furniture store) was converted to the St. Rocco Center with offices and meeting rooms. Local mushroom farms donated work crews to help in parts of the renovation such as laying tile and re-roofing the building. The former Mision Santa Maria location continues to be a social center for the parish and the hub for the donation center.
After years in the planning process, ground breaking for St. Rocco’s church occurred on August 16, 2010 for the 500-seat church. On October 12 Cardinal Justin Rigali of the Philadelphia Archdioceses announced the establishment of the new parish.
Looking forward to August 16, 2011 it is planned for St Rocco’s Church to officially open its door for the annual feast day to honor the church’s patron saint.
More information about St. Rocco’s Parish is available online at www.StRoccoChurch.org.