Sheila Grove

ERIE — The faith and commitment of the Diocese of Erie’s 19th century families – mostly immigrants like Peter and Catherine Cauley — built the first diocesan churches. Even newer churches in the diocese were built and are maintained by the Catholic families who worship in them. Learning about the legacy of the past provides a foundation for the future. One family from northwest Pennsylvania is doing just that. 

St. Mary Church, Sartwell         Communications Office photo

          A group of Peter and Catherine Cauley’s descendants now living in McKean, Warren and Erie counties, gathered to learn more of the story of their relatives who supported and served St. Patrick Parish in Erie for 82 of its 189 years. 

          At the nexus of the story is Peter and Catherine Cauley’s daughter Mary Ann who was born in 1856 and grew up in Sartwell, Pennsylvania. Four of her brothers became priests. Mary Ann married Dan Crowley. Their son Stephen became a priest. Their daughter Celestine married William Plunkett. Celestine and William’s son Thomas became a priest. It is noteworthy that six members of three contiguous generations became priests. But what is more interesting is that all six served the same parish in Erie.

           Mary Ann’s brother Peter was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Erie in 1887. In 1893, as a monsignor, he was assigned as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Erie. At that time, St. Patrick was the pro-cathedral for the diocese. Msgr. Cauley replaced then-pastor Father Thomas Casey who became the first rector of St. Peter Cathedral when it opened in 1893. Msgr. Cauley was pastor until 1938.  

          Father Joseph Cauley, ordained in 1893, joined his older brother at St. Patrick Parish and served there until his death in 1919. Father Steven Cauley, ordained in 1897, served his entire priesthood at St. Patrick Parish. He was named pastor in 1938 upon Msgr. Peter Cauley’s death and served in the role until he died in 1954. The youngest of the four Cauley priests, Father Charles, was ordained in 1905 and served his priesthood at St. Patrick Parish until his death in 1950. 

Msgr. Henry Kriegel, pastor, gives a tour of St. Patrick Church, Erie
to members of the Crowley family, from left to right: Jerry Shipman,
Ann Crowley Shipman, Bob Crowley, Maureen Plunkett, Judy Crowley
Smith, Lisa Louis (from the Catholic Foundation), Sue Crowley, Mike
Shipman, Patrick Smith and Barb Crowley.       Photo/Sheila Grove

          The family story does not end there, however, as Father Charles Crowley, the Cauley brothers’ nephew, became pastor in 1954 and served until 1964 when he was succeeded by his nephew, Father Thomas Plunkett, until 1975. 

          Fast forward nearly 50 years. Mary Ann Cauley Crowley’s great grandson, Bob, a member of St. Joseph Parish, Warren, who is also the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Pennsylvania’s board vice-chair; Lisa Louis, the foundation’s executive director, and Jim Martin, development director, organized a September family gathering. 

          Msgr. Henry Kriegel, current pastor of St. Patrick Parish, and Mark Alloway, organist and director of music, met with the group for a personal tour of the church and rectory. The group was impressed by the size and the beauty of the building and touched by the role their ancestors played in the life of the parish. 

          They learned about their great-uncles, their great-aunt, Cassie Cauley — a housekeeper in the rectory for 50 years – and their great-great grandfather and great-uncle, John Cauley who provided significant financial support for the building of the current rectory and the church (the third St. Patrick church building). They left eager to share their experience with family members unable to attend that day and expressed hope for another opportunity to gather there. 

Msgr. Henry Kriegel shows documents about the history
of St. Patrick Parish to Bob Crowley during his family's tour
of the St. Patrick rectory.                       Photo/Sheila Grove

          According to Bob Crowley, “researching my family genealogy of the last 200 years has been a rewarding experience and one that I feel is important to my own personal Catholic legacy by preserving a historical record that can be passed on to succeeding generations.” 

          Crowley’s focus extends beyond the church doors. He has developed a special concern for perpetual care of parish cemeteries such as the ones in which his parents and other family members are buried near St. Mary Church in Sartwell, St. Gabriel Church in Port Allegany and St. Raphael Church in Eldred. As the population in those areas shrinks, he worries that cemetery care will become more challenging. Crowley hopes to make an impact in that area by raising awareness and funds to support a perpetual endowment to honor his ancestors. 

         While most families cannot claim the number of clergy in their family that the Crowleys can, most trace their family trees to grandparents and great grandparents who valued their Catholic faith enough that they committed their time and often limited treasure to building the churches that house faith communities today. With ongoing care and commitment, those communities will sustain the Catholic faith for generations to come. 

          Many parishes in the diocese are fortunate enough to plan for the future through endowment funds managed by the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Pennsylvania. The Catholic Foundation also coordinates the #iGive Catholic donation day, an event held this year on Nov. 30 in which most parishes and Catholic services organizations throughout the diocese participate. Both are important ways to maintain a legacy of faith and worship.  

Editor’s Note: Information for this story was obtained from Robert Crowley, St. Patrick’s Parish, 1837-2012, by Msgr. Henry Kriegel and internet gravesite records.