The Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute is one of those little-known treasures that make a place special—even a city as large as Philadelphia. It’s a private club for Catholics at the intersection of the social and charitable circles, located at The Stotesbury Mansion at 1923 Walnut Street, off of Rittenhouse Square. Its motto: “Revere the Church, thy Mother, and love thy Fatherland.” I first encountered the Philopatrian a decade ago in the summer of 2006. I was interning for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, for some event whose details are foggy.
It’s described by the Archdiocesan Historical Research Center in this way:
Established in Philadelphia in December 1850 by Father Edward J. Sourin, the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute serves, and continues to serve, as a social, literary, and charitable organization. Father Sourin started the organization as a way for Catholic men to continue their educational and cultural development beyond formal schooling. The Institute frequently sponsored balls, concerts, theatrical productions, and lecture series. Philopatrians quickly became a significant presence within the city as they became involved in both religious and secular affairs.
(I also came across this video on the Philo and relished its opening sentence: “At its founding, Philadelphia was above all a ‘Holy Experiment,’ a religious colony of refuge and a reflection of the social insight of its patron, William Penn.” No one speaks this way any more.)
The Philo has long been a part of Philadelphia, but like so many similar clubs in this and other major cities, its membership has dwindled to only a handful over the past few decades. Philadelphia’s population was much greater a century ago than it is today, and the Philo’s peak probably came sometime before the Union League started admitting Catholics in the 1960s.