DARBY BOROUGH — Monsignor Joseph Corley may have died in late June, but his legacy in Darby still lives on.
A lunch for Darby and Yeadon police officers started by Corley almost 20 years ago continued Tuesday afternoon for the first time without the revered figure from the Darby community.
Dozens of on- and off-duty police officers congregated at the Blessed Virgin Mary Church hall to enjoy a slew of pasta, fried chicken, roast beef and other complimentary fixings in the former home of Corley, the parish pastor until his death on June 29 at the age of 72.
The annual lunch had been on the books even when his health took a turn for the worse from cancer.
“He told the maintenance man, ‘Call Helen and say I won’t be there.’ He thought he was only going to be in the hospital. So did I,” said Helen Keichline, the organizer and a cook for this year’s gathering. Going back to the conversation between Corley and the parish maintenance staff she continued, “'But ask her if she’ll still run the lunch.’ Of course, I said yes.”
By then, the announcements had gone out in the church bulletin and Keichline had already started making her phone calls to get cooks, donations and volunteers for the event. Approximately one dozen staffed the serving tables and kitchen Monday.
Keichline, a decades-long member of BVM parish, recalled how the lunch got started by Corley who served as church pastor since 1998.
“He said, ‘Helen, the Darby police really do a good job here at BVM. I haven’t had a broken window since I’ve been here and I want to run a lunch for them,’” she said.
At first it was only for Darby officers, but it expanded to Yeadon officers over the last few years (and helped with donations from St. Louis parish volunteers).
Darby Borough Police Chief Robert Smythe said Corley was a figure his officers would gravitate toward in the good times and the bad, saying last week that he was a big comfort to the department when an officer was killed off-duty a few years back.
For the pairing of visitation and funeral Masses for Corley on July 2 and July 3, the Darby police department had a notable presence at the church located at the busy intersection of Main Street and MacDade Boulevard. A Facebook post from July 8 thanked a number of local and distant police departments who helped the department and community pay their respects to Corley.
No one did more than Corley for the parish, in Keichline’s eyes.
“He knew how to reach people that were away from the church. He brought a lot of people to the church,” she said.
At this first lunch without Corley’s presence, Keichline said the only difference this year is that he’s missed.
“It brings tears to our eyes. We miss him,” she said, tears starting to well and her voice cracking from the emotion. “But there he was looking out for them even though he wasn’t going to be here, he’s looking out for them (the officers).
“That’s the kind of person Father Corley was.”