The Chalice in use in Castletown Kenneigh Church, Enniskeane, County Cork, Ireland, was donated by former parishioners living in Boston in 1913. It is being held here by one of the young parishioners from Castletown, Geraldine McCarthy, whose mother Margaret is the sacristan at the church. Pilot photo/courtesy Tom Hayes
Approaching the centennial anniversary of the donation of a chalice to St. Joseph's Church in Enniskeane, County Cork, Ireland by former parishioners living in Boston, the parish's pastor hopes to unravel the mystery of who those donors were.
The only hard clue: an inscription on the bottom of the chalice that reads, "For use in the Castletown Chapel. Presented by a few former parishioners. Boston, April 1913."
Father Tom Hayes, 52, pastor of three churches in the Enniskeane parish -- including St. Joseph's -- said he has an interest in history related to local churches. He said he has often inspected pews, stained glass, and other church objects to find out the names of donors since his ordination in 1985.
The chalice in question is unique because its arrival in the church seems to have bucked local custom.
"Our tradition here is that most of the priests get a chalice when they are ordained a priest, and they carry that chalice with them from church to church, which they use throughout their lives. Normally, they leave the chalice in the church where they die, but the church in Castletown Kenneigh, St. Joseph's Church, only has this one particular chalice," Father Hayes.
The church does not have a chalice left through this tradition, instead when the parishioners celebrate communion they often remember the contribution of the Boston Irish community.
"We are one as a community when we pray, so we are celebrating our connectedness with Christ himself, but we are also acknowledging that we are not just gathering to be connected with Christ, but that it is a very important part of our faith that we are also bound to one another," he said.
He noted the fine craftsmanship of the chalice and suggested that the donors took great care and expense in choosing it.
"At the time, it would not have been an insignificant gift. Whatever people put it together, it was a significant sacrifice for them," the priest said.
The chalice was donated the year after the Titanic sank and within living memory of a famine in the area from 1845-1848.
"Clearly by the inscription that they put on it -- because it refers to a group of former parishioners in Boston in April 1913 -- they are very conscious of the fact that they consider themselves as parishioners of this church and of this community. I just thought it would be nice for us to honor their memory by being able to record more fully who the people were," he said.
He said donations of the items needed to run a parish -- particularly from Irish-Americans-- play a key part of the life of individual churches in his country.
"They are donated by groups and organizations within the parish so that their connection with the parish can be remembered, and that (connection) can be prayed for and that their people won't be forgotten," Father Hayes said.
Archivist for the Archdiocese of Boston Robert Johnson-Lally looked into the case to help the pastor shed some light on the origins of the chalice.
He was not able to find any official records, even when he reviewed correspondences from the third archbishop of Boston William Henry O'Connell, who served from 1907 to 1944.
"It is probably not an official donation from the archdiocese. It is probably just from a group of private individuals," Johnson-Lally said.