Three clergymen honored in tree planting ceremony
KATIE WARGO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Summit Hill Historical Society representative Maxine Vermillion (second from right) poses near one of three memorial trees planted in memory of prominent town clergymen by the society during this year's program. The clergy remembered were Monsignor J. Francis Haley, Reverend Henry Irving Nicholas and Reverend Edgar W. Koehler. With Vermillion are Shade Tree Commission members Dr. Louis Vermillion, John Kupec, Ann Markey and Mary Ann Szczecina. Missing is Mary Helen Shelton.
The Summit Hill Historical Society, which has donated more than 20 memorial trees over the past several years announced this year's honorees to be members of the Summit Hill clerical community.
Each year the Society selects three prominent persons who spent their lives in service to the community or who lived in Summit Hill and contributed to our country in a significant manner. In the past, educators, pioneers and community leaders have been recognized. This year the honor is bestowed upon three prominent clergy who spent their lives in service to the faithful of Summit Hill.
First honored is Monsignor Father J. Francis Haley who was born in West Chester in 1902, ordained as a priest in 1930 and spent 30 years in Summit Hill as the priest of St. Joseph's Church from 1958 to 1978. After moving from the town parish, he was named Pastor Emeritus a title held in the church until he passed away in 1985.
Monsignor Haley is fondly remembered by the long time residents of the community for his humility and devotion to the people of St. Joseph's as well as the town. He was known for his benevolence and gave away most of his money to anyone in the community who was in need.
The second clergyman recognized was Reverend Henry Irving Nicholas who came to serve the Presbyterian Church in Summit Hill in 1903 and spent the last 24 years of his life in the community serving his parish. He was well liked throughout the community and was a leader not only in the church but also in the community. He is remembered for his activeness in civic affairs including a run for Congress. When he passed away in October 1927, the town mourned his loss. Businesses and schools were closed and a six man honor guard stood watch at his funeral for four hours. The guard was comprised of men from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths in the community. His funeral procession to the GAR Cemetery had over 7,000 people and stretched from the cemetery to the church well over seven blocks and was led by the town's school children.
The last honoree was Reverend Edgar Koehler who came to Summit Hill to serve St. Paul's Evangelical and Reformed Church (later the United Church of Christ). He came to the borough straight from his graduation from Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1919 and spent his entire professional career of 41 years in service to the people of St. Pauls and the community. During his pastorate, the church made great progress including construction of the parsonage and garage as well as major renovations of the sanctuary and Sunday School building. Vermillion also said he believed Koehler helped coach some community sports during his tenure in the borough. His career came to an end in 1960 when he suffered a stroke during a church service and was forced to retire due to his failing health.
While the Society realizes and recognizes all of the clergy who have played significant roles in shepherding and caring for the people of the hilltop community, they selected these three men as representatives of the group who exemplified their profession and made the town a much better place.