By JIM ZBICK
The first month of 1912 was quite noteworthy for two special priests in the region.
First, the Rev. Hayes, rector of St. Mary's Church in Coaldale, became the talk of the area when he wrestled with an intruder who was trying to break into the poor box.
After surprising the thief, the Rev. Hayes grappled with the man. According to the Tamaqua Courier, the priest "put up a plucky fight in trying to capture him, but the intruder proved a slippery customer and managed to escape."
Rev. Hayes was able to provide police with a good description as well as a piece of evidence – the intruder's cap.
Coaldale parishioners were thankful for the safety of their spiritual leader, who showed much bravery in confronting the would-be thief.
At about the same time, members of St. Jerome's parish in Tamaqua were sad to lose their popular shepherd of 17 years, Rev. Francis Brady, who was being transferred to St. Leo's Church in Philadelphia, a larger parish that included a number of wealthy suburbanites.
The Rev. Brady had developed numerous friendships in the coal region immediately after his 1885 ordination to the priesthood in Philadelphia. He spent four years at Annunciation Parish in Shenandoah before being appointed to one of the "most difficult charges in the East" – St. Mary's Parish at Beaver Meadow. That assignment included churches in Weatherly, Penn Haven, Rockport, Laurytown Almshouse and Lehigh Tannery. He was there for 6-1/2 years before he was transferred to Tamaqua in 1895.
After learning of his transfer, the St. Jerome's congregation surprised Rev. Brady with a testimonial. When committee members J.T. Hornsby and John Whalen arrived to escort the Rev. Brady from his home to the church on a Thursday evening, he thought he would be simply saying farewell to a few church members. On entering the full house, however, he was greeted by one of his favorite songs – "Then You'll Remember Me," sung by J.C. Purcell.
He was presented with a bouquet of American beauty roses, along with a solid gold and ebony-handled umbrella.
Purcell, the first speaker, said that although they hated to see their priest go, "They had to bow to the power higher than man who, no doubt, has assigned a task for him in a new vineyard."
A Courier reporter said that in his address, Hornsby "drew a very vivid picture of the part the Rev. Brady played in their lives, picturing his receiving them into the church in baptism, his presiding at their first Holy Communion; and witnessing their reception at Confirmation, and recalling the affection and esteem showered on them during his stay here."
The reporter said when the Rev. Brady rose to respond, he "was the picture of agreeable surprise."
The Rev. Brady told his audience of well-wishers that the token of love "delighted me far more than being present at the world's greatest opera."
"Never during my 27 years in the priesthood have I witnessed or heard of such a kind farewell as has been tendered my by the people of Tamaqua," he said.
Brady's was also a well-known community figure outside the walls of St. Jerome's. This was evidenced in the fact that "prominent members of other denominations" in town offered to form a committee, travel to Philadelphia, and make an appeal to church leaders for him to remain in Tamaqua.
The Rev. Brady, however, declined this gesture, "with regrets."
"He promised to hold a memory ever warm at his heart and should they ever need his advice or assistance, he said he would be theirs without reserve," the Courier writer said. "He concluded by wishing them many blessings, both spiritual and temporal, and assuring them they would always be remembered in his prayers at masses."
Two days after the testimonial at the church, about 20 persons from the church committee showed up at the rectory to present him with more gifts. Among the group was P.J. Boyle, a county commissioner, who made a short presentation speech.
"He stated that the congregation deeply regretted losing the man they loved but that they were pleased to know that his ability had been recognized and rewarded by such an excellent promotion," the Courier reported. "He closed with the statement that the gifts were but a small token of their love and esteem."
The gifts included a "handsome and valuable" Swiss gold watch, gold chain, gold fob and a gold-headed cane.
The watch and cane were inscribed: "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 gathered at the train station to watch the Rev. Brady depart Tamaqua for his assignment in the City of Brotherly Love.