History of St. Joseph Parish

Girardville, Pa.

 

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 Neumann’s 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 O’Malia 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 parish’s 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 Sheriff’s sale. Rev. Daniel O’Connor succeeded Father Bridgman in January 1877. (Fr. O’Connor is also the founding pastor of the former Holy Rosary Parish in Mahanoy Plane.) Fr. O’Connor 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,
and 1984.

St. Joseph Church and Rectory Girardville.
Taken between 1910-1940, the actual date is unknown

Fr. O’Connor 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. McCullough’s 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 parish’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated. A Mass was celebrated, with the parish’s 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 court’s 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. King’s 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 parish’s centennial was observed. A Mass was celebrated with the Most Reverend Joseph McShea as the main celebrant and the parish’s 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 McCormick’s 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 1960’s. 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 O’Connor. Fr. O’Connor 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. Mongiello’s 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. Kuzman’s 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

 

 

 

 

 

Pastors of St. Joseph Parish

Reverend
Joseph A. Bridgman
Founding Pastor
August 10, 1870-January 1877
(No picture available)

Reverend
Daniel O'Connor
2nd Pastor
January 1877-1886
(No picture available)


Reverend
Peter McCullough
3rd Pastor
1886-August 13,1913
 
Reverend
John J. Mealey
4th Pastor
1913-1924
 
Reverend
Thomas K. Connell
5th Pastor
1924-1932

Reverend
Joseph Smith
6th Pastor
1932-1933
(No picture available)

Reverend
Michael A. Boyle
7th Pastor
1933-1941


Reverend
William A. McArdle
8th Pastor
1941-October 14,1959
 
Right Reverend Monsignor
Francis L. King
9th Pastor
December 2, 1959-1974
 
Reverend
Francis T. Gillespie
10th Pastor
1974-September 1,1994


Reverend
Anthony P. Mongiello
11th Pastor
September 1,1994-2000

Reverend
Robert Kuzman
12th Pastor
2000-2002


Reverend
Gregory R. Karpyn
13th Pastor
2002-July 15, 2008
 
Reverend
Edward B. Connolly
14th and Current Pastor
July 15, 2008-Present
 

Fathers Gillespie, Mongiello, Kuzman and Karpyn, are all still living.

   

 

 

 

 

 

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