Golden gifts are on their way from merged parishes

Photo Caption: The Malamphy sisters — foreground from left, Margaret, Dorothy, and Alice — are pictured with fellow St. Patrick, Camp Grove, parishioner Chris Sullivan at the church after a recent Mass.

Few pews in the Diocese of Peoria hold more parish memories than the front right bench at St. Patrick Church in Camp Grove. Its regular occupants number only three, but the Malamphy sisters represent a combined 285 years of life and Catholic faith in one of the oldest settlements in Illinois.

“The people here have always been close,” said Dorothy Malamphy, 98, the senior sister of the trio, after 4 p.m. Mass last Saturday. “It’s a friendly church. It will be hard to see it go.”

“It’s going to be different,” agreed her sister Margaret, 91, of the prospect of leaving the familiar red brick church where they have received and shared Christ throughout their lives to join a new faith community, St. Dominic in Wyoming. Nodding in agreement between them was Alice Malamphy, 96.

Their sentiments are shared by many in several parishes of the Diocese of Peoria that will cease to exist in the coming days through a series of mergers announced last September. The moves came after wide consultation in the “Growing in Faith Together” diocese-wide pastoral planning initiative.

Each affected parish — depicted all too briefly in our center section — has its own story of being planted to serve Christ and neighbor, then watered with innumerable sacrifices of pioneers and their successors. Each will forever be a unique patch in the colorful quilt of faith that is the Diocese of Peoria.

A few minutes spent with the Malamphy sisters — called the “Golden Girls” by pastor Father Vien Van Do — brings tales of former pastors and events that uniquely reflect St. Patrick Parish, yet surely have variations in all of the affected churches. Dorothy and Alice remember coming to church in the family horse and buggy, which was then replaced by a Model T with no windows. Father Thomas Brunnick loved baseball and organized a kittenball team during the Depression. Father John King would flood a low part of the parish property during the winter and the whole town would use it for ice skating.

There were chicken dinners on the church lawn in an era when there was no refrigeration. More recently annual corned beef and cabbage dinners packed the parish hall near St. Patrick’s Day. The sisters recalled the former tradition of “pew rent” — “whatever you could afford,” said Margaret — and the Malamphy family was a fixture in the fourth row. There were baptisms, summer schools. And funerals, including for their parents, a brother, and a sister.

The village used to have more stores, a butcher shop. Now the giant blades of more than 100 wind towers spin in the Camp Grove region.

“We’ve seen changes,” said Margaret, adding she understands the reasons behind the decision to close St. Patrick. She’s comforted that “we won’t be with complete strangers” in Wyoming.

A word to the parishes that will soon be embracing new members from historic faith communities in places like Camp Grove, Keithsburg, Rutland, Bongard, Strawn, and Forrest: You are receiving great gifts. Whether they are golden girls or magnificent men, they are treasures. Welcome them. Honor them. Invite their help and wisdom. Thank God for their presence among you, and for the works He accomplished in their former spiritual homes. — Thomas J. Dermody

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