St. Malachy Church boasts a largely African-American congregation today, but way back in 1850, when it was dedicated, the church provided food for the soul for Irish immigrants seeking escape from the desperation of the Great Hunger and pursuing a better life in Philadelphia.
So in Charlie McNulty’s view, it’s only fitting that the church, at 1429 North 11th Street in North Philly, play host to a “real Irish Mass.”
That Mass is planned for Sunday at 10 a.m., and McNulty, a longtime and proud parishioner, hopes a lot of you will be able to join in the service—and the hospitality at the school next door afterward.
“I’ve been going to St. Malachy’s for seven or eight years now. It’s just such a wonderful parish,” says McNulty. “I was there when Father Mac (John McNamee) was still the pastor, and after that with Monsignor (Kevin) Lawrence. They couldn’t have brought in a better guy. He really continues the mission of the church down there.”
McNulty is also an active member of Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 61 in Northeast Philadelphia. That fact heavily influenced his interest—with some gentle prodding from Parish Services Director Sister Cecille Reilly, SSJ—in hosting an Irish Mass.
“I thought it would be a good idea to start an annual Irish Mass to get some of the Hibernian divisions together,” McNulty explained. “St. Malachy’s is the perfect place to do it because it is, to the best of my knowledge, Philadelphia’s first famine church. “
St. Malachy also stood as a bastion of Catholic belief against members of the rabidly anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” party in the mid-1850s. “The ‘Know-Nothings’ burned down Old St. Augstine’s. When St. Malachy’s was built, it was a fortress,” says McNulty. “When it was originally built, there were no windows in it for fear of something coming in the window and burning the church down.”
With that kind of back story, McNulty believes a Mass at St. Malachy’s should appeal to members of the AOH, a Catholic fraternal organization formed in the mid-1830s to help protect Catholic churches and other parish properties from harm.
What makes this Mass Irish? Primarily music. Much of the music provided during the Mass will come courtesy of bagpipers, a fiddler, and a harpist. But the get-together after the Mass should also appeal to local Irish. Plans for that lie in the capable hands of Monsignor Lawrence.
“I don’t know what Monsignor Lawrence has planned, but I’m sure it’ll be something pretty nice, though. Monsignor is great at extending Irish hospitality.”
Of course, you don’t need to have Irish blood coursing through your veins to attend the Irish Mass.
“The regular parishioners will absolutely be there, and they will love it,” says McNulty. “They love when the community is discovered and celebrated. This is an Irish event, but there’s always some kind of event going on, celebrating other cultures. They’re always well attended. And that’s the beauty of St Malachy’s.”