Saints Peter and Paul parish has a rich and storied history that can be traced back to the 18th Century. Early pioneers migrated to Beaver County in the mid-1700’s, bringing along with them their strong Catholic beliefs. The parish was officially formed in 1830 and has continued to grow and prosper ever since.
Right around the mid-1700’s, colonists were looking to settle in the area we know today as Beaver County. Both the French and English brought along their respective religious beliefs and doctrines. They wished to spread their faith throughout the land and make it the foundation of their new colonies.
The first Catholic Mass in Beaver County was celebrated in 1749 by Father Joseph Peter Bonncamps.
In 1757 Father Claude Virot established a mission at Sawkunk-the Indian name for the point of land at the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers. This mission was short lived as Father Virot was forced out of the area by the Wolf Tribe of the Delawares.
The Catholic history of Beaver County, although well-documented up to 1758, is pretty much a mystery through 1793. However, the history of Catholicism becomes clearer heading into the late 18th Century. At this time many Catholics began to move into the area. Two main families, the McGuire and Daugherty families, made up the entire Catholic populations in the are for the next 30 years or so. However, without a church for Mass, let alone a priest to conduct one, these early Catholics were not able to celebrated weekly Mass as we do today.
Catholicism began to bloom in Beaver County during the construction of the Erie Canal (the Beaver Extension of the Erie Canal). This construction of the Beaver Extension drew a large number of Irish Catholic workers to the area. Makeshift churches popped up and priests, usually traveling from Pittsburgh, would offer Mass about once a month.
As work continued on the canal more and more Catholics moved into the area and a need for a permanent church structure became clear. In 1830, Beaver became on of the mission stops for Father Patrick O’Neil. This marked the true beginning of Saints Peter and Paul Parish. Mass continued at private homes but the acquisition of land (donated by J.W. Hemphill) was in the making and members of the Catholic community began to raise funds needed to build a church on the corner of Fair Avenue and Third Street.
On June 29-the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul-a formal dedication was celebrated by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of Philadelphia and other priests from St. Patrick’s of Pittsburgh. The initial congregation of the church consisted of approximately thirty families. The construction of the church was a great benefit to the Catholics in the area. However, without a resident pastor the parishioners were still only able to celebrate Mass once a month when priests would visit from Pittsburgh.
One of the first priests to offer Mass in Saints Peter and Paul Church was Father Andrew Patrick Gibbs. Father Gibbs continued to serve Saints Peter and Paul until 1844. He was responsible fro adding backs to the church benches (pews) and for acquiring a small organ which let to the organization of the church’s first choir.
Father Gibbs successor was Father Thomas McCullough. Father McCullough was the first priest ordained in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Father McCullough’s successor was Father James Reid, the first resident pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church.
Father Reid was popular right from his arrival. He wasted no time in reorganizing and renovating the church and to reinvigorate the congregation. He also believed in providing religious instruction to the youth of the parish. Father Reid was know as the caretaker of the Catholic community that stretched from Beaver to New Castle, to Mercer and even into Ohio! This constant circuiting eventually led to his declining health and he died on February 14, 1868. After his death, the Beaver Parish was attended by the priest from St. Cecilia’s Parish in Rochester for the next 32 years.
In the early morning hours of April 5, 1898, the original Saints Peter and Paul Church was tragically destroyed by fire.
On July 20, 1900, Father Anthony Vogel arrived to be the new resident pastor. However, still without a Church in which to celebrate, the congregation was forced to find a temporary location. In the meantime, the dedicated members of Saints Peter and Paul continued planning and raising funds for a new church. On December 15, 1901, their efforts were rewarded when the new church on East End Avenue and Otter Lane was complete. The new $12,000 structure, which is known today as Keating Hall, was dedicated by Reverend A.A. Lambing.
Saints Peter and Paul congregation began to grow quickly due to factories built in the are. These new factories attracted a large number of workers to the area, many of them Catholic. Suddenly, the congregation of Saints Peter and Paul had outgrown its new church and was in need of a larger structure.
On February 22, 1953, ground was broken on East End Avenue to build a new school and temporary church. The school was dedicated on April 4, 1954 by Bishop John Dearden from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The ground floor of the school served as the parish church for the time being.
The new elementary school was staffed by the Sisters of Divine Providence, along with lay teachers.
Father Louis Mineweiser replaced Father Flaherty in March of 1958 and Father Flaherty was replaced by Father Marcus O’Brien. He served Saints Peter and Paul until 1966.
A new era of the church began in 1966. The Parish began thinking of ways to improve the campus. Always thinking of children first, one the very first projects was the creation of a large school playground with basketball courts. Also, one the main priorities was the creation of a new activities building and a permanent church for the parish. In November of 1970, property acquired on the corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue was cleared for the construction of the new parish church. The new church was dedicated on May 29, 1972 by Bishop Vincent Leonard.
Saints Peter and Paul Church is a 12,000 square-foot structure that is quite unique in design. It seats 650 people in an amphitheatre style. The church features two of the largest stained-glass windows in the diocese. Many area buildings adjacent to the church has since been purchased for expansion of the rectory, parking lot, and housing for the priests.
The completion of the new church was a milestone in the history of Saints Peter and Paul Parish.
What began over 175 years ago by a group of proud, dedicated Catholics, continues to grow and live on today. Saints Peter and Paul parish is stronger than ever as it approaches its 200th year. The sacrifices that our ancestors made so long ago continue to prove valuable to our parish community. Our history is a real testament to those who have given so much throughout the years to make Saints Peter and Paul the thriving, dedicated parish that it is today.