AOH support for the Church and its missions was remarkable. At the 1910 Convention, Archbishop Christie of Portland asked the AOH to pass a .25 cent per member assessment in an attempt to reach a goal of a $25,000.00 for mission work within the U.S. The request was honored and at the next convention it was reported that the goal had not only been met, but had been exceeded by $3,000.00 and the LAAOH added another $10,000.00 for good measure.
In addition to earlier support of the Church, the activities of the Order became centered on the fight for Irish freedom after 1916, but when America entered WWI in 1917, many ladies divisions raised funds for American War Relief with events like the play entitled A Wild Irish Rose sponsored by the Ladies in June, 1918. They also contributed more than $11,000 to a Mass Outfit Fund for Catholic Army and Navy Chaplains. After the war, the ladies again focused on the Church. In 1924, with some help from the men of the AOH, the Ladies erected a huge memorial to the Nuns of the Battlefield, many of whom were Irish and served in the American Civil War. The monument was erected in the Nation’s Capital and each year is the site of a wreath-laying ceremony after a Memorial Mass at historic St, Matthew’s Church across the street from the monument. In 1927, a check for $10,000.00 was given to Catholic U ($139,300 today). The Ladies also requested donations of gold and jeweled family heirlooms to incorporate into gifts in memory of relatives who owned them. In 1928, a 14k gold Chalice and Paten was presented to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Chalice was a replica of the 1639 Kilmallock Chalice at the Dominican Friary in Limerick and was inlaid with jewels. In 1929, an illuminated missal, encased in a tooled leather cover encrusted with jewels was presented to St. Brigid’s altar at the National Shrine. The ladies also presented a bejeweled crucifix reflecting the design of the twelfth century Cross of Cong. The most meaningful gift however, was a hand-carved missal stand made from the wooden pews of St. Francis Xavier Church in Gettysburg. The pews had been used as cots for the wounded civil war soldiers tended by the Nuns of the Battlefield. There are dark stains in the wood from the blood of the wounded soldiers treated thereon; it was decided not to purge those historically significant stains. Candlesticks of gold with Celtic designs were also presented in the following years. The AOH and LAAOH donated $1000.00 each in May, 1979, to Catholic University for a specially designed wooden display case for the original vestments of John Carroll, the first Bishop (1790) and Archbishop (1808) of Maryland.
In 1935, Father (later Bishop) Edward Galvin pleaded with the Ladies Auxiliary to assist his small group of Columban missionaries in China. The ladies voted to make the Columban Missions their primary charity and in the first 50 years of that association donated half a million dollars to that cause. They are now working on the second million. As the AOH and LAAOH moved across the country with the Irish, their church went with them. Their support for their church is attested to by the number of buildings and gifts, especially the beautiful stained glass windows that were donated by AOH and LAAOH Divisions to new Churches in towns small and large in spite of the fact that Irish communities were notoriously hard-pressed for their own economic survival. A national survey of Hibernian patronage by AOH and LAAOH Divisions has produced a partial count of more than 500 stained glass windows and artifacts.
In 1981, the Brooklyn AOH started a three-day Great Irish Fair at Coney Island, NY to raise money for Catholic Charities. It ran for many years featuring the best in Irish and Irish American entertainment with countless Irish product, food and beverage vendors. Awards were provided to noteworthy individuals from the community and it was featured in many media bringing attention to the good work of the Order. After expenses, an average of $100,000.00 a year was donated to Catholic Charities by the AOH. In 1986, St. James Church, where NY Governor and Presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith served as an altar boy and where an early Division of the AOH had been founded, was designated to be torn down after city officials declared the roof in danger of collapsing. An appeal went out to the AOH because of its historic significance and fund raising commenced. As a result, the church was saved by the efforts of the local community and the AOH from Manhattan and Staten Island who financed the restoration. AOH monetary assistance also helped save the once-condemned St. Brigid’s Church in Manhattan from the wrecker’s ball. And support for their Church continues.
Members of the AOH in America may not have fought side by side with early Irish societies who stood to defend their faith and heritage as their ancestors did, but they accepted the responsibility that was passed on to them to keep those traditions alive and maintain the fight. In America, they were not only free to attend Mass, but also to defend their church and clergy against any who would interfere with that celebration. And defend it they did as at Old Saint Patrick’s in 1841 and 1844. However, on December 10, 1989, a militant Gay and Lesbian group called ACT UP planned an attack on New York’s new St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass to protest Cardinal John O’Connor’s stand against abortion and the free distribution of condoms in public schools. The Cardinal called on the AOH and the K of C to crowd the church and allow no room for the demonstrators to fit in. Further, if any did enter, he asked for them to be peacefully forced out, cautioning that he wanted no violence in the house of God. When the day arrived, the church was packed! During Mass, at the distribution of Communion, several aggressors slowly made their way up the main aisle undetected and upon receiving the Host, spat it out and trampled it while others sling-shot condoms at the priests on the altar. True to the Cardinal’s wishes, they were quietly, but hurriedly, pushed out the side doors. Once outside, several of them fell down the Cathedral steps and had to be taken away by ambulance, but that was attributed to the fact that they were unfamiliar with the proper way of entering and exiting a church.
On June 7, 2009, New York’s old St. Patrick’s celebrated its 200th anniversary with a Mass and parade. At Mass, Archbishop Timothy Dolan recalled the AOH’s defensive stand and announced that, due to the church’s historic significance, the Vatican elevated old St. Patrick’s to a Basilica. After Mass, a huge parade of local organizations passed in review led by New York’s Fighting 69th at the head of AOH National, State, County and Division officers. As the Hibernians reached the front of the church, the parade paused and the AOH men stepped out of line to form a cordon around the front of the Cathedral in remembrance of the historic 1841 and 1844 defenses. The parade then continued as the Hibernians proudly stood in silent remembrance of past defenders while the passing organizations saluted them.
Just as the AOH helped build the Catholic Church across America, it continues to nurture and support its growth with various enterprises such as Project Saint Patrick which provides unconditional vocational grants to seminarians and religious novices in need of assistance on their journey to ordination. Started in 1995, by past national president Ed Wallace and Father James Burns of the Minnesota AOH, it raises funds through donations and the sale of Memory Cards. By 2012, the project had provided in excess of $300,000.00 to more than 750 men and women applicants of all ethnic denominations on their way to becoming priests, monks, brothers and nuns.
In yet another significant remembrance that brings the Order back to its roots, AOH Division 2 in Green County, NY, received the donation of a huge flat rock from the Kingston AOH which the Kingston members had secured from a nearby quarry. The stone was transported to a secluded spot on the grounds of the Irish Heritage Center at East Durham in the Catskill Mountains in 2010. The rock is the focal point of an annual commemorative Mass, celebrated in memory of those who courageously kept the faith alive during the dark days of persecution at hidden Mass Rocks in the woods, glens and mountain passes of Ireland.