Authored by Matthew A. Hamilton
The United States of America experienced a significant rush of immigrants between 1870 and the 1920s. New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other major cities could not healthily sustain such population growth. Jobs and food became scarce. Thus, immigrants sought refuge and a better life elsewhere.
In the early 1870s, a wave of Irish Catholics, sponsored by the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union, colonized the Virginia countryside. A group of them settled in the southwestern part of the state, near the North Carolina border, where they tried their hands at farming. One of the settlements was Keileyville, named after the former Mayor of Richmond, Anthony Keiley, a Civil War veteran and the son of Irish immigrants.
The spiritual needs of Keileyville lacked direction at first. However, under the leadership of Father Adolph Habbet, the colony, at least spiritually speaking, began to flourish. Farming was tough. One can assume that Habbet, who was “very popular with the settlers” and “a talented pastor” as well, gave the colonists hope. One such Keileyville colonist was John McMahon, an Irish Catholic immigrant and member of the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union. Apparently a gifted craftsman, he built a tabernacle, thus providing a home for the Blessed Sacrament. Holy Mass was celebrated in the McMahon family home until a church was constructed. The tabernacle McMahon crafted is today located in the Museum of Virginia Catholic History.
The Vincentian charism is clearly symbolized by the tabernacle. But it is also symbolized through the diligent and humble work of John McMahon’s hands. By his service, he embodied the Vincentian generosity of “a life of stewardship as a caretaker of God-given talents, resources and knowledge, and caregiver responding to the needs of others.”
 The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. “Immigration (1870-1930).” Accessed February 26, 2017, http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/immigration-1870-1930/.
 According to the Encyclopedia of Genealogy, “The Irish Catholic Benevolent Union was one of many fraternal orders of Irish-Catholics in the Americas that sought to better the lives of other Irish-Catholics. The I.C.B.U. is no longer an active fraternity, but at its height helped to provide members with “health insurance”, burial costs, job improvement, relocation, immigration resettlement, etc.” Accessed February 26, 2017, http://www.eogen.com/Irish-Catholic-Benevolent-Union-ICBU.
 Anthony Keiley was Mayor of Richmond from 1871-1876.
 Habbet is sometimes spelled Habet, but all indications seem to conclude both names refer to the same individual.
 “The Catholic Colony at Barnesville,” The SouthSider: Local History and Genealogy of Southside Virginia, no. 2 (1993): 43.
 The colony of Keilyville did not survive. Harsh living conditions and the difficulties of farm work were to blame. Most colonists returned to the city life.
 The name of the church is unknown. However, evidence suggests that the Keileyville church was serviced by priests from Sacred Heart Parish, located in Danville, Virginia.
 Interview with the Archivist from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, February 15, 2017.
Bovee, David S. The Church and the Land: The National Catholic Rural Life Conference and
American Society, 1923-2007. The Catholic University of America Press, 2010. Accessed 8
Encyclopedia of Genealogy. Accessed February 26, 2017.
The SouthSider: Local History and Genealogy of Southside Virginia. Museum Collection.
Accession Number: 2015.009.0001. Archives, Diocese of Richmond. Anonymous gift on
behalf of Florine O. Baxter.
Timeline of Anthony Keily’s Life. Museum Collection. Accession Number: 2015.009.0001.
Archives, Diocese of Richmond. Anonymous gift on behalf of Florine O. Baxter.
The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. “Immigration (1870-1930).” Accessed February 26,
“Our Mission.” St. Johns University. Accessed March 2, 2017, from