Commemoration to be held Saturday for Tacony church destroyed in fire

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church burned down May 9.
PHOTO: Philadelphia Fire Department

Former priests, nuns, parishioners and neighbors will gather Saturday morning in Tacony for a ceremony to remember St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, which was destroyed in a massive fire last month.

Known for its open bell tower, which was visible from I-95, the church was engulfed in flames May 9, and investigators soon determined that the blaze had been set intentionally.

Archbishop Nelson Perez will lead a Mass at 11 a.m. Saturday in Disston Park, across the street from the site of St. Leo’s, 6660 Keystone St. It will be livestreamed on the website of Walter J. Meyers Funeral Home.

A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to comment on the case other than to say that it is still a very active investigation. No one has been arrested.

ATF agents are investigating the arson along with the Philadelphia Police Department and Fire Marshal’s Office.

About 100 firefighters and other personnel responded to the fire, and it took about two hours for them to get the blaze under control.

PHOTO: Philadelphia Fire Department

St. Leo’s had been sold by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia about a month before the fire and the new owner planned to turn the building into an arts and performance center, according to Catholic Philly.

The parish was merged with Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church, also in Tacony, in 2013, and it was permanently shuttered in 2019 after nearly 120 years.

Designed by Frank R. Watson, a prominent church architect, St. Leo’s opened in 1894 to serve the neighborhood’s growing Irish immigrant population, many of whom worked at the booming Disston Saw Works plant.

The Tacony Community Development Corporation successfully nominated the church to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places two years ago.

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