Fun Facts to warm your heart about St. James School in nearby Allegheny — from free community dinners to the most historic “Mannequin challenge” ever.
St. James the Less church and cemetery is a National Historic Landmark — it’s the country’s first pure English Parish-style church, and one of the finest examples of 19th Century American Gothic architecture.
Totally accidental, btw. The congregation here asked their English counterparts for the church plans they’d all discussed and agreed upon. Instead of those, someone sent entirely different plans, whoops.
You’d think the builder or the architect would’ve said something when handed drawings for a medieval stone church in a style that hadn’t been made for six hundred years.
But nope. He followed every detail meticulously so now we’ve got a reproduction c. 1230 church in Philadelphia. And as you might imagine, this structure is absolutely fascinating — inside and out. And it’s accessible, too: the cemetery grounds are open to the public, and the school provides many opportunities for community engagement.
Indeed, a majority of the faculty and students live in the immediate area, and the administration maintains a full calendar of activities that welcome neighbors. Most recently, an exciting and innovative Black History Month exhibit: an insightful, informative riff on the “Mannequin Challenge.”
Called “A Living Wax Museum,” students dressed and posed as their favorite African-American heroes, waiting for visitors to tap their shoulders, and activate each “figure” to come alive with a speech about their life and accomplishments. All grades participated, and everyone had a blast. CBS News even came out to cover this super-positive news story — congrats to the kids and teachers!
(PS: Hope we see more of this idea, too: we’re delighted to include St. James School events on our Events Calendar.)
The historic cemetery is open to the public, and a really cool space to wander around and admire the solid old gravestones, some quite ornate and creative. Of course, the famous Wanamaker tower, plus sweeping views of Laurel Hill and Mount Vernon. QUICK TIP: Try to time your visit to catch the chimes strike the hour and jam a bit.
St. James also opens its doors every Sunday evening at 5PM for a community mass followed by dinner right there in the church. And a great way to meet our nearby neighbors to the north.
A fine walk for a nice day (map), or a very short drive with free street parking. Historically a part of East Falls — aka “The Falls of Schuylkill” — the congregation here not-that-long-ago split with the Episcopal Church over theological differences, and in 2006 St. James the Less shuttered its doors.
The School started up five years later in 2010. Their mission: to provide first-rate middle-school education in a nurturing environment to traditionally under-resourced students in the neighborhood. St. James is literally rebuilding the community, by giving kids here a leg-up in life: graduating students have their pick of the city’s best high schools and academies.
FREE TOURS FOR NEIGHBORS
St. James School’s headmaster lives on site and is happy to give tours, including the chapel and Wanamaker tower. David Kasievich is also a really interesting guy with lots of cool stories — email David at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to see the grounds and learn more about all the good stuff going on right in our own backyard.
PS: You can most likely coax David into playing — highly recommend! When you hear those old pipes echoing off those stone arches in person, your heart will soar… Tell him East Falls Local sent ya, he’ll do a rendition of In a Gadda Da Vida that’ll knock your socks off. 😉