A PRIEST has appealed for help in tracing relatives of a fellow Donegal cleric who was a ‘giant’ of the Catholic Church in America.
Father Hugh P Gallagher left Killygordon in 1837 and went on to have a remarkable life in the United States.
Monsignor Francis A Carbine has already travelled to Donegal in a bid to find relatives of Fr Gallagher but without any success.
Now he’s hoping a genealogy expert or someone from the Gallagher clan here can finally trace long lost relatives.
“It would be great if someone could make a connection to a wonderful man who did so much for ordinary people here in the 19th century,” Msgr Carbine told Donegal Daily.
Here’s a piece written by Msgr Carbine on Fr Gallagher:
Father Hugh P. Gallagher: A story of miles, miners & mules
By Msgr. Francis A. Carbine
THE village of Killygordon, County Donegal, Ireland, today has a population of 600 persons. St. Patrick Church, Crossroads, is a half-mile away. The village has no post office, and only one pub, McBride’s.
The Gaelic name Killygordon means “the woods of the parsnips.”
However, from Killygordon came Hugh P. Gallagher, a priest who would achieve the stature of a giant in the American Catholic Church. He was born in 1815 and died in San Francisco in 1882. He sailed from Ireland in 1837, and entered St. Charles Seminary, Philadelphia, where he was promptly assigned to teach Latin and Greek.
Ordained in 1840 in St. John the Evangelist Church, Philadelphia, Father Hugh, as he preferred to be called, began a commitment that spanned 42 years. He left behind him churches, missions, newspapers, orphanages, schools, hospitals and a hospice for women. It has been said “when it came to God’s glory, for him there was no such word as ‘fail.’”
His first assignment was St. Patrick Parish, Pottsville, Pa. Here, with great success, he encouraged parishioners to “take the pledge” against alcohol. The following year he was appointed a circuit rider in Western Pennsylvania where he traveled “trackless roads over snow-covered hills.”
In 1844, the bishop of the newly founded Diocese of Pittsburgh (1842) opened a theological seminary. Who better to serve as rector, professor and administrator than busy Father Gallagher?
In the 1840s, the influx of Irish Catholics into Pennsylvania triggered the bigotry of nativists who liked nothing better than witnessing “flames of burning Catholic churches.” Who better to publicly defend the church than Father Gallagher?
To defend the church he initiated a newspaper, the Pittsburgh Catholic. In 2014, this paper is in its 170th year of publication. Later, he founded the Crusader in Cambria County, Pa., and the Catholic Standard in San Francisco.
In the hamlet of Loretto, Pa., he expanded St. Michael’s church and founded two schools. Today’s St. Francis University developed from a school for boys founded by Father Hugh in 1847. A school that he founded in 1853 for “young ladies” is today Mount Aloysius College.
He also obtained Franciscans and Sisters of Mercy from Ireland to staff these schools. In 2014, the combined enrolment of these schools is approximately 5,000 students.
While seeing to these endeavors, he served as pastor of St. Augustine Church in Dysart (formerly Gallitzin), in Cambria County, Pa. He was succeeded by his brother, Father Joseph Gallagher, 1848-1852, who had also emigrated from Killygordon.
The First Plenary Council of Baltimore, which sought to standardise the practice of the faith in the United States, opened in 1852. The bishops needed theological advisors. Who better to advise than Father Hugh?
His participation caught the eye of Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, bishop of Monterey. With permission of Bishop O’Connor of Pittsburgh, Father Gallagher was given “temporary release” to work in California. He arrived in 1852. “Temporary” translated into 30 years. One year later, the Archdiocese of San Francisco was established.
The Gold Rush had begun in 1848. The population of San Francisco expanded from 469 in 1847 to 40,000 in 1853. Who better to assist with this pastoral crisis than Father Hugh from Killygordon?
He chaired the committee to build the first cathedral of the diocese. In 2014, this proto-cathedral is a parish church known as Old St. Mary’s. In the mid-19th century, the original St. Mary’s was the tallest building in California.
This cathedral was located in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, an area of brothels that exploded with the influx of gold miners. However, the Cathedral of St Mary stood as “imperishable testimony to the zeal and energy of Hugh Gallagher!”
During these years, “Killygordon’s finest” founded churches and missions in Benicia, Shasta, Weaverville, Oakland, Sacramento, Yreka, Carson, Virginia City and Genoa. He also founded the Magdalen Hospice for “fallen women.”
In the mining town of Yreka, while on sick leave, he celebrated Mass in a loft above a stable where mules were being auctioned off. The cacophony made by the miners, mules, and auctioneers convinced both priest and congregation that a mule market was no place for Sunday Mass.
Then, in 1853, he sailed to Europe to encourage seminarians, priests and sisters to come to California. He sought funding from many sources including a former emperor of Austria.
Back in San Francisco in 1855, he witnessed the failure of a major bank and consequent panic. Upon whom could the miners rely to safely hold their money? Who more reliable than the priest from Killygordon? He served as banker without any staff and took no salary. “Millions passed through his hands and every dime was accounted for.”
He founded St. Joseph Church in 1861 – “the banner church of San Francisco” – where he served as pastor for many years and from which he retired. The initial congregation was Irish.
The oldest continuously serving hospital in San Francisco, today’s St. Mary’s Medical Center, was opened by Father Gallagher in 1854. Eight Sisters of Mercy came from Ireland as staff. Their journey took three months. At age 67, Father Hugh died in St. Mary’s Hospital.
Initially interred in the city’s Calvary Cemetery, he and his priest brother were disinterred and buried in the Priest Plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. The priest burials face a central carving of the Last Supper.
In 2013, in St. Patrick Parish, Crossroads, where Hugh Gallagher was baptized, I asked at Mass if there was any memory of him or his family. There was none. Famine, emigration and time had done their work. However, “Killygordon’s finest” crossed 6,000 miles of ocean and continent to serve the Lord and his people.
A tribute is provided by Father Hugh’s fellow Ulsterman, Seamus Heaney: “There is one among us who never swerved from all his instincts told him was right action.”
Msgr. Francis A. Carbine of Darby, Pa., is a retired pastor and a frequent contributor to The Irish Edition, Philadelphia.
This article is reproduced on Donegal Daily with his kind permission.