The History and Founding of our Church
Organized Romanian-American cultural life in Philadelphia began in 1906 with the establishment of the Romanian beneficial society, “Societatea Banatiana”, by immigrants from the province of Banat in south-western Romania. Most of these pioneer immigrants settled in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, between Spring Garden and Poplar Streets and Second and Fifth Streets. As the community did not possess a church building, members gathered in the society’s hall to sing hymns; and occasionally visiting Romanian clergymen held services for them there.
After Father Moise Balea officiated at Pentacost Sunday services on June 13, 1913, 23 men, mostly society members, publicly declared the establishment of a Romanian-Orthodox parish and appropriately named it Descent of the Holy Spirit Romanian Orthodox Church. Religious services continued to be held in the society’s hall until 1919. In that year the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania offered the Romanian Orthodox congregation free use of the rear building of St. John’s Episcopal Church at American and Brown Streets located then in the center of the Romanian colony.
In 1923 the Episcopal Diocese gave the Romanian congregation free use of the entire church property, including the church edifice, which was designed in 1815 by the noted Philadelphia architect William Strickland. During the first sixteen years of its existence, Descent of the Holy Spirit Church was served by no fewer than nine clergymen. In 1929 the congregation received its first permanent priest, Father John Popovici (1890-1973). This pioneer Romanian priest honorably served his people for nearly forty years until he retired in 1968. In 1965, the majority of the church council and membership decided to relocate the parish to the nearby Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park in Montgomery County. There the congregation purchased a modified Gothic style Presbyterian church with attached parish hall, grounds, and parish house. The church was remodeled for Orthodox church services and consecrated on September 26, 1965 by Archbishop Valerian Trifa.
Since Father Popovici’s long pastorate, Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Church has been served by Father Peter Lipovan (l968-1975), Father Mircea Marinescu (l975-1997), and Father Eugen Vasilescu (l997-2000). The present parish priest is Father Adrian Grigoras. The parish is a member of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, which is headquartered in Jackson, Michigan, and headed by the Most Reverend Archbishop Nathanial Popp.
The congregation currently has little over l00 members. Many members belong to families consisting of second-to fourth-generation Romanian-Americans; but a majority of the congregation comprises more recent immigrants from all provinces of Romania. Church services are held every Sunday morning beginning at 9:30 A.M., and on Friday evenings at 7 P.M. in the summer and 6 P.M. in the winter. Religious services are conducted in both the Romanian and English languages. Romanian cultural events such as dances, dinners, musical and theatrical performances are held on a regular basis throughout the year. A Romanian-American cultural museum, organized and sponsored by the Societatea Banatiana, is open to the general public by appointment.Return to top