Church History

Church History

St. Nicholas of  Tolentine Church

1700 S  on 9th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19148-1695

 215-463-1326, FAX 215-463-0888


The church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine owes its beginnings (1912) to the Italian Augustinian priests who, at the invitation of Archbishop Patrick John Ryan, came to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to start a church on Christian Street, between Eighth and Ninth Streets, to help minister to the very large influx of Italian immigrants. The parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel was formally established on January 8, 1898 with three Augustinians, who had arrived from Italy. They were Fr. William Repetti, pastor, Fr. Angelo Caruso, assistant and Brother Bernardino Falconi.

The Papal Delegate, Archbishop Sebastian Martinelli, O.S.A., blessed the cornerstone of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on May 21, 1899. People began to flock to the new Italian church for baptisms, marriages and other church functions. Baptisms alone on some weekends were as many as forty. The unprecedented church activity continued for the next fourteen years. Meanwhile, many Italian families kept moving farther south in the city and, finding themselves too far from the church, began neglecting their religious obligations. The Fathers at Our Lady of Good Counsel were very concerned. They searched for a solution to this problem and found it in a small Protestant church at 9th and Watkins Streets about eight blocks south of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. The church was up for sale! The Fathers thought they could use this building as an auxiliary or mission church to serve the Italians who were moving to this area. The following news item appeared in the Philadelphia Ledger on February 27, 1912:

Downtown Church is Sold for $14,500

      The old building of Salem Congregation to be used as Catholic Church.


The building of Salem Church of  the Evangelical Association of North America at the southwest corner of Ninth and Watkins Streets, below Morris, was sold to the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine, which about two years ago, built the handsome new church of St. Rita at Broad and Federal Streets. The sale was negotiated by P. F. Kernan, real estate broker. Included in the sale of Salem Church was the two-story parsonage adjoining Ninth Street. The price paid for the church and parsonage was $14,500. The Salem building will be used, in the future, as a chapel in connection with the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Christian Street, west of Eighth. It was built about eighteen years ago and it is significant of the rapid change of population in the older section of the city. It was found necessary to offer it for sale several years ago. It was held for sale until recently for $28,500. About a year ago, a Hebrew congregation entered into an agreement to purchase the church for $18,500, but the sale was not consummated.

The church and parsonage were purchased by the Augustinians with the approval of Archbishop Edmond Francis Prendergast who realized that there was a great demand for Italian speaking priests in Philadelphia.

On Sunday, April 14, 1912, Father Martin J. Geraghty, Commissary General of the Augustinians in the U.S., blessed the new chapel. The archbishop could not attend because of a previous engagement. The priest in residence there was to be the administrator. The church building had two levels which was not suited for Catholic worship. A few minor changes were made to remedy the situation. Nevertheless, in 1916, the building was torn down and the new structure was built. At 3 P.M. on Sunday, December 3, 1916, a large number of people witnessed the laying of the cornerstone of the new St. Nicholas Church. Father Alfonso Baldassare officiated. The people in the area were pleased with what was being done, and contributed according to their means. Three beautiful marble altars were donated by the Lagomarsino family, the main altar dedicated in memory of Father John Cerruti, the first administrator.

It should be remembered that, in those early days, the Augustinians of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church had to administer to the spiritual needs of Italian Catholics who lived between 8th and 12th Streets and south of Market Street as far as the Navy Yard.

For twenty-one years this new church, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, worked under the parent church, Our Lady of Good Counsel, on Christian Street. Each successive priest was an administrator, although the faithful considered him their pastor.

In 1933, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church closed its doors for good. The job of administering to the new Italian immigrants was done. There was no need for the church to remain open, since there was a long established church, St. Paul, in the same area.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia made St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church an official parish church by transferring the parish records of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church to St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

On Sunday, April 11, 1937, a Solemn High Mass was celebrated to commemorate the 25th Anniversary, or Silver Jubilee, of the church's opening. Father Claude Fabrizi, O.S.A. was pastor.

During these years of active ministry in Philadelphia, the Augustinians in Italy kept sending to our shores a steady flow of workers. As early as 1920, the Fathers and Brothers welcomed Augustinians from the island of Malta and from Spain. Today, most of the Augustinians serving St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish are native born Americans.

Administrators/Pastors of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church

Rev. John Cerruti, O.S.A. (1912-1914)

Rev. Alfonso Baldassare, O. S. A. (1914-1926)

Rev.  Philip Pambianco, O. S. A. (1926-1927)

Rev. Eugene Fiteni, O.S.A. (1927-1928)

Rev. Lorenzo Andolfi O.S.A. (1928-1933)

Rev. Claude Fabbrizi, O.S.A. (1933-1955)

Rev. Peter Toscani, O.S.A. (1954-1958)

Rev. Louis Diorio, O.S.A. (1958-1961)

Rev. Angelo Allegrini, O.S.A. (1961-1971)

Rev. Joseph Gattinella, O.S.A. (1971-1984)

Rev. Nicholas Martorano, O.S.A. (1984-Present)




FATHER JOHN CERRUTI, who was only 32 years of age, was appointed first administrator of the new Mission Chapel, which henceforth was to be known as the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine. He was in charge for two years. In 1914, due to ill health, he relinquished his position to Fr. Alfonso Baldassare, while still remaining at St. Nicholas as an assistant. He became seriously ill in November, 1918, and was taken to St. Agnes Hospital. Father John passed on to his eternal reward in the Convent of  Our Lady of Good Counsel on March 28, 1919. His remains were placed in the vault in front of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, but on July 31, 1956 they were transferred to St. Mary's Cemetery in East Vineland, New Jersey.


FATHER  ALFONSO BALDASSARE was placed in charge of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in November, 1914, and he began to plan for its future development. He purchased several houses next to the rectory and on Pierce Street. By 1916, everything was ready for the building of  the present church. The laying of the cornerstone took place on December 3, 1916.

During the construction, Masses were celebrated at 1720 S. 9th ST, a house adjacent to the rectory whose first floor had been converted into a long hall. The worshippers were asked to be generous in their contributions, because the sum of $200,000 was needed to build the new church. By 1918, the new edifice was ready for Divine worship.Three marble altars were installed in 1919 after the death of Fr. John Cerruti, in whose honor the main altar was dedicated. Not long after, a campaign was initiated to raise funds for a parochial school.  In 1925 the new school was ready. Fr. Baldassare had done his job well. The next year he returned to Italy and died there a few years later. 


FATHER FILIPPO PAMBIANCO was the next pastor and served in that capacity from February 1926 to December 1927. He converted the basement of the church into another chapel to accommodate many more worshippers. When this was completed, the two churches, upper and lower, could now handle 1400 persons. Father also purchased some small houses on Watkins Street next to the church. These eventually were used for a new rectory. Fr. Panbianco died on December 30, 1952, and is buried at Villanova.


FATHER EUGENE FITENI was appointed acting pastor in December 1927, and held this position for about eight months, during which time he paid $10,000 off the debt. During the summer of 1928, he was transferred to the church of Our Lady of Pompeii in East Vineland, New Jersey, where he served as pastor for the next 20 years. He died in Dobbs Ferry, NY on February 28, 1966, and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in East Vineland, NJ.


FATHER LORENZO ANDOLFI became the next pastor in the summer of 1928 and held that position until May, 1933, during which time he built the present rectory on Watkins Street and converted the old one on 9th St. into a convent for the Sisters who taught in the school. These nuns were the Missionary Sisters of St. Francis. It was during Fr. Andolfi's tenure of office that Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Christian Street was closed, and the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine was incorporated (1933) as an independent parish with canonical foundation, which it previously did not have. Fr. Andolfi died in Lawrence, Mass., on February 5, 1962.


FATHER CLAUDIO FABBRIZI who had been assigned to St. Nicholas as an assistant in January, 1929, now became pastor on May 3, 1933. During his long pastorate (1933-1955), he succeeded in paying off the parish debt of over $200,000, for which he received a very gracious letter from Cardinal Dougherty thanking him for this accomplishment. He also remodeled the school in 1948, while making other improvements to the church and rectory. He also purchased more property on Pierce Street, sufficient for the new convent of the Sisters, which was ready for occupancy in 1954. By this time, he succeeded in obtaining the "Maestre Pia Filippini" as teachers in the school. Fr. Fabrizi left St. Nicholas on Feb. 11, 1955 to become pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York. In the early 60's, he returned to Italy because of poor health and died on December 18, 1970 at Ostia Lido, Italy.


FATHER PETER TOSCANI was the next pastor, and he held this office from 1955 to 1958. He succeeded in meeting the needs of this large parish, as one can see when considering the things he accomplished.  He had the upper and lower churches painted, as well as the rectory. The kitchen was remodeled and furnished. The first floor of the school was also remodeled, and a much needed lavatory was added at an expense of $20,000. Fr. Toscani also bought four houses on Pierce Street, opposite the school,  which subsequently were torn down to make room for a schoolyard. He left St. Nicholas in 1958 to become first Headmaster, of the new St. Augustine Prep School for boys in Richland, New Jersey where he served until 1970. Fr. Peter Toscani returned to St. Nicholas many times as an assistant. Father Peter died on January 15, 2001 at St. Thomas Monastery, Villanova University, Villanova, PA.


FATHER LOUIS DIORIO who had been an assistant at St. Nicholas, was recalled from Cuba in 1958 and assumed the duties of pastor until 1961. He continued along the lines of his predecessors by making several improvements, such as adding an annex to the school which meant eight more classrooms. He was transferred to East Vineland, New Jersey, where he became pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Church. During the next six years there, he purchased land and did all  the preliminary work for the new church of Our Lady of Pompeii. He returned to St. Nicholas in 1967. Father Diorio passed away July 29, 1987.


The VERY REV. ANGELO ALLEGRINI, after completing his term as Commissary Provincial of the Vice Province of Our Lady of Good Counsel, became the next pastor of St. Nicholas church. He lost no time in carrying out his studied project to remodel, completely, both the upper and lower churches so that, apart from being beautiful and devotional, the faithful would find them comfortable in  both summer and winter. Of course, a large sum of money was needed--about $300,000--but with his dynamic personality, Fr. Angelo found a large number of supporters who pledged and made good their promise to help financially. He also made extensive changes and additions throughout the rectory. It was during his term as pastor, that the fiftieth or golden anniversary of the construction of St. Nicholas Church was solemnly commemorated. Fr. Angelo continued his duties as pastor, even though he was burdened once more with the duties of Vice Provincial from 1967 to 1971. He resigned as pastor in 1971 because of poor health and in the late days of summer of 1972, he decided to go to Florida in hopes of improving his health. However, on September 21,1972, he had another heart attack and was found dead that morning in his hotel room. His funeral drew capacity crowds both in Philadelphia and East Vineland, where he was laid to rest in St. Mary's cemetery.


FATHER JOSEPH R. GATTINELLA, a graduate of St. Nicholas School, became pastor in August  of 1971, after the resignation of Father Angelo Allegrini. He was pastor for 13 years and kept everything in good order, making needed repairs and paying bills. He managed to pay off, gradually, some of the  church debt. In fact, on October 12, 1980 there was a Mass of Thanksgiving commemorating the burning of the mortgage, because the final payment had been made. The Cardinal wrote him a note of thanks and congratulations. On April 29, 1984 Father Gattinella celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination. On October 24,1984 due to ill health Father Joe's superiors decided to relieve him of his pastoral duties and they appointed an administrator, who subsequently became the next pastor. Father Joe remained in the parish as pastor emeritus, which means that, although relieved of his duties, he still retained honorary rank and title. Father Gattinella passed away June 12, 1987.


FATHER NICHOLAS MARTORANO, a St. Nicholas parishioner, arrived as administrator on May 2, 1984 and was confirmed as pastor on October 17,1984. A young and very capable man with a college degree in Business Administration, and a personality that exudes harmony and peace, the faithful thanked God for making such a wise choice. He continues to do the good work of his predecessors. Because of his efficient ways of raising money (which never includes block collections), he was able to accomplish a great deal, such as : a new organ, marble flooring and paneling for the sanctuary, a large Crucifix for the center altar, new statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and The Risen Christ, a new Tabernacle and a new Baptismal font. He had new church doors installed and a new canopy for the front of the church. He was able to add a larger meeting room, air conditioning for the lower church and an elevator. He added trees along 9th Street (Church side), Pierce Street (school and convent areas)  and Watkins Street (side of the Church and rectory areas). He computerized the church records and is able to keep the data reasonably current by having teams of census takers going house to house in the parish every few years.

Fr. Nick's mission is to encourage the members of the community to (1) continue to come to Church, (2) encourage fallen away Catholics to return to church and (3) to reach out to the unchurched so that they can find a home church at St. Nicholas.

His second and equally important mission is to continue to help the youth of the parish. (He can be seen outside of school twice a day every day at dismissal time talking to the kids.) Education, for Father Nick, is equally important for the youth as it is for the older parishioners. He encourages participation in Adult Religious Classes and inspires the parishioners to be Disciples in Mission by bringing their friends and family members to the Church to complete their Sacraments (of Initiation and Marriage in the Church).