Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 26, 2004
The Church of the Oak
This vibrant parish traces its roots back to 1841
St. Bridget -- Feast Day -- February 1
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Although now housed in a modern church, St. Bridget's Parish has a long history of service in the old Irish settlement area 40 km west of St. Louis, Mo.
With a keen interest in the story of the area, pastor John Keenoy is happy to share his knowledge of the church with visitors, and his brief historical entries in the parish bulletin keep the subject current.
Parishioners were attending Mass in a log chapel three kms north of the present church in 1841 but the settlement soon moved to the new Missouri Pacific railroad town of Franklin (later Pacific), established in part by Catholic railroad workers who chose to settle down in this attractive area.
By 1867, a new brick church was in use, served by clergy from St. Louis until the first resident pastor arrived 13 years later.
Finally, in 1962 the parish had outgrown old St. Bridget's and the Eucharist was being celebrated in today's church. It's a low profile, spacious building with a free-standing bell tower, put up in 1976 to accommodate the earlier church's historic bell.
That the church in Pacific is named for St. Bridget is not surprising since the town is near parishes with names like St. Patrick's and St. Columbkille.
Bridget was born in the fifth century and, after hearing St. Patrick preach, established Ireland's first community of nuns.
Her first monastery, and the first headed by a woman, became the hub around which the cathedral city of Kildare eventually grew.
In time, convents were established all over Ireland, she and her followers even travelling abroad to Scotland and the continent.
The saint is also known as Bridget of Downpatrick where she is said to be buried beside St. Patrick.
Visitors can virtually meet the saint in the form of a life-size statue that once dominated an elaborate reredos in the church but has now found a permanent home in the modern cafeteria of St. Bridget's School (kindergarten to Grade 8). In monastic garb, she holds an oak tree branch, symbolic of the land given for her first establishment beside a tall oak tree. Her church there was called The Church of the Oak or Cill-Dara, thus Kildare. At her feet, a bovine creature represents her famed influence over both domestic and wild animals - an ability to produce vast quantities of butter for example, or to tame feral boars.
Hopefully, her presence among student diners will encourage them to adopt her qualities of generosity, modesty, piety and sensitivity. This Mary of the Gael shares the patronage of Ireland with Sts. Patrick and Columbkille.
St. Bridget of Kildare Church across the street is brightly lit with tall windows while a single stained glass window above the altar adds colour to the interior.
The saint is portrayed two-dimensionally in an icon to the right of the altar. She holds in her left hand a flaming bowl, emblematic of the everlasting fire that is said to have burned continuously for six centuries at Kildare.
She also holds a St. Bridget's cross, traditionally woven from rushes on the eve of her feast day, given to neighbours, and placed in rafters of homes and farm buildings to invoke the saint's protection over the coming year.
Mass or communion services are offered on weekdays at St. Bridget's and there are three Eucharistic celebrations on Sundays. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament occupies a full day each week. The motto of the parish, as expressed in its logo is Virtue-Community-Compassion-Service.
Among other claims to community involvement, St. Bridget's of Kildare Parish takes justifiable pride in claiming five vocations to the priesthood.