Book Excerpts


Mt. Carmel and St. Edward Catechetical Center, Barnesboro, Pennsylvania

Published by: RoseDog Books

The influence of Pennsylvania's strong ethnic presence within the Catholic Church is evident in the very interesting history which found two Barnesboro pastors, located just five blocks from one another, both seeking sisters the same year for identical ministries in their parishes. Reverend Charles Smyth, TOR, presided over a mainly Italian parish, Mount Carmel; Reverend Michael Brett described St. Edward's as "a Congregation of some two hundred families, and in this community of five Catholic Churches, is better known as the Irish Congregation.'' (114) The latter had, in fact, a goodly number of people of Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian heritage, (115) but was probably somewhat conditioned by the pastor's own Irish background and that of his two priest-brothers, also resident at Mount Carmel, to view the scene through "Irish" eyes.

It appears that Mount Carmel Parish had taken the lead in responding to Bishop Guilfoyle's plan for providing religious education for Catholic children who could not, because of great distances involved, attend a Catholic school. The people of Mount Carmel Parish were supportive of the efforts of their zealous pastor. Because the parish could not provide a convent, Father Smyth arranged for two sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to reside at Spangler and commute to provide religious instructions daily to the youngsters of his parish from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sisters Willemyn Gambrill and Dolores Ryan were appointed for this work. This arrangement continued from September until June 1937. The pastor and people of Mount Carmel were anxious to have "their own" sisters in residence, so a dwelling was finally secured and they set to work to furnish and equip it before the arrival of the sisters. Meanwhile, the pastor of St. Edward's, Reverend Michael Brett, had requested two sisters, thus bringing to four the total needed for the two parishes.

The original four who set out from Scranton by train for Altoona, and thence to Barnesboro on August 28, 1938, included: Sister Thomasina Gallagher, superior, Sister Willemyn Gambril, Sister Servula Healy and Sister Margaretta Mullin. The latter two were appointed to serve at St. Edward's; the pastors had agreed that all four would reside at the Mount Carmel Convent. Much excitement and concern clouded their arrival, as Sister Servula was stricken with a heart attack that evening. Barnesboro must have seemed like the end of the earth as the little group gathered their strength and assessed their situation. Mother Josepha was contacted and she responded by sending Sister Vera Nallin to assist at Mount Carmel. Meanwhile, Sister Willemyn was sent with Sister Margaretta to St. Edward's where the work had gotten off to a much-delayed beginning. After her hospitalization, Sister Servula remained at Mount Carmel until her recuperation was complete, but was then transferred. (116)

A contract of sorts for both parishes carried a detailed description of the expected activities of the sisters on seven days of the week and several evenings: daily religious instructions and extensive secretarial work, care for the altar linens and decoration of the church, keeping records of parish weekly collections, looking after bingo or card party tickets and receipts, addressing and mailing out Christmas, Easter and other feast day greetings to parishioners and friends, in addition to instructing the children in singing, training altar boys, visitation of parish families, and training the children for at least two entertainments per year. (117) "There was nothing left in the St. Gregory hymnal to teach them," commented Sister Willemyn, of the intensity of their endeavors. Subsequently, because of Father Smyth's request that a parish census be taken, Sister Marie Louise Langan, who had facility in the Italian language, was added to the Mount Carmel community. And all of this for thirty dollars per month per sister was quite a bargain, even in 1938!

For twelve years these arrangements continued with much strain on both pastors and sisters in trying to meet the growing needs of the two parishes. At one point it was proposed by the Congregation that three sisters be shared, as a unit, to conduct the programs at the two parishes, but the pastor of Mount Carmel would not consent to not having "his own" Sisters. (118)

With the shortage of sisters it became necessary in 1950 to withdraw from Barnesboro. (119)

114. Letter of Reverend Michael Brett to Mother Josepha, May 3, 1938, Archives, IHM Generalate.
115. Notes of Sister Immaculata Gillespie, 1947, Archives, IHM Generalate
116. Conversation with Sr. Willemyn Gambrill, IHM, May 11,1987.
117. Notes of Sr. Immaculata Gillespie, Archives, IHM Generalate.
118. Letter from Reverend John P. McEntire to Mother Marcella, February 10, 1950, Archives, IHM Generalate.
119. Letters from Mother Marcella Gill, Superior General, to Reverend Charles Smyth, TOR, Pastor of Mount Carmel Parish, March 24, 1950 to Rev. John P. McEntire, Pastor, St. Edward's and Bishop Richard T. Guilfoyle of the Altoona Diocese. Archives, IHM Generalate.