CONOWINGO — With its 200th birthday approaching, St. Patrick’s Chapel is getting ready to throw itself a party.
Actually the St. Patrick’s Chapel Historical Society is hosting the party Sept. 14 at the tiny church located at 287 Pleasant Town Road in what was then Pilottown, but is now known to most as Conowingo.
The Rev. Francis Malooly, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, will officiate a 10 a.m. mass at the chapel. While the building only holds a few dozen people, there will be a tent on the grounds and the service will be live-streamed to the tent for the overflow congregation.
To ramp up the celebration, the diocese produced a video of the chapel featuring William Paré, a founding member of the historical society.
“The diocese was celebrating its 150th so they are focusing on some of the older facilities,” Paré told the Whig. “Bob Krebs asked if we wanted to include St. Pat’s.”
Krebs, director of communications for the diocese, filmed Paré inside and outside the chapel. The finished product includes historical photos and maps and music by the Irish Jasper Greens, a local band that supports the historical society’s efforts.
As treasurer of the historical society and an integral part of the restoration, Paré, from Colora, is a wealth of knowledge. In the video he tells the story of the Irish immigrants who built the chapel on land purchased for $10 from the Glacken family. He explains how it was the center of the community until railroads and the Conowingo Dam replaced the canals along the Susquehanna River.
“We spent a lot of time talking about the history and about how the restoration was done by a nonprofit,” Paré said.
There were efforts in the past to maintain the chapel, even when it changed hands from the Baltimore Diocese to Wilmington.
St. Patrick’s Historical Society formed in 2000 and spent the first 10 years raising money to save the wooden, two-story chapel. The furnishings and religious elements — including the pump organ, pews and stations of the cross — are original and have been restored too.
Paré talks about the years of work the society championed to save the chapel from decay, obtaining grants and professional support. There was even a group of graduate students on site for a time to study the chapel and its grounds.
“It turned out well,” Paré said, laughingly adding, “Which is surprising with what he had to work with.”
The video can be viewed at The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington’s YouTube page.
Meanwhile, Paré said now the society is focused on maintaining the chapel but also turning the reins over to younger members of the congregation.