Category: Archive

St. Kieran’s saved

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The 1857 church built by Irish mine laborers at the direction of John Neumann, the Czech bishop who was canonized in 1977, was one of 32 closed by diocese officials in July.
However, officials have said that they will remove religious artifacts in accordance with diocesan rules.
“I’m happy that we are taking, perhaps, the title deeds to the church,” said Catherine Clifford, who has spearheaded the local campaign to reopen St. Kieran’s. “I’m disappointed that the religious artifacts are being taken.”
However, an official has promised Clifford that the diocese will “look again” at the issue of some of the artifacts.
Top of committee’s list is a mural that depicts the life of John Neumann, his immigration to the United States and his arrival in Heckscherville, Schuylkill Co., which had been settled by Famine immigrants, and the founding St. Kieran’s Parish.
“I pointed out to Monsignor James [who is overseeing the restructuring] that this was before he was canonized a saint, and that it deals with historical fact,” said Clifford, herself a descendant of Famine immigrants who arrived in 1850.
It’s understood that the diocese will also reconsider the case of a stained glass window that was donated by the AOH honoring St. Patrick and one given by the Ladies AOH honoring St. Brigid.
It’s thought, though, that the sections depicting the 5th century Irish saints will be removed and that the original dedication plaques will be allowed to stay. The pews will also remain.
The local committee got influential backing for its cause from Ned McGinley, a recent past president of the AOH, who lives in nearby Wilkes-Barre, and from the Pennsylvania AOH.
Schuylkill County is at the heart of the Lower Anthracite Region, which saw much industrial strife in the late 19th century. Many of the 20 men who were executed following the Molly Maguire trials in the 1870s were Schuylkill residents.
Local St. Kieran’s activists were worried about a reversionary clause in the deeds, which would mean that the coal company would have a claim on the property if the church ceased to be a house of worship. However the diocese has approached the Reading Anthracite Company, which is prepared to cooperate with the new plan.
Clifford said that no timetable has been established yet for the next chapter in the St. Kieran’s story.
“The Diocese has not done an appraisal and haven’t come up with a price.
“We’d like to give them $1,” she said with good-humored optimism, “but I think it will be more that that.”
When members of the committee form a non-profit corporation, the first item on the agenda will be an engineering study.
“We know that there is some structural damage and that it is not accessible to the handicapped,” she said.
In its proposal on Oct. 29, the committee asked the Diocese of Allentown “to allow us to preserve this site for its history and beauty as well as to provide for an Irish Heritage and Cultural Center at this location where St. Kieran’s was originally built by Irish immigrants, who were genuinely committed to serving God and their fellow man.
“The members of this committee hope to honor the memory and example of those men and women who were tested with great hardships, endured great sacrifices but, through it all maintained their unwavering loyalty and devotion to their Roman Catholic faith.
“Tours of the area will include a visit to the site with an oral presentation on the history of St. Kieran’s and the Heckscherville Valley. The church, convent, rectory, and school buildings will be used for musical concerts; conferences, special Irish events, speakers, as well as historical or art exhibits. These buildings will also be available to local, State, and National Ancient Order of Hibernians and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians for monthly meetings, conferences, sponsoring Irish cultural events, degree ceremonies, Installations, presentations, and other activities; as well as Advanced Degree Ceremonies,” it said.

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