Saint Joseph's Church Urlaur

 St. Joseph’s is the newest church in Achonry Diocese – blessed and opened, by Bishop James Fergus, in 1969.  There’s a great story to go with this church so might share a bit of it here.

In the early 1960’s there was no church in Urlaur.  There had been an Abbey that ceased being used in the late 1800’s.  People from Urlaur went to Mass in nearby Kilmovee, Glann, Kilkelly and some (I’m told) even went to the neighbouring parish of Tooreen!!  There was a priest in the parish at the time who didn’t altogether like the idea of people leaving the parish for Mass so he started to celebrate Mass in the local primary school.  He also, in fairness, was deeply aware of the role of the Abbey in Urlaur and felt the Faith of the people would be enriched through the presence of a church in the locality. This idea caught on and, from it, people looked at the possibility of building a new church for the Urlaur area of our parish.  This was a massive undertaking since the population was relatively small but the project commenced.

Locals got behind it with full enthusiasm and many fundraising ideas were put to work.  These included door to door collections locally and in neigbouring towns.  People worked very hard to make the dream of a church come through.

Move the story about three thousand miles.  Many years earlier a young fifteen year old girl left Urlaur and went to the United States.  Later she entered an order of enclosed Sisters in New Jersey.  She received word from home that a new church was going to be built.  She was happy about this and decided to share the news with, wait for it the “New York Times”.  Her letter wound its way to the desk of Nat Goldstein.  As the name suggests he was not a native of East Mayo!!  He was a Jew but was nonetheless impressed by the letter received and asked two journalists to go and visit the sister.

They reported back to him the outcome of their visit and said it was quite an experience.  They spoke through a little meshed opening to Sister Mary of The Blessed Trinity (formerly Margaret Cafferkey from Aughadeffin) who shared with them her lifelong dream that there be a church in which her neighbours and family could pray.  Towards the end of the interview, Sister Mary told the reporters she had been quite nervous about meeting them since she had been fifty-five years in the convent and they were her first visitors in fifty years!!

Goldstein impressed by the report and still conscious of Margaret’s letter and, in particular, one line which said her people wanted to build a “place of worship” took up the cause.  Shortly afterwards, at a function marking his forty years service to the New York Times, he was prsented with $1000 and sent half of it to Sr Mary for the work on St Joseph’s.

He didn’t stop at that.  He wrote to friends and presumably used the New York Times asking people to send him $5.00 to “help make and Irish Fairytale come true”! As a result more than $10,000.00 was collected (this was about £6000 of the £16,000.00 it took to build the church).  All from one letter from a sister in an enclosed order.  (Ironically some feel that enclosed orders don’t influence life beyond their walls ……. )

Goldstein later said that he liked the line about the “place of worship” and felt the world would be a better place if it had more “places of worship”.  He said her letter was “full of faith and deserved more than a little notice”. He together with his wife attended the opening of Urlaur Church on Ascension Thursday, May 15th 1969.  So also, the Commissioner of the New York Police Department (Howard Leary), his wife and two other visitors from New York – Irving Taubkin of the New York Times and his wife).  The “place of worship” in a small part of East Mayo captured the imaginations of many.

Today that church is open.  Its invitation to worship is as real and intense as it was on that Ascension Day in 1969.  Its call is as sure.  Chances are there’s a church open near enough to wherever you are right now … a quick visit might be no bad thing ….

By Fr. Vincent Sherlock