By JIM GAUGER
Special to The CS&T
PARKESBURG – Kathleen Hood, a former adjunct professor at Immaculata University, knew that the history of St. Malachi Church in Cochranville was rich with Irish lore.
How rich? Well, Hood, a Coatesville resident and a member of the rural Catholic mission church constructed in 1838, has written a 272-page book that includes photographs and a CD of original music detailing its history.
Its title: “Echoes in the Glen, St. Malachi’s of Doe Run.”
On Sunday, June 28, from noon to 2 p.m., the book will be launched with a celebration at St. Malachi’s, “A Celtic Afternoon in Doe Run.” It will include Celtic music, dancing, food and an opportunity to meet the artists who made the book possible.
“My intent was to create a time capsule for the church,” Hood said. “No one had written a full history of [it].”
St. Malachi Church rests on what are called “the rolling hills of Doe Run Valley” in Londonderry Township, Chester County. It is the oldest standing church as well as the oldest mission church in Chester County. Its founding by Irish Catholics in one of Pennsylvania’s original three counties – Bucks and Philadelphia are the others – was significant as most of the immigrants in that area came from England and Germany.
Hood began her research by taking photographs inside and outside of the church and the surrounding area, which includes Doe Run Creek, a tributary of the Brandywine River. “I was then able to envision what the church looked like,” Hood said.
As her research proceeded, it naturally became more complicated. So much so, that the two-year project took an unusual turn.
“I composed three songs written for the piano based on my research,” Hood said. “I saw a beginning, a middle and an end. It was a necessary step to find the language to write about the history of the church. It gave me a clear path to what had to be written. There was a history of emotions and feelings from what I was reading.”
Although Hood played the piano, she had not previously written songs.
The three songs are: “Echoes in the Glen,” “Footprints on Sacred Ground” and “Blessing of the Fields.”
“The first song reflects the rugged determination and grit of the early Irish settlers,” Hood said. “‘Footprints on Sacred Ground’ reflects the spanersity of all the people who touched the church. I wanted to end with an Irish blessing. I wanted to picture the grasses in the field swaying in the breeze.” On Nov. 29, 2008, a benefit candlelight concert to assist with the publication was held at St. Malachi. It included performances by the Brandywine Celtic Harp Orchestra, local bagpiper Brennan Burkhart and the piano debut of the three songs.
The church, built on one square acre of a burying ground donated by an Andrew Maguire in 1794, was constructed of wood and plaster. This year is the 170th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated on Jan. 1, 1839. Before that, circuit riding Jesuit priests from Maryland and Delaware had served the Doe Run mission beginning in the mid-1700s.
Today, Mass is celebrated every Sunday at 11 a.m. by Father Victor J. Eschbach, pastor of Our Lady of Consolation Parish in nearby Parkesburg, or Father John Van de Paer, pastor emeritus of OLC. The church is one of three worship sites in the OLC Parish (4,450 members), which encompasses approximately 350 square miles. St. Malachi’s Church members are all members of Our Lady of Consolation.
The not-for-profit book, which includes a CD of the Nov. 29 concert, costs $49.95. Bob Laffey of East Coast Graphics, a member of the church, worked with Hood on the self-published book. It is available from Hood (610-383-5068), Laffey (610-593-2020) or Our Lady of Consolation (610-857-3510).
Hood’s parents died in 2003 and 2004, and she retired from a career in education in 2005. The writing of “Echoes in the Glen, St. Malachi’s of Doe Run” took on special meaning for her following those life-altering changes.
“My life has always been about touching lives, and this was a meaningful way to do it,” she said.
Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.
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