St. Patrick's Rock Church

The St. Patrick’s booth at this Sunday’s Rock Church homecoming picnic will feature before and after photos of the 40-year restoration project of the Civil War era church and grounds.

Prints on parchment include photographs showing the condition of the church and cemetery circa 1930, next to photos that show the appearance of the property today will be on sale.

St. Patrick’s was decommissioned as a parish church in 1925.

Descendants of families buried in the cemetery came to the church periodically and attempted to maintain the church and cemetery. In spite of the fact that grass and weeds in the cemetery grew so high volunteers had to use scythes to cut a path to gravesites, family member still wanted to be buried there.

From time to time, caretakers were allowed to live in the rectory to keep an eye on the place, but the 1885 building fell into such a state of disrepair it was tilting 7 inches off center.

The old lending library could not be saved and eventually was demolished. The 1865 barn also listed like a tall ship in a strong wind, but preservation society members could not bring themselves to take it down.

In 1972, the current St. Patrick’s Preservation Society was formed to reinstate the annual homecoming picnics and use funds to restore the property. Since then, the picnics have generated more than $1 million and all profits have been used on the church and grounds.

Billy Murphy, Preservation Society president, who has spearheaded the annual picnics and the restoration program, said the society takes one project each year to be completed with picnic funds.

“This year was our biggest year as far as restoration projects go,” Murphy said. “We put a new roof on the church and rectory, completely repainted the inside of the church and restored all the statues, and restored the old barn. All in all we spent about $70,000.”

The barn was the last remaining structure that had not been worked on since it was built in 1865. Using the original interior timbers, volunteers shored the uprights to straighten the building. A local farmer donated aged barn lumber from an old barn on his farm, which was used to restore the exterior of the building.

A green metal roof, to match the roofs on the church, pavilion, rectory and dining hall was added.

The photos that Murphy selected for the 11- by 17-inch framable before and after prints were of the church, rectory, cemetery and barn.

“We’re really proud of this old church,” Murphy said. “A lot of people have been involved in this and we want people to have a record of what’s been done here.”

The annual picnic features sit-down family-style dinners of fried chicken, beef, homemade noodles. The cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children, and children under 5 eat free.

An 11:15 a.m. Mass officially opens the picnic. Dinners will be served in the dining room beginning after Mass.

The church is located on Rock Church Road, off Highway NN in Catawissa.