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West Bend Daily News May 8, 2008

 

UNALTERED FAITH
ST. PATRICK'S ALTAR SOCIETY GOING STRONG NEARLY A DECADE AFTER CHURCH SERVICES CEASE


By Gay Griesbach
Published: May 8, 2008


TOWN OF ERIN - Although their church ceased holding regular services in 1999, the St. Patrick's Altar Society members remain devoted to one other and to the church they have served for 150 years. An anniversary celebration is planned for May 14.

Although St. Patrick's became an occasional-use chapel nearly a decade ago, spirituality and friendship are responsible for the society's longevity. Attendance at a dinner planned to mark the event will draw almost four times the number of society members.

Joan Coffey, 80, is one of about a dozen active members.

"It was nice," said Coffey, who joined in 1957. "We did things for the altar, took care of funeral dinners."

The society was established on June 1, 1858. Members were responsible for laundering and ironing altar cloths, priest's vestments and servers' surplices (loose gowns). They sent greeting cards to parishioners who had babies, lost loved ones or needed get-well wishes.

Throughout the years, the society paid for flowers, altar linen cleaning, hosts, palms for Easter, Christmas gifts for religious education teachers, vestments, repairs to the church and part of the new altar in 1968.

In 1955, the society published a cookbook that Nancy Henke, then 17, put together.

"I would type up pages during my lunch hours when I worked at West Bend Company in Hartford," said Henke.

The society reprinted the recipe book in 2005.

Although the church is closed to regular services, members have found other ways to serve former parishioners and the community.

For this year's St. Patrick's Day Mass, the society sent out event announcements to former parishioners.

Coffey said they still serve lunches at the occasional funeral, but membership is dwindling.

"Only a couple ladies have joined in the past 10 or 15 years," said Henke, who joined in 1955.

One of the newcomers is Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel, who became a member in November 1998, shortly before the church ceased holding regular services.

"(The society) has morphed over the years into a wonderful social organization," said Vanden Heuvel.

Its dedication to former parishioners and outside causes has continued.

"They did good things outside of taking care of the altar cloths," said Vanden Heuvel. "Members are still very much involved raising money for the Pregnancy Help Center and the Hartford Food Pantry. They have a prayer chain for members and family who are sick and still have Masses said for deceased parishioners."

At a glance

The St. Patrick's Altar Society meets on the second Wednesday of each month, September through May, at 1 p.m. at the Erin Town Hall.

The group will hold a
sesquicentennial celebration on May 14.