The Catholics who settled in Girardville between
1832 and 1856 had no church to attend. They were served by the
great missionary priest Father Michael Sheridan. Father Sheridan
served an area roughly from Pottsville to Danville. He traveled
throughout the area on horseback. In 1856, St. Joseph, Ashland,
was founded. This became the church for Catholics in Girardville.
In September of that year, Father Sheridan was appointed pastor
of that parish. From 1857 to 1870, Mass was celebrated in Girardville
on certain feast days throughout the year at the Coughlin family
home on East Mahanoy Avenue by Father Sheridan. This home no longer
exists. Father Sheridan died in 1880.
By 1870, there were over 3,000 persons living in the Girardville area. The Catholic population had grown intensively since 1856. So, it was decided that a parish be established in Girardville. On 10 August 1870, St. Joseph Parish was established as a territorial parish for the Girardville area. Rev. Joseph A. Bridgman was the founding pastor of the parish. However, there was already a St. Joseph parish in Ashland that the Most Rev. John Neumann (now St. John Neumann) established previously. According to no less an authority than Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, the Most Rev. James F. Wood, who was Bishop Neumanns successor, forgot that a St. Joseph parish in Ashland had been established 14 years earlier. Therefore, Archbishop Wood named the parish in honor of its founding pastor Fr. Joseph Bridgman.
The first Baptisms in our parish were: Mary
Stella Egan, James Collins, Mary Ann Farley, and Anna Noone. They
were all baptized on 24 August 1870. The first marriages in our
parish were: John Curley and Bridget Lenahan; Edward Barrett and
Nora Dowd; Thomas Gaughan and Nora Reddy; William OMalia
and Bridget McHugh. They were all married on 21 August 1870.
Inside St. Joseph church Christmas 1882. Hundreds of candles were used to
provide light before there was electricity. Notice that there are no pillars and
notice the shape of the ceiling. The pillars were added in 1892 and the ceiling
was reshaped to provide firmer support for the church. This is possibly why it
says built in 1876, rebuilt in 1892 on the outside of the church
Shortly after the founding of the parish, Father Bridgman purchased land on Preston Hill, along what is now Mahanoy Avenue and Route 54. The cemetery was used for over 80 years and over 3,000 persons are buried there. Unfortunately, this cemetery is no longer used. For all practical purposes, it has been abandoned. This cemetery had always been very difficult to maintain due to the rocky hillside and its location right off the highway. By 1919, new lots were no longer available, but burials continued until 1954. Father Mealy purchased land in Fountain Springs for a new cemetery for our parish. Since then, with the closing of Holy Rosary Parish in Mahanoy Plane, St. Joseph Parish inherited the two cemeteries from Holy Rosary: one in Frackville proper and one in Englewood, an outlying area of Frackville.
The first decade of the parishs existence
was filled with problems and challenges. For the first several
months, a chapel on Mahanoy Avenue was used for services. This
building proved to be inadequate. "It was in poor condition
and was very small. Often at times parishioners had to kneel on
the road or sit on the hillside to attend Mass. Land was donated
by Mr. Patrick Hart to be used as a more suitable building. This
lot is currently the playground directly behind the current church.
The cornerstone of the current church was laid on 21 October 1872.
It was blessed by Archbishop James F. Wood of Philadelphia. The
building of the church was not an easy project. While the frame
was being built, a storm destroyed it and resulted in the death
of a worker. Repairs were made and construction continued; however,
problems continued with the church and it was not finished until
1876. When the church was finished, it was discovered that the
roof did not have enough support, and the building was deemed
dangerous. Father Bridgman refused to accept it from the contractor
and a court case followed. The church was seized by the Schuylkill
County Sheriff and was sold to the contractor for $12,000 at a
Sheriffs sale. Rev. Daniel OConnor succeeded Father
Bridgman in January 1877. (Fr. OConnor is also the founding
pastor of the former Holy Rosary Parish in Mahanoy Plane.) Fr.
OConnor negotiated with the contractor to buy the church
for $6,700. A project to correct deficiencies and to buttress
the sides of the church immediately followed. The church was finally
dedicated by Abp. Wood on 19 October 1879 in the presence of more
than 15,000 persons. The church is Romanesque style and is a wood
frame structure built over a stone basement. It is 60 feet wide
by 128 feet in depth and stands on the corner of West Main Street
and Richard Street. The bell in the steeple was installed in 1892.
It weighs over 16,000 pounds. The church was renovated many times
throughout the years. The interior of the church underwent various
renovations: 1892, 1945, 1963,
St. Joseph Church and Rectory Girardville.
Taken between 1910-1940, the actual date is unknown
Fr. OConnor remained as pastor until
1886, when the Reverend Peter McCullough was appointed pastor.
Fr. McCullough was the longest serving pastor of our parish. He
served as pastor until he died on 13 August 1913, a total of 27
years. During Fr. McCulloughs time, the Fr. Sheridan Council
of the Knights of Columbus was established on 13 December 1903.
The Council is named after Rev. Michael Sheridan. The Council
has existed since that time, although it did have an inactive
period for a number of years.
The Reverend John J. Mealey succeeded Fr. McCullough
in 1913. Fr. Mealey established St. Helen Chapel in Raven Run
in 1916. In 1921, St. Joseph Parish School was established. The
convent was also established at this time. The Sisters Servants
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary taught at the school. The school
included grades one to twelve, although the first year only grades
one to seven were formed. Each year a grade was added until there
were twelve. The starting enrollment of the school was 450. By
1928, there were 624 students in 12 grades. The first graduating
class was the Class of 1928. In 1924, Fr. Mealey was succeeded
by the Reverend Thomas K. Connell. The Reverend Joseph Smith was
appointed the sixth pastor of our parish in 1932, and was succeeded
by the Reverend Michael Boyle in 1933, who served until the Reverend
William McArdle was appointed as the eighth pastor in 1941. In
1945 the parishs Diamond Jubilee was celebrated. A Mass
was celebrated, with the parishs native son, Dennis Cardinal
Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, the main celebrant.
On 29 January 1950, the women of the parish organized a court of the Catholic Daughters of America under the title of Court St. Cecelia, No. 1529. Father McArdle was the courts first chaplain.
In 1956, the parish high school (grades 9 to 12) was discontinued, the last class to graduate being the class of 1956.
Christmas 1940. This is what the church looked like after its 1892 renovation. St. Joseph Church and Convent. 1940s.
After eighteen years as pastor, Fr. McArdle
passed away in the parish rectory on 14 October 1959. He was interred
in the lawn in front of the convent and remained there until 1996,
when the convent was demolished. His mortal remains now rest at
the parish cemetery in Fountain Springs. On 02 December 1959,
the Reverend Francis L. King became pastor. On 24 April 1961,
Fr. King was elevated by Pope John XXIII to Domestic Prelate,
with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. Many would consider that
Msgr. Kings time was the height of the parish. During his
time, the interiors and exteriors of all four parish buildings
were completely renovated. Msgr. King also served the newly-erected
(1961) Diocese of Allentown as Director of the Society for the
Propagation of the Faith. During his tenure as pastor, the diocesan
office of the Propagation of the Faith was located in the rectory.
In 1970, the parishs centennial was observed. A Mass was celebrated with the Most Reverend Joseph McShea as the main celebrant and the parishs native son, the Most Reverend Joseph T. Daley, later Bishop of Harrisburg, as the concelebrant.
Retired Bishop of Scranton, the Most Rev. J. Carroll McCormick,
administers Confirmation in 1948. Bishop McCormicks parents
were former parishioners. This picture shows what the church looked
like after its 1945 renovation.
The enrollment at St. Joseph School declined in the late 1960s. This prompted the jointure of St. Joseph School and St. Vincent dePaul School. In 1971, St. Helen Chapel in Raven Run was closed. In 1974, Msgr. King retired and was named Pastor Emeritus until his death on 30 January 1980. The office for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith moved out of the rectory when Msgr. retired. On 04 November 1974, the era of assistant pastors came to an end at St. Joseph Parish. From the early days of the parish until 1974, there were sixty-four priests who served at various times as assistant pastor. Often, at times, there were two assistants assigned to the parish. The last priest to serve as assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish was the Reverend William J. Linkchorst, currently the pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Tamaqua.
In 1974, the Reverend Francis T. Gillespie was appointed as tenth pastor of our parish. Fr. Gillespie had already served as assistant pastor from 1959 to 1963. In 1979, St. Joseph Convent was closed, and the Sisters were assigned residences elsewhere. In 1981, Immaculate Heart School was established at the former St. Joseph School building. The school served five area parishes: St. Joseph and St. Vincent dePaul, Girardville; St. Joseph and St. Mauritius, Ashland; Our Lady of Good Counsel, Gordon. The school was completely renovated at a cost of $150,000. The expense was divided among the five parishes. The interior of the church was renovated in 1984. In 1988, Holy Rosary Church, Mahanoy Plane was closed, due to the unsoundness of the structure. The parish was absorbed into St. Joseph Parish. Holy Rosary parish had been founded in 1872. The founding pastor was the Reverend Daniel OConnor. Fr. OConnor later became the second pastor of our parish.
Holy Rosary Church, Mahanoy Plane. Taken in the 1920s or early 1930s Wedding 1970s. This picture shows what the church looked like after its 1963 renovation.
The Reverend Anthony Mongiello succeeded Fr. Gillespie on 01 September 1994. During Fr. Mongiellos time, a chapel and a meeting room were constructed in the basement of the church. The chapel and the meeting room were built by volunteer labor of parishioners. The chapel was dedicated on 15 August 1995, the Solemnity of the Assumption. The meeting room was named after Rev. Michael Sheridan. In 1995, the parish celebrated its 125th anniversary. In 1996, the exterior of the church was renovated. New siding was installed, the windows were repainted, new concrete stairs were constructed in front of the church, and the steeple architecture was restored. In 1996, the convent, which had been located directly in front of the school, was demolished.
The Reverend Robert Kuzman became the twelfth
pastor, replacing Fr. Mongiello, in 2000. During Fr. Kuzmans
time, the new electronic bell system was installed. In 2002, the
Reverend Gregory R. Karpyn became the 13th pastor. In 2004, the
pastor of St. Vincent dePaul Parish, the Reverend David M. Liebner,
retired. As a result of this, the Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen,
Bishop of Allentown, appointed Fr. Karpyn pastor of both parishes
in Girardville. Since Fr. Karpyn was now pastor of both parishes,
the two parish offices combined in 2005. St. Vincent dePaul Rectory
was chosen as the office. Fr. Karpyn also moved his residence
to St. Vincent dePaul Rectory. In 2006, Immaculate Heart School,
the successor school to St. Joseph School, closed.
The school merged with other Catholic schools in our area to form
Trinity Academy, Shenandoah. This is now the school for the children
of our two Girardville parishes and of the parishes in Shenandoah,
Mahanoy City, Frackville, Ashland, Gordon, Ringtown and Sheppton.
In 2008, former President William J. Clinton visited Girardville for the annual St. Patrick Day celebration and gave a speech on the steps of St. Joseph Church. He also took a tour of the church. As far as we know, he is the only President (or former president) of the United States ever to visit Girardville!
On 15 July 2008, the Reverend Edward B. Connolly became the fourteenth and current pastor of our parish. Since the closing of many churches in Schuylkill County in 2008, our church has become the fourth oldest Catholic church building in the county. Our parish is the ninth oldest parish in Schuylkill County and the twentieth oldest in the Allentown Diocese.
Many things in Girardville and in our parish have changed over the years. The people that served our parish were dedicated Catholics who worked hard so that our parish would have a good future.
Talking about the future, all of
us who are currently members of St. Joseph Parish are just a smidgen
nervous about the same. We are aware that conversations have taken
place in high places (and in some low places as well)
about parish consolidations north of the mountain.
No decisions have been made, at least not announced.
The best way any of us can show our enthusiasm for maintaining St. Joseph Parish (and the same applies to St. Vincent dePaul Parish) is to vote for it with our feet and with our money but mostly with our feet. Where our heart is, let our feet and our money also be.
St. Joseph's Church Present Day 2009 View of St. Joseph's Altar
Joseph A. Bridgman
August 10, 1870-January 1877
(No picture available)
(No picture available)
John J. Mealey
Thomas K. Connell
(No picture available)
Michael A. Boyle
William A. McArdle
Right Reverend Monsignor
Francis L. King
December 2, 1959-1974
Francis T. Gillespie
Anthony P. Mongiello
Gregory R. Karpyn
2002-July 15, 2008
Edward B. Connolly
14th and Current Pastor
July 15, 2008-Present