MOUNT HOLLY — Preserving history was important to the late Carlton Heil, a Queen of Apostles Church member of Irish descent. In his later years he helped take care of St. Joseph and Mary Church, one of North Carolina’s oldest Catholic churches built by Irish settlers back in 1843.
Adjacent to the historic wooden church is the grave of Father T.J. Cronin, the founding pastor, who died shortly before the church was completed. St. Joseph and Mary Church is one of the two oldest standing Catholic churches in North Carolina.
When Heil passed away last fall, he left a bequest of $2,000 to help care for the beloved old church where Father Cronin lived and died.
“Given in the true spirit of stewardship, the gift will go to help maintain Father Cronin’s original dream for the Irish community,” said Ray-Eric Correira, director of planned giving for the Diocese of Charlotte.
The historic church is currently maintained by the diocese with help from local residents and groups such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who gather for Mass at the church every year on St. Patrick’s Day and other important feast days connected to Irish heritage.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is an Irish Catholic fraternal organization which is open to practicing Catholics of Irish decent. Their goals are to foster the history, culture and traditions of the Irish people, support the Church and its clergy, and defend life.
Joe Dougherty, president of the N.C. state board of the AOH, knew Heil and saw first-hand his devotion to the upkeep of the old church.
“I knew Carl and worked with him for six years or so,” Dougherty said. “For the past six years, the two divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies AOH had a Mass celebrated at St. Joseph’s on March 17, in honor of St. Patrick and the Irish immigrants that built the church.”
As Heil was the caretaker of St. Joseph’s, he was the person the order worked with to organize the annual Mass, Dougherty said.
“Carl would come to the church each time to open the church and help in any way he could. He cared so much about St. Joseph’s and its upkeep. He would stay until the last person left, but did not make anyone rush. He would answer any questions about the church that was asked of him, and he knew everything.”
“More and more people are making gifts to the Church in their estates – some making gifts in the thousands, others in the millions. We are grateful for gifts of any amount to help support the Church,” said Jim Kelley, diocesan devel-opment director.
— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter
Pictured: St. Joseph and Mary Church in Mount Holly is one of the oldest Catholic churches in N.C. The Ancient Order of Hibernians coordinate an annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass there every March 17.