This site includes the postings from the Irish Aires email list. This includes a listing of Irish/Celtic events in the Houston area and other information that the Irish Aires radio program posts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

St Kieran's Church Closing

TO: All Members of the AOH/LAOH RE: St. Kieran's Church Closing FR: Ned McGinley, Past National President AOH in America DA: 9/25/08 Please contact me if you wish to help. All ideas are welcome. St. Kieran’s Catholic Church Hecksherville, Irish Valley , Schuylkill County , PA By Ned McGinley, Past National President AOH in America There is a small Catholic Church, at the top of a steep lane, carved from the hill behind it, built with hand labor by Irish Immigrants in the tiny coal hamlet of Hecksherville in Irish Valley . St. John Neumann, the Bishop of Philadelphia at the time, personally oversaw the building of St. Kieran’s in 1858 and so the tale goes learned Irish so that he could better communicate with the parishioners in the coal fields in Schuylkill County and the rest of the anthracite coal fields. The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America has a very special religious and historical interest in this tiny piece of religious postcard framed against a late summer green side of the mountain. There are many small and large Catholic Churches closing in cities, rural parishes, as well as those near abandoned coal mines and closed steel mills in Pennsylvania but this one is special to the A.O.H. in Pennsylvania and even nationally. It is among those places where it appears the A.O.H. had its historical roots in Pennsylvania and these immigrants came from New York . This church is a monument to those Irish immigrants fleeing The Great Hunger and seeking life threatening work hundreds of feet below the ground in the hard coal fields of the northeast corner of the Keystone State to feed there families. There are some unique circumstances involved with this closing directly related to the A.O.H. in America . :: There are at least Thirty-one graves in the churchyard with small grave stones identifying those buried there as members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (There were 29 on the original list but we actually found two additional A.O.H. graves while on a walk through late evening in early September). :: There is an A.O.H. window in the now shuttered Stone Chapel :: There is an old A.O.H. Hall, recently remodeled, in the village that now is used as a Meeting Hall by the Fire Department :: One of the five Priests buried in the front of St. Kieran's was directly involved in the Molly Maguire saga :: There is a man who loved St. Kieran’s, Joseph Hughes, buried in the cemetery who was a member of the A.O.H. for 88 years. First he was in the Boys Band at 12 and then the A.O.H. after he turned 16, finally passing away at 100 years old. He does not have one of the small A.O.H. stones in front of his gravestone which faces the church. Something else is very unique about the closing of St. Kieran’s Church which gives us hope of saving it from destruction. The Diocese of Allentown holds the deed for the land where the church, school, convent, rectory, and cemetery stand. The difference it appears is that, according to the paperwork on file with the county, once the land is no longer to be used for religious purposes it reverts back to the coal company, which first donated it in the 1850’s, according to the deed. Strip mines, where huge steam shovels and drag lines rip the earth open seeking, now again more valuable anthracite coal, are all around the area of Irish Valley and even across the road that runs through the village behind the houses that line the road. A Reading Anthracite Company official has said that it will respect the land and St. Kieran’s, which is believed by the residents to be true, but everyone knows that today corporations change with a slight of hand like a magicians card tricks and energy sources have great value in our economy today. The diocese has not officially informed the company that St. Kieran’s is no longer a church. A local committee of former parishioners has been trying to schedule a meeting with the Bishop of Allentown through the new Parish Priest who does not return their calls or letters. The Bishop has made it clear that he does not wish to have St. Kieran’s remain a church and items, purchased by parishioners, are beginning to be removed. The families and committee in Irish Valley are trying convince the Bishop to turn the land over to their care when they form a 501©3 corporation. They do not wish to have St. Kieran’s stripped of the beautiful religious items that help to make it so unique. They will approach the Reading Coal Company about donating this sacred plot as a historical area. Pennsylvania State Director Jim Gallagher, Schuylkill County president Bob Mulhall, Life Member Joe Clark, and I attended the meeting of the “Save St. Kieran’s Committee” in Irish Valley in the picnic area just outside the old A.O.H. Hall. Joe Clark and I first came here in 1984, when he was our Division President to dedicate St. Kieran’s Church Doors, and subsequently a replica Crypt, Mural of St. John Neumann building the church, as well as an Altar all sponsored by Joe Hughes on the church grounds or in the church. We marched proudly up that steep hill to the St. Kieran’s with our AOH St. John Neumann Division banner and green coats as requested by Father Hall, the pastor, and Joe Hughes to those dedications. No member, man or woman, of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America can walk among the grave stones, dedicated to deceased Irish immigrants and our brothers, in St. Kieran’s graveyard without feeling like he or she has entered an area of almost mystical historical significance to our Order. It is noteworthy to Irish- America, Ireland, our Irish Catholicism, and a Bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann, who traveled by canal boat and learned Irish to converse with his flock in their own languages as well as what it tells America about our Order. Will we defend this tiny piece of Irish-American, AOH/LAOH Heritage by supporting the local effort, with letters to the Allentown Diocese and the state of Pennsylvania explaining our support to “Save St. Kieran’s”? The small population of Irish Valley may not be able to save St. Kieran’s alone but with the help of the AOH/LAOH and Irish- America I believe they can. Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen, D.D. Bishop of Allentown Office of the Bishop 4029 West Tilghman Street Allentown Pennsylvania 18104 Reverend Monsignor David L. James, V.E.M.DIV., J.C.I. Vicar for Synod Implementation Diocese of Allentown Office for Synod Implementation 5050 West Tilghman St. Allentown, PA 18104 Reverend Adam S. Sedar St. Michael the Archangel Rectory 539 Sunbury Street Minersville PA 17954
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