Billy Murphy of Catawissa will not be in his usual seat beneath the overhang outside the dining room door at the St. Patrick’s Rock Church annual picnic in August for the first time in 40 years. He is laid up with a collapsed knee.
Bob Conley, co-chair of the annual picnic, will chair the event this year. John Painter will take charge of ordering all of the food for the sit-down fried chicken dinner for more than 2,000 people.
But Murphy says he has a lot to look up about. He recently let the contract to replace the roof on the Missouri limestone church.
Graf Construction, Robertsville, was awarded the $31,000 contract.
“This is our one big expense this year,” Murphy said. “We complete one big project with the picnic money every year.”
The roof will consist of 30-foot by 18-inch interlocking panels, in a shade of green that matches the roof of the Pross Pavilion built last year in honor of the late Mark Pross.
The metal roof will be maintenance free and is guaranteed to last 50 years.
“Within two years, we’ll have all the church and grounds maintenance-free, replacing wood with plastic,” Murphy said. “We’re putting in plastic fencing and plastic siding that doesn’t need maintenance.”
Installation of the new roof will only take one week, but the work has to wait for cooler weather.
“He (Graf) doesn’t want to put his men up on the roof in this extreme heat,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he hates to miss the picnic, but he knows all the work will be done in good order, thanks to his longtime co-chair.
“The picnic got so big in recent years, I couldn’t have done it without Bob Conley,” he said. “He has a loyal following of family members and friends that may be as many as 90 workers.”
It takes upward of 200 volunteers who work one week leading up to the picnic and in marathon sessions on the day of the event.
“This year the picnic proceeds will reach the $1 million mark,” Murphy said.
St. Patrick’s is unique among missionary churches that once enjoyed the status as parishes. Thanks to the St. Patrick’s Preservation Society, the church and cemetery are completely maintained and in good condition for Mass three times a year — Memorial Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the day of the annual picnic. Wedding and funeral Masses also are held there.
Murphy helped form the St. Patrick’s Preservation Society in 1962 at the insistence of his mother, who had her wedding breakfast in the priest’s house and refused to allow the community icon to decay. Murphy has told the story so many times that even St. Louis Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann offers prayers for her and credits her with the wonderful condition of the church and grounds.
Even Father Mark Bozada mentions her in his blessings on St. Patrick’s Day.
Construction on St. Patrick’s stone church, to replace the 1843 log church, was begun in 1852 and ceased for the Civil War. The first Mass was held there in 1867.
The lively rural church, lending library and debating society was the heart of the Catawissa community until 1925 when the archdiocese closed the parish. Descendants of those buried in the cemetery tried with varying results to care for the old church and cemetery until 1962 when Murphy and a cadre of volunteers resurrected the 1890s annual picnic.
The event turned out to be an accelerating fundraising effort. Every penny of profit has been put back into the church, grounds, rectory and cemetery.
The picnic will be held Sunday, Aug. 19, beginning with an 11 a.m. Mass. Dinners will be served on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at noon.