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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Sacred Heart Church and the ‘Father of the Leprechauns’

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

The old Sacred Heart Catholic church in 1948

From a story by Deborah Draper

Many years have passed since the little white church was built in 1894, by 2 or 3 families, near the river on Richmond Road, just south of Riverside Drive. Many also, are memories that followed when it was moved to the corner of Union and Nevada Streets around 1902, where it received the title ‘Sacred Heart’.

Weather beaten and sun bleached, it stood in a humble glory, framed by bending locust trees, red cross and wild flowers, on a piece of land that was vested in Right Reverend Thomas Grace, Roman Catholic Bishop, who served the church from 1896 until his death in 1921.

In 1930 the Susanville church was made a parish on its own account and responsibility.

The most remembered priest of this humble House of God was a jolly man who carried himself in a determined stance, and spoke with a distinct Irish brogue, that gave his stories of old Irish folklore an unquestioned reality.

Patrick Joseph Moran was a British subject by birth, born in Ireland March 17, 1889, and was ordained to priesthood in June 1920. The Reverend Moran traveled throughout the world, coming to the United States in 1925, and became pastor of the church in Susanville, December 2, 1938.

He was a beautiful, colorful, man loved by all. Many children thought of him as the ‘Father of the Leprechauns’, as many of his stories portrayed him to be.

“Those little fellows,” he would say, “devious as the Devil himself, and cunning they are. Their pots of gold sit at the end of the rainbow, but few are the lads who are clever enough to find them.”

He told of Irish families who left a saucer of milk on their doorsteps at night in hopes of catching a Leprechaun, for it was believed, when captured, the dwarf would tell where he hid his treasure in order to buy back his freedom. Leprechauns were not to be trusted though and would try to escape without paying.

The cranky, wrinkled, little men who lived far from town and made shoes for the banshees or fairies, came to life in his tales, scurrying over the shrub-covered hills of Ireland.

In 1948, the old church, having served for many years, was outgrown by its congregation. It was, not without some tears, dismantled and the church that stands today was erected.

The new ‘Sacred Heart’ was dedicated by Bishop Robert J. Armstrong, May 21, 1950. Clarence Cuff of Sacramento was the architect, and the local T&M Carpenter Shop was the contractor. The Father considered the large mural gracing the wall above the main altar, painted by Dan McFadden, to be a ‘masterpiece’.

The interior of the new Sacred Heart Church in 1951

The artwork depicting ‘Our Savior’ appearing through clouds on his cross with angles, has since been painted over and the wall has been remodeled. A portrait of the Monsignor painted by Mr. McFadden, added during that time, remains, and is now cherished in the home of Tolbert and Violet Stout here in Susanville.

Father Moran was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate, on January 16, 1954 by Pope Pius XII, and was accorded the title, ‘Right Reverend Monsignor’, as a tribute to the work he had done for his church.

On December 8, 1966, after a life rich in story and spiritual reward, Monsignor Patrick Joseph Moran went on to his eternal reward, leaving upon this earth the memory of a beloved man and the spirit of the Leprechaun.

The Monsignor Moran Parish Hall was erected at the corner of North Weatherlow and North Streets, by parishioners of the Sacred Heart Parish and dedicated by Bishop Alden J. Bell, October 28, 1967 as a memorial to Monsignor Patrick Joseph Moran.

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