West Bend Daily News – May 8, 2008
ST. PATRICK'S ALTAR SOCIETY GOING STRONG NEARLY A DECADE AFTER CHURCH
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
"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
"(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.