The Reverend John C. Roak was trained as an architect but spent most of his life as an Episcopal priest. He was, however, very much engaged in architectural matters in his work with the historic Philadelphia parish church he served during his pastoral career: Gloria Dei, more commonly called Old Swedes Church.
Roak grew up in North Philadelphia, the son of Amelia Kurtz and David E. Roak, and graduated from Northeast High School. He attended the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art before enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an architectural degree in 1922. He worked very briefly as an architect, but by the mid-1920s had moved to Waco, TX to study under Bishop Clinton S. Quinn. He subsequently returned to Philadelphia and entered Philadelphia Divinity School, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sacred theology in 1929. After his graduation, he served at the Church of the Resurrection in the Mayfair section of the city and was ordained at the Memorial Church of St. Paul in Overbrook. In 1932, he was named pastor of Gloria Dei and remained there until his retirement in 1972. Roak worked to have the church designated a National Historic Site; this was accomplished in 1942. In the 1960s, Roak was also a leader in the vigorous but unsuccessful local effort to stop the demolition of over one hundred historic houses near the church in the construction of Interstate 95.
Emily T. Cooperman.
- University of Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art
- Philadelphia Divinity School
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