New York (first published 9/26/10) – Friday, September 24, 2010 was a particularly auspicious day to bear the name Patrick in the grand environs of Chelsea's Church of St. Francis Xavier, despite the fact that it is nearly six months to St. Patrick’s Day.
More than 30 faithful gathered in the pews of the august church, as the parish's midday Mass focused attention on the legacies of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, one of America's greatest bandleaders, and Patrick Keely, one of the nation's most prolific and distinguished church architects.
“We’re remembering Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (left) for his music, his dedication to the (Roman Catholic) Church and to our parish,” the Rev. Joseph Costantino, the pastor of the Jesuit-founded and administered parish, said at the start of the parish's daily midday Mass. Meanwhile, the church itself, built in 1882 and newly restored with the help of an $11.4 million capital campaign, stood as a testimonial to Tipperary native Keely, its designer.
The Sept. 24th anniversary of Gilmore’s death in 1892, in St. Louis, occasioned the Mass' focus. Jarlath MacNamara (right), a music teacher in Leixlip, County Kildare, had suggested the commemoration to the parish, and MacNamara spoke at the Mass’ end for eight minutes on Gilmore’s legacy. In 1880, Gilmore and his band headlined a benefit concert to raise money for the construction of the current church edifice. MacNamara, like Gilmore, was born in Ballygar, County Galway.
MacNamara has made it his life’s work to advocate for Gilmore’s contributions to the United States, Gilmore’s adopted country, and to Ireland. These include leading the first official New Year’s Eve celebrations in Manhattan, playing with his band at President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration dinner and leading his band at the head of seven presidential inauguration parades. An ardent advocate for Irish home rule, Gilmore and his musicians held concerts in Manhattan for Charles Stewart Parnell’s Parliamentary Party and for Michael Davitt’s Land League. Gilmore was by 1892 already a musical legend throughout much of the Western world.
As much front of mind as Sarsfield was the newly restored church itself, designed by Tipperary native Keely (left), among more than 600 he helped build in the United States during his long and legendary career. Keely (left), a carpenter by trade, became the most sought-after Catholic church designer in the United States. St. Brigid’s, built in 1848, renowned as “The Famine Church” in lower Manhattan, was one of his first commissions.
Among those at the service were Bill Cobert, a former executive director of the American Irish Historical Society; MacNamara’s sister Anne Hurley and her husband, Liam, visiting from Toronto; Patrick Brewis, the parish’s director of stewardship; and Michael and Susan Gilmore, who traveled from Cottonwood, Calif. Michael Gilmore’s great-great grandfather John was P. S. Gilmore’s brother, and the family owns an ornamental saber of the bandleader.
St. Francis Xavier’s current church (right) is the parish’s third, replacing a structure built in 1850 that the parish outgrew. The parish’s first church, between Bowery and Elizabeth Street, was purchased from a Protestant denomination in 1847. Jesuit priest John Larkin, who arranged the purchase, founded the parish at the direction of his superiors. That church was destroyed by fire within a year of its establishment.
MacNamara is writing a biography of Gilmore, in which, he says, he will counter the many “myths” he says have arisen about the man generally regarded as the “Father of the American Band” and the English-speaking world’s first entertainment “superstar.” Sarsfield is buried in First Calvary Cemetery, in Woodside, Queens.
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