Diocese OKs plan to mend St. Kieran’s

St Kiernan's Church

Our members are active members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and have supported Irish charities for several years. Donating our time to help this organization preserve an important piece of AOH history was an absolute honor. Many of the first members of the AOH, formed in 1836, are buried in the church’s cemetery.

Pottsville Republican
December 27, 2008

A committee to preserve the history of St. Kieran Church has gotten one step closer to its goal.

According to Catherine Clifford, Ashland, a member of the parish committee that recently met with officials of the Diocese of Allentown, the diocese approved a proposal to use the building to preserve the history of the church and the surrounding area known as “Irish Valley.”

“We asked the diocese if they would convey the building to us so we could preserve it” Clifford said Friday.

“They approved the proposal but that is just one step in the process,” Clifford said.

Irish Echo Online, the Web site of the largest-circulation Irish American weekly newspaper, ran a Dec. 24 article about the St. Kieran building but Clifford said the article may have been premature in its report that the church has been “saved.”

“We are optimistic it will happen, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Clifford said.

Clifford said the building would have to be made handicap accessible and brought up to county and local codes before anything can move forward.

“The good thing is the Diocese has not given us a timetable to have this done” Clifford said.

According to parishioner Joseph “Hap” Anthony, the church was built by Irish miners in 1857 at the direction of John Neumann, the first U.S. bishop to be made a saint.

It was one of the churches closed when the Diocese of Allentown consolidated and restructured parishes in July.

Although the last official Mass was said at 5:30 p.m. July 12, the church received special permission to host its annual Irish Weekend Mass on July 27 as part of an annual fundraiser for the Clover Fire Company.

Parishioners of St. Kieran were merged into St. Michael the Archangel Parish in the former St. Vincent de Paul Church building, Minersville, along with parishioners from St. Vincent de Paul and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Minersville.

The surrounding area, known locally as “Irish Valley,” is rich in the history of anthracite mining and the railroads.

According to the St. Kieran Web site, thousands of Irish immigrants settled there, many of them working in the harsh conditions that led to the Molly Maguire uprising two decades later.

Anthony said the church sits on grounds belonging to Reading Anthracite and hopes that won’t be a problem with the preservation efforts since there could be a reversionary clause in the deed allowing the coal company a claim on the property if the buildings were no longer a house of worship.

According to the Irish Echo, the diocese has approached Reading Anthracite, which is prepared to cooperate with the plan.

The newspaper’s Web site said tours of the area would include a visit to the site with an oral presentation on the history of St. Kieran Church and the Valley. The church, convent, rectory and school would be used for concerts, conferences, special Irish events and historic exhibits. The building would also be available to local, state and national Ancient Order of Hibernian groups.

Clifford said although the Diocese approved the plan to preserve the building and use it to conduct tours of the area, officials have said they will remove religious artifacts in accordance with diocesan rules.

They said they cannot leave anything with a sacred image,” Clifford said. “We are hoping they can leave some things that are part of the history of the church and the Valley.”

Among the list of artifacts the committee hopes will remain are a mural depicting the life of Neumann, a stained glass window honoring St. Patrick that was donated by the AOH and one honoring St. Brigit donated by the ladies AOH.

The committee hopes to form a nonprofit corporation to continue the preservation efforts.