No one could dispute that in 1910, the Rev. Father Francis Brady was much-beloved by his congregation at St. Jerome's Church in Tamaqua.
His 17-year tenure at St. Jerome's was the longest of his coal region assignments and, in January 1910, the parishioners showed their appreciation by surprising him with a special evening event to mark his 25th year in the priesthood.
The congregation presented him with a purse with $800 in gold for his service, which at the time was seen as a most generous gift. With today's currency rate of exchange, it was a whopping sum of money.
A $1 gold piece in today's market would be valued between $540 and $660, depending on the condition. Using a middle range rate of exchange, Brady's gift would have been worth $50,400 in today's dollars. The buying power was also much different since a dollar in 1910 was worth about $8.94 by today's standards.
That means the gold, which a Tamaqua Courier reporter described as "a handsome gift," had the purchasing power today of $453,600!
On the night of his anniversary program, a reporter said the "church was crowded to the doors." In the audience were a number of guest priests from across the state. One group of priests from the coal region also presented him with a special gift that night – a gold chalice.
John F. McGinty made the gift presentation to the surprised priest on behalf of the congregation. Brady then spoke, saying that he would "always remember his Tamaqua parish and certainly would cherish the event marking his 25th anniversary "in the Lord's vineyard."
A male chorus presented several of Brady's favorite numbers including "Killarney." The P.C. Band serenaded him with "Irish Airs" and "Auld Lang Syne" while the Glee Club sang "You'll Remember Me."
Brady said he was delighted beyond words.
"If I deserved one-hundredth part of this I would still be a very worthy priest, and I would not have lived in vain," he said. "I would feel glorious. But alas, how much do I fall short of all this?"
The priest said he was deeply moved by the generosity of the monetary gift.
"I thank all my parishioners in Tamaqua, Tuscarora, Newkirk, Gearytown, Rush Township and Barnesville for their grand, magnificent, princely gift of the purse containing $800," he said. "I am amazed at your generosity. What heroic sacrifices it means. No one knows better than I do. Considering your numbers, means and circumstances I can safely say in no other parish in this great diocese could a sum of such magnitude be raised. I thank you for this stupendous gift and sincerely wish that God will reward each and every one of you a hundred fold."
The gift did indeed require sacrifice, considering that the average male worker earned about $2 a day while females were paid about half that for their daily toil.
Brady had built a reputation for crossing denominational lines in order to serve all peoples in his territory. In his first assignment in Shenandoah after he was ordained, a reporter noted his interdenominational work.
"He labored so successfully in Shenandoah that the people of that town, both Catholic and non-Catholic, still bear witness to his zeal and efficiency," the reporter said.
During his acceptance speech, he again reached across denominational lines.
"I thank all the non-Catholics of this town for their many courtesies and kindnesses extended to me since my advent into Tamaqua," he said, "especially for their good wishes to me on this occasion. And I rejoice that our relationship is so cordial."
Brady humility was evidenced by his final remarks.
"It would be worthwhile to have lived a thousand years of pain and sorrow and dissatisfaction to be the recipient of the honors heaped upon me this day," he stated. "We all know that our life here is checkered with joy and woe. But whatever the future my path be, be it gloomy or bright – my heart will always receive joy and consolation when I think of this night of the faithful, loyal and devoted congregation of St. Jerome's Church, Tamaqua, of their generosity, love, esteem and regard for me so gloriously manifested on the occasion of my silver jubilee in the Holy Priesthood."
Born in Ireland, Brady arrived in America in 1880. After his ordination in 1885, he served parishes in Shenandoah and then was assigned to St. Mary's in Beaver Meadows. That parish covered a wide territory that one reporter said "entailed a great deal of physical suffering."
"Father Brady, however, suffered like a true martyr and, in season and out of season, was faithful to his post," a writer said.
After his 17-year stay in Tamaqua, Brady was transferred to St. Leo's Catholic Church in Tacony, North Philadelphia, but his health was not good. He served there for six months before being hospitalized.
After an operation for appendicitis, Brady died at the age of 57 in late July 1912. His death came two-and-a-half years after he was overwhelmed in that heart-warming ceremony one cold January evening in Tamaqua.