Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day and Issaquah's Recent History

There is a tendency to think of history as "the stuff that happened before I was old enough to remember it." I often hear, from community members, "Oh, you really should have talked to my mother/grandmother/aunt/older brother, they knew/know ALL the history. I don't really know much." For some reason, we always value the information that has just been lost higher than the information we hold in our own memories.

I thought of this tendency recently, while I was perusing the Issaquah Press archives for stories about St. Patrick's Day or the Irish in Issaquah. Our blog has celebrated St. Patrick's day in the past, and I hoped to find something new and different to relate. I found myself leaning towards the newspaper articles dated in the 1910s and 1920s, and not finding anything new or exciting (or should that be "old and exciting"?). I was rewarded when I turned to Issaquah's more recent past.

In a June 9, 1982 issue of the Issaquah Press, I "met" a significant Irish character from Issaquah's past who I'd never "met" before -- but I'm sure that his name and face are familiar to many of Issaquahns who have been in the area since the late 1970s and early 1980s. 
Born in Roscommon, Ireland in 1919, Father Anthony McGirl was ordained as a priest in Ireland, and came to the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1945. After working in Marysville, and later Bothell, before his move to St. Joseph's Church in Issaquah. Father Anthony McGirl arrived in Issaquah in 1975 and served there until his death in 1982.

Although the church itself was not constructed until 1896, Catholic services were held regularly in the area starting in 1884. The first St. Joseph's church stood on today's Sunset Way (originally Mill Street). At that time, Issaquah was a mission of the Renton parish. Issaquah's Irish residents played a significant role in establishing the church; Pete McCloskey, Michael Donlan, and Pete Maloney (all Irish-born) pooled their resources to provide land and materials for the church's construction.

 It was not until the 1962 that Issaquah became its own parish. By that  time, Issaquah and grown and so had St. Joseph's congregation. A new church facility -- which still serves the parish today -- was constructed on Mountainside Drive.

According to the Issaquah Press article that serves as a public euology, Father Anthony McGirl was "a man who wanted nothing more out of life than to work with and care for the people of his parish." One of McGirl's colleagues, Father Stephan Rowan, recalled McGirl's "great personal warmth" and his tireless efforts to serve parishioners who were "sick, depressed, or losing faith in the church." Rowan also noted that, in addition to pictures of Christ, McGirl's bedroom was decorated with another banner that said, "God made the Irish number one!"

Rowan's eulogy also hinted at McGirl's sly sense of humor. He recalled telling McGirl once, "You know, Tony, I sometimes feel as if I've landed into the middle of a scene from 'Going My Way.' Here you are, the wise, old Irish pastor who taked in the collection and gives out so much practical advice."

"Yes, Steve," he replied, "and you sing and play the piano."

More than 600 people attended McGirl's funeral mass, including 120 priests and three bishops.

Go here to read the original Issaquah Press article from June 9, 1982.

Did you know Father Anthony McGirl? If you did, or if you have any photographs of him, please let us know!

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