The deaths of two religious leaders – one who directly impacted residents of this region and the other who had a global influence – rocked the Christian community during the summer of 1912.
Tamaqua residents were shocked to learn of the death of Rev. Francis Brady, a beloved priest who served St. Jerome's church in Tamaqua for nearly two decades after having previous assignments in Shenandoah and Beaver Meadow.
On July 30, Rev. Brady died of pneumonia at the age of 57 at Tacony Hospital in Philadelphia following an operation for an appendicitis. The Lansford Record called him a "benevolent priest greatly beloved by the people."
"Father Brady was exceptionally well known in the coal regions, having been pastor of St. Jerome's, Tamaqua, for 17 years," the newspaper stated. "His health had not been good since he assumed his new (Philadelphia area) charge and on Wednesday he was ordered to the hospital at once."
Rev. Brady lived just six months after his transfer from St. Jerome's to the Philadelphia area. His popularity and influence in the Tamaqua area were evident after that new assignment was announced in January. A number of prominent members from other denominations offered to form a committee and make a personal appeal to the diocese for him to remain in the local area.
"With regrets," however, Rev. Brady declined the citizens' gesture to intercede on his behalf.
St. Jerome's did give the priest a memorable sendoff. Among the gifts he received at his testimonial were a Swiss gold watch and a gold-headed cane. Inscribed on it were the words "From St. Jerome's Congregation to their beloved pastor, Rev. Father Francis Brady, from August 30th, 1895 to January 20th, 1912."
"Father Brady, deeply moved by the kindness of his congregation, expressed gratitude and stated he would always keep in touch with every member of his church," the Courier reported.
On January 20, about 200 people assembled at the Tamaqua station to bid Rev. Brady goodbye when his train departed for Philadelphia. No one imagined that the popular priest would be dead within seven months.
William Booth's death
In August of 1912, local residents also learned of the passing of William Booth, the British Methodist preacher who later became an independent evangelist and founded The Salvation Army. Today, the Christian movement he built is known throughout the world for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.
The Tamaqua Courier recognized the importance of Booth in an opinion titled "The Passing of a World Leader." The writer recognized Booth's influence in America while attending a Salvation Army event in one of our larger cities. He noted that "every grade of rag clad misery," which included "the very cinders and ashes of humanity," was represented in the huge crowd that evening.
"When you consider that over 200,000 people received help last year (1911) from the Salvation Army in the United States and that nearly 350,000 of them got Christmas dinners, the work that Gen. Booth started in our cities seems a shaft of sunshine in the darkness and defeat of slum life," the writer said.
He then described how Booth "quit a comfortable and well-fed position as an evangelist and minister to make his home in the nearest approach to hell – the east side of London – bringing a bright vista of morning sky into the horizon of hopelessness."
"Stately chorals and dim religious lights may appeal to persons of culture and refinement but they are lost on tramps and fallen women," the Tamaqua writer reported in 1912. "The Salvation Army simply speaks a language that such people can understand."
Thousands paid a final tribute to Booth as his body lay in state in Clapton, a borough in London. Heads of state, including the German emperor, were among the mourners but one reporter was especially impressed by the steady stream of common and poor folk.
"Poorly clad women had tramped miles through the drizzle and downpour to obtain a last sight of the man who had brought some sunshine into their lives. Shoulder to shoulder with them were fashionably-dressed women," the writer said.
The reporter said, however, that the usual signs of mourning were not visible. Flying over the hall was the Salvation Army banner which included the words "Blood and Fire."
"The plain hardwood casket was covered with a pall made of the Salvation Army coat of arms, which supported, instead of a sword, the dead general's favorite Bible, hymn book and famous campaign cup," he observed. "Standing at the four corners, cadets held the flags of Great Britain, the United States, Japan and Germany.
"The body was dressed in the familiar frock coat uniform he always wore. It was open to show the red jersey bearing the words 'Blood and Fire.' There was a continuous service of song."
William Booth's vision didn't end with his passing a century ago. The mission of the Salvation Army remains consistent and unwavering to this day.