St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church

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St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church

St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church, founded in 1890, is a Catholic church at 4625 Springfield Avenue in University City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Its cornerstone laid in 1907, the Guastavino tiled dome of the de Sales parish has been an icon in its neighborhood. The de Sales parish is a large church was designed by Philadelphia architect Henry D. Dagit, built in the Byzantine Revival style and modeled after Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, incorporating elements of the Arts and Crafts movement which was at its peak when the church was built.


The parish was created to serve the needs of the immigrant Irish community that was then living in the neighborhood. The parish has seen its congregation change over the years from the working class Irish immigrant families – who eventually left for the suburbs to the Vietnamese refugee families who still meet at the parish, though they too have moved on. The parish currently serves a large African immigrant community, a homegrown African American constituency, and the faculty, staff and students of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and the University of the Sciences. The parish is known for its choir, elementary school and the church organ.

The parish has been the anchor for the community, and is one reason that the portion of Cedar Park in which it sits did not decay as much as other parts of West Philadelphia.


The church is home to one of the largest pipe organs in the Delaware Valley, a four-manual, 6,000-plus pipe organ used by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra for their 1980 recording of Camille Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony No. 3. It is one of the best examples of French organ in the United States.

The tiled dome, and its leaks, has been a problem for the entire life of the church. All of the tiles on the entire dome were replaced in the 1950s by then-pastor Bishop Joseph McShea in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the leaking. It was suggested that the parish go with copper sheathing, but the bishop was reluctant to make such a drastic change.Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia-area interfaith group that works to support the preservation of churches and other houses of worship, is currently working with the parish to restore the dome, the stained-glass windows and the doors, as well as complete exterior cement work and other repairs and preventive maintenance.

The tile arch system, designed by the Raphael Guastavino Co. in 1911, is one of the best examples of the company's work in Philadelphia.

In 1968 as a result of liturgical changes made by the Second Vatican Council, the church hired the architects Robert Venturi and John Rauch to renovate the altar space to create a free standing altar. The alterations that Venturi and Rauch added included five parts: a new altar, a celebrant's chair, a suspended cathode light and the elevation of the sanctuary floor. These renovations were in an entirely modern style, clashing with the Byzantine architecture of the interior. The renovations were removed almost immediately at the request of the parishioners, who reacted negatively to the renovations.

Notable parishioners
  • Peter Boyle
  • Joseph A. Pepe, Bishop of Las Vegas

Building Activity

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