WE ARE 140 YEARS OLD!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY,
DEAR SAINT JOSEPH PARISH, GIRARDVILLE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
MANY MORE OF THEM TOO!
MANY MORE OF THEM TOO! MANY MORE OF THEM, DEAR SAINT JOSEPH
PARISH, GIRARDVILLE! MANY MORE OF THEM TOO!
HISTORY OF SAINT JOSEPH PARISH
compiled by Ian R. Getzey from
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.
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.
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 of 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.
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 currently the playground directly
behind the current church. This building was meant to be temporary,
until a new church (the current one) could be built.
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 1882. 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, 1965,
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. Mealy 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
In 1956, the parish high school (grades 9 to 12) was discontinued,
the last class to graduate being the class of 1956.
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.
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 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.
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.