Parish Community Recognized as a Group that Relies on Bikes

In a recent article in SPOKE Magazine, the reporter explored how the use of bikes is an essential part of life in our immigrant community. Here is an excerpt from the feature: 

Pictured: Father Hugh Shields leads St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic church, which serves many immigrant bicyclists in South Philadelphia.

Father Hugh Shields leads St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic church at 17th and Morris streets. The church proudly boasts that it serves “the immigrant and the stranger in South Philadelphia” and offers weekly services in Vietnamese, Spanish and Indonesian. The majority of its congregants rely on bicycles to get around.“Our people don’t have cars,” Shields says. “When we have meetings here, it’s not cars parked. It’s bikes chained.”

Shields says his parishioners find that biking is not only cheaper, but also safer. With parking always a challenge in the neighborhood, some worry about having to park far from their front doors. “They’re worried about having problems while walking home,” he says.


Read more in Our People Don’t Have Cars: For immigrants in Philadelphia, the bicycle is a way of life, as featured in Issue 06 of SPOKE:



Sept 9th is a Day of Prayer for Peace

prayer for peace

In light of recent incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the United States, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has invited all dioceses across the country to unite in a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. He has also appointed a special task force to support bishops in marking that Day of Prayer, and more broadly, in promoting peace and healing during this time of great strain on civil society. The Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities will be celebrated on the feast of St. Peter Claver, September 9th. The following is a prayer that can be used on that day. Visit this site for additional resources.

Prayer of the Faithful for the Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities

For an end to the violence perpetrated by harsh words, deadly weapons, or cold indifference. May our homes, our nation, and countries around the world become havens of peace, let us pray to the Lord.

For the grace to see every human being as a child of God, regardless of race, language or culture, let us pray to the Lord.

For the wisdom to receive the stories and experiences of those different from ourselves and to respond with respect, let us pray to the Lord.

For the strength to teach our children how to resolve differences non-violently and respectfully, and the courage to model it in our own behavior, let us pray to the Lord.

For our faith community, that we may celebrate and welcome the diverse faces of Christ in our worship, our ministries, and our leaders, let us pray to the Lord.

For our faith community, that we may respond boldly to the Holy Spirit’s call to act together to end violence and racism, let us pray to the Lord.

For healing and justice for all those who have experienced violence and racism, let us pray to the Lord.

For the protection of all police and first responders who risk their lives daily to ensure our safety; for fair and just policing that will promote peace and wellbeing in all our neighborhoods, let us pray to the Lord.

For our public officials, that they will strive to work for fair education, adequate housing, and equal opportunities for employment for all, let us pray to the Lord.

For our parish, that we may cultivate welcome, extend hospitality, and encourage the participation of people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, let us pray to the Lord.

For the courage to have difficult conversations about racism, and for a better appreciation of how our words and actions – or even our silence – can impact our communities, let us pray to the Lord.

For solidarity in our global human family, that we may work together to protect those who are most vulnerable and most in need, let us pray to the Lord.

Parish Partnership Creates a Place to Belong


Center director Bethany Welch and Youth Voices member Carid Maranan install mural panels in the Multicultural Community Garden.

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Just a few miles from where Democratic convention delegates met July 25-28 at the Wells Fargo Center, a South Philadelphia neighborhood echoed with the sounds of multiple languages, presenting an array of cuisines and businesses that cater to a dizzying diversity of ethnicities and cultures.

Once a landing place for Italian and Irish immigrants, the area which houses the Aquinas Center, an innovative church- and community-supported venture in welcoming and supporting immigrants, is now home to Asian, African, Latin American and others families seeking a new life in America.

Founded in 2013 as a collaboration between the people of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and various social service organizations and educational institutions, the center sits on the northeast corner of the church campus.

It is adorned with six community-created murals, the result of collaborative work that reflect the values and common vision of the groups who find a home at the center.

To read more about mural making and our desire to be a place that welcomes all, check out:

St. Thomas Aquinas Needs a New Roof

STAFor over 100 years, the parish church of St. Thomas Aquinas in South Philadelphia has been the home of wave after wave of immigrant families seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones. The church has been the site of sacraments spanning the very beginning of life to the tearful burying of the beloved deceased….. and the powerful, significant steps in between through First Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Marriage, and sometimes simply a holy place to pray quietly. And that mission continues today in the same beautiful, majestic setting of St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

Today this Church is in need of a new roof, and we hope to begin the repairs in September. Already, within just a few months out, present parishioners have raised over $40,000 with $10,000 more in a pledge that will be fulfilled, but we still require outside help. A major portion of the remaining $70,000 must still to be collected before the repairs can begin. If you can support us with a donation, we would be most appreciative. If you could pass on this need of ours to others, especially those who still hold precious memories of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in their hearts, we would be most grateful, as well.

Give online at GoFundMe or, send a check made out to St. Thomas Aquinas to 1719 Morris Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.

Any monies over and above our goal will be used to maintain the Church’s hope-filled presence in the neighborhood. Specifically, pointing on the front of the church, repairs to the stained glass windows, and upkeep of the floor are high on the list of priorities. This Church was built and maintained over these many years with LOVE. We wish to continue this mandate.

Please remember us in your prayers! Help spread the word!

St. Thomas Aquinas Selected to Host Jubilee of Migrants & Refugees


In response to the invitation of Pope Francis, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will sponsor a Jubilee of Migrants and Refugees celebration on Tuesday, June 21 at 7 pm at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in South Philadelphia. The theme of the gathering comes from Pope Francis and is ‘Migrants and Refugees challenge us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy’.   It will be a Liturgy of the Word celebration and Archbishop Chaput will preside. It is being sponsored by the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees office, the Office for Black Catholics, and the Office for Hispanic Catholics. The Prayer Service will feature 4 different choirs, 3 testimony speakers, and readings and prayers of the faithful in different languages. All are invited to join!

24 Hours for The Lord

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Pray with us!

If you can’t join us in person, submit a petition below and our community will pray with you. Petitions will be printed and placed in the chapel in a special basket. Your name and contact information will not be included.

In addition, you can pray for the following petitions during different hours:

Friday, March 4th
3PM Mercy for all those who need mercy
4PM Pope Francis and all faith leaders who are instruments of mercy
5PM Safety for those fleeing conflict
6PM Food for those who are hungry
7PM Water for those who are thirsty
8PM Shelter for those who are homeless
9PM Reconciliation and comfort for the suffering
10PM Healing for those who are caught in addiction
11PM Eternal rest for deceased loved ones

Saturday, March 5th
12AM Dedication to equity among leaders
1AM Transformation of broken systems
2AM Peace for all who suffer injustices
3AM Government leaders to honor the human dignity of each person in their decisions
4AM Conversion in our own hearts and in the hearts of our enemies
5AM Understanding and unity across peoples
6AM Care for God’s Creation
7AM Freedom for the victims of human trafficking
8AM Fair wages and work environments for those who labor
9AM Promotion of a culture of life
10AM Healing for the ill
11AM Rehabilitation for the incarcerated
12noon Forgiveness to be practiced and received
1PM Consolation for the doubtful
2PM Church to serve as a home for all
3PM Opening of hearts and minds to be transformed by mercy
4PM Appreciation for the beauty of diversity in the Mystical Body of Christ

Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12, Saturday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Spanish language Mass will be at 7:00 PM (instead of 5:30 PM). If you have never participated in this celebration, please consider joining the community. While the Mass in honor of Our Lady is in Spanish, the music, joy, and celebration go way beyond any language. Welcome!



Giving Tuesday: Support Youth Voices Program

With the colder weather upon us and early sunsets, it can be hard for urban teenagers to find safe places to gather after school. When they do find a coffee shop or restaurant, they are faced with two problems: High prices and a social bias against boisterous groups of teens, particularly young people of color.
The Aquinas Center Youth Voices program has devised a solution: Create their own coffee shop experience. These 13-17 year olds have determined what they need to host the cafes and even identified a charitable cause for proceeds. On this Giving Tuesday, please consider donating items to help their effort. We need the following:
– Coffee (espresso beans or ground regular and decaf)
– Used espresso machine
– Hot chocolate mix
– Brownie and cake mixes
– Sugar and creamer
– Candy
– Packaged cookies
Items can be dropped off at the center or arrangements can be made for pick up. Contact Shirley at 267-702-3454 for more details.  If you prefer to give online, visit: Thanks!  

Francis Fund Supports Culturally Relevant Food for South Philly Migrants and Refugees

bernardPhiladelphia, PA – Aquinas Center will receive $15,000 from the Francis Fund to make fresh, culturally relevant food available to immigrants and refugees in South Philadelphia. The Fund, a collaboration of the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homelessness Committee and Project HOME, was established to concretely address issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty in the Philadelphia region and to ensure the transformative effects of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States continue to be felt in underserved communities.

Aquinas Center was created in 2013 in the former convent of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in South Philadelphia, and has the mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action in order to respond to the changing needs of the neighborhood. The center will use the $15,000 for three main projects: purchasing culturally relevant food selections to supplement holiday meal distributions to local families; creating and distributing garden-at-home kits and training to encourage food-insecure families to grow food of their own; and making upgrades to the center’s kitchen to expand the existing program of nutrition and cooking workshops.

The project design arose out of awareness the problems of both hunger and food security in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where Aquinas Center is located. Lack of fresh food is a particular concern for the large and diverse immigrant and refugee population, who face extra hurdles in obtaining food that meets their cultural diet and food practices.

This three-pronged approach allows Aquinas Center to practice responsiveness in the form of the direct food donations, but also empowerment and community building through the garden kits and ongoing educational food and nutrition workshops. In this way they are able to have an immediate impact on hunger as well as work towards longer-term poverty alleviation.

The Francis Fund was founded in the weeks leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia to ensure that the Holy Father’s concern for the poor and marginalized would motivate real change in this region. Over 50 other organizations in the greater Philadelphia region, both faith-based and non-denominational, are receiving funding from the Francis Fund for a wide range of projects. In choosing recipients, the Fund was inspired by the Pope’s personal areas of compassion and concern. They prioritized projects which would build capacity for existing programs that serve people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty, that serve women who have been trafficked, or that provide healthy and nutritious food in food pantries.

In an address on Independence Hall in September, Pope Francis reminded immigrants that they “bring many gifts to [their] new nation,” and urged them to “never be ashamed of [their] traditions.” Thanks to the generosity of the Francis Fund, Aquinas Center will be able to work within the spirit of Pope Francis’ anti-poverty and anti-hunger missions, as well as continuing to respect and uplift the uniqueness and giftedness of individuals of all backgrounds

Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.
To learn more about our community and mission, visit
To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-928-4048.


Aquinas Center Director Invited to Rome

Welch GardenPhiladelphia, PA – Aquinas Center director Dr. Bethany J. Welch has been invited to Rome to represent the United States at the Solemn Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, a landmark document of the Second Vatican Council that promoted interfaith encounter and the Catholic Church’s witness to social justice concerns.

The gathering, coordinated by Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is designed to establish a dialogue among different generations on the issues raised by Gaudium et Spes, which are still of great urgency and which have assumed new connotations, especially after the election of Pope Francis, who has called on the Catholic Church to confront inequality and to minister to the margins of society.

“The invitation to attend the proceedings in Rome is a huge honor and comes at a unique time following the visit of the Holy Father to the United States,” remarks Dr. Welch. “I was particularly struck by his address to Congress when he said, ‘Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.’” “His call for responsiveness and solidarity reflects the impact of a document like Gaudium et Spes and reinforces the values on which Aquinas Center was founded.”

The Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965, led the Catholic Church into the modern era. Notably, it led the Church to begin celebrating Mass in the vernacular language, including English, transformed the Church’s efforts on interfaith dialogue and led the Church to rededicate itself to the cause of social justice. Gaudium et Spes is one of four key documents, known as constitutions, that were published by the Council fathers during the Second Vatican Council.

The celebrative event will be concluded by a gesture of symbolic handing over of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes legacy to an invited representation of youth and young adults from the different continents, with Dr. Welch representing the United States of America at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This groundbreaking dialogue will be held November 5-6, 2015 at the New Synod Hall in the Vatican and continue on at the Church Palace.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D, is the founding director of the Aquinas Center, which is housed in a multicultural, multilingual immigrant parish. The center opened in January 2013 with a mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action.  The Aquinas Center is home to urban immersion experiences, counseling services, legal services to help immigrants (regardless of documents), community organizing and advocacy efforts, English classes and urban revitalization activities. Bethany Welch identifies systemic injustice as a root cause of poverty alongside a lack of access to social services and high quality education based on geography. She speaks from the heart about the dignity of all persons informing her work, and how the work of Aquinas Center demonstrates the power of Catholic social teaching.

Her Catholic faith motivates her to promote an authentic “culture of encounter”, to which Pope Francis has called each of us. Bethany has worked to infuse this mission into the work of Aquinas Center, especially in its leadership trainings and through its community organizing.  According to Bethany, “Everyone has dignity. Everyone has gifts to share.”  In recognition of her gifts and devotion to working in solidarity with people living in poverty in her community, Bethany was awarded the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.  She received the award at a special reception at the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Orleans, LA, on June 12, 2014.


Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.
To learn more about our community and mission, visit
To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-928-4048.