Monday, December 7, 2009

Dec 7: Reverend Thomas J. Purcell

On this day in 1860, Father Thomas J. Purcell was born in Aberdare, Wales. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1871. Unfortunately, Thomas had to find work in the Pennsylvania coal mines a few month later, because his father died. (Purcell photo from J. H. Hawley History.)

Over a decade in the mines ruined his health, so he moved west, ending up in Denver in the spring of 1883, broke and without a job. Finally, the cool, dry mountain air relieved his lung problems and he found work first in Montana and then in north Idaho.

Impressed by his zeal to become a priest, the fathers at the Coeur d’Alene mission tutored the young man until he qualified for more advanced studies. Finally, in 1891, Purcell entered a Catholic seminary in Montreal, Canada. He was ordained a priest in late 1896, and the following year was assigned to the Coeur d’Alene parish. At that time, the parish included most of the Idaho Panhandle north of Latah County as well as some area in Washington.

Enthusiastic and energetic, Father Purcell completed churches in towns all over his parish: Bonner’s Ferry, Rathdrum, Priest River, Harrison, and Post Falls. This sparked such a surge in the Catholic numbers that the diocese split the parish, with Purcell continuing in the southern portion. Even further growth then required him to concentrate on the city of Coeur d’Alene itself, where he initiated projects that eventually included a church, convent, and school.

After a few months off due to ill health in 1913, he returned to ministry and built new churches in Mullen and Kellogg. From there, he moved to Idaho Falls and built yet another new church, dedicated in 1920, and a school. All told, his name is associated with 11 churches and 2 or 3 Catholic schools. He moved on from Idaho Falls in 1922 and died in September, 1925.

“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).

James H. Hawley, History of Idaho : The Gem of the Mountains, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago (1920).

“In Memoriam,” Inland Register, Catholic Diocese of Spokane (October 22, 2009).

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