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St. Joseph's Church and Convent

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1733 site acquired; 1839 and 1850 present buildings; 2004 restoration, DPK&A. 300 block of Willings Alley

Entered through a low brick archway from Willings Alley, the interior court site of St. Joseph's recalls the density of contemporary London, but its original location was chosen for its discreet site and its proximity to the Catholic neighborhoods in the oldest parts of the city. Even though William Penn was aware of Catholic meetings as early as 1711, Catholicism remained prohibited in Britain and its territories, and its adherents were leery of their prospects even in Philadelphia. Roman Catholics purchased the plot of ground off Willings Alley for the construction of a church and graveyard in 1733, and the following year their right to worship was challenged by the governor but was rejected by the Provincial Assembly on the grounds of Penn's assurance of religious tolerance to his colonists. This led to the construction of a tiny church that was entered from a small alley. Despite its late Federal marble-trimmed brick facade, the present building is an 1839 replacement of the original building with an adjacent school of the same period. The oldest portion is the late-eighteenth-century rectory, which was extended in 1850 by the fine brownstonetrimmed brick building that provides access to the church via an archway from Willings Alley.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "St. Joseph's Church and Convent", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 69-69.

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