By Lauren Lipton

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Italian Market Festival is Saturday and Sunday, May 17th and 18th.  But this year, the huge block party offers something new.

“For this first time ever, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church will be open to historic tours,” says Michelle Gambino, business manager of the South Ninth Street Shopping District.  “St. Mary Magdalen Church is the oldest Italian parish in the United States, and there’s a lot of historic significance within the church building.  One of the things is that the church has a double balcony, which is very unique.”

The church is at 712 Montrose Street, in the heart of South Philadelphia.

“St. John Neumann was the one who got the building project started,” Gambino explains.  “A lot of the (building) products came over from Italy, and Italians built the church.”


(Historic image provided)

(St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church, near 8th and Montrose. Historic image provided)


In 2000, the parish was merged with nearby St. Paul’s, at 10th and Christian Streets.

“We’re going start the tours on May 16th, which is the day before the Italian Market Festival,” Gambino tells Positively Philadelphia, “and then the church will be open all weekend for tours — May 16th, 17th, and 18th.”

And she says the festival will include the return of “a very Philadelphia tradition” — a halfball tournament!  It’s a variant of baseball or stickball, designed for play on small, urban streets (center image at top).

“Halfball is a game that they played back when they all came over, where they took a ball, cut it in half, and used a broomstick.”  The hollow rubber ball, hit with a broom handle, wouldn’t travel too far and had little chance of breaking nearby windows.

The John Marzano Halfball Tournament will have five-person teams, fielding three players at a time, competing against each other.  The tournament is named for John Marzano, a Philadelphia native who played Major League Baseball for eight seasons and died unexpectedly and tragically in 2008.  Proceeds from the event (each team contributes $125) will go to support the Ninth Street Italian Market Festival and youth baseball in Philadelphia.

And, for this week, that’s “Positively Philadelphia!”

“Positively Philadelphia” main page