We thank Sister Paula Bingert, our parish/school historian, whose knowledge of the parish and school history makes possible this wonderful story.
Sister Paula is a Franciscan Sister who served as the elementary school librarian at St. Peter’s School for many years. She retired and now resides at Our Lady of Angels in Joliet, Illinois.
It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
Yes, my friends, we are workers, not master builders. We are ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. May that future only be filled with grace, peace and hope.
This is the story of St. Peter’s Parish and St. Peter’s School. It is the story of the pioneers, the missionaries, the priests and nuns, of the men and women and children who have labored and prayed so that St. Peter’s Parish and St. Peter’s School would be blessed with God’s goodness and mercy.
In 1803, Ohio became part of the Union. The entire state belonged under the Diocese of Cincinnati that was formed in 1821. The first record of an Episcopal visit to the village of Mansfield is dated 1834. Bishop John B. Purcell found two English and several German Roman Catholic families. Visiting priests said Mass in family homes.
In 1834, a simple bureau in the home of Jacob Scholl acted as a make-shift altar when missionaries, traveling through the area, stopped and said Mass for grateful Catholic settlers. In a letter written by Bishop Purcell, “At Mansfield the building of a church was being contemplated,” hence the founding date of the parish is 1844. From these humble beginnings there developed a parish in 1844, Mansfield St. Peter’s, then a part of the Cleveland diocese. Since that time, St. Peter’s has become a vibrant and thriving parish that has had a significant and lasting impact on the local community.
On April 23, 1847, Cleveland became the diocesan swat of northern Ohio. The next year, Bishop Louis A. Rappe came to Mansfield to look for a suitable place for a church. An abandoned Presbyterian meeting hall was purchased for $900 by the diocese of Cleveland and was located on Mulberry just north of the current elementary school. After extensive repairs, the first Mass was said in 1850 and the parish boasted 12 families.
The drawing (above) by Fran Molson was completed after studying the church architecture of the time in Mansfield. We would very much like to find a picture of our first church but to date have not been able to do so.
Our first resident pastor, Father Joseph Gallagher, assumed his duties in 1861. Father Gallagher also served Crestline, raised funds for a church in Loudonville, and purchased grounds for our Catholic cemetery. Prior to the purchase of a Catholic cemetery, deceased parishioners were buried in the cemetery in Shelby Settlement (for geneology searchers).
Father James P. Molony, our second pastor, purchased land on the northeast corner of First and Mulberry Streets and built a rectory in 1865 (where the elementary/junior high school now stands).
In 1868, third pastor, Father Jacob Kuhn, left his mark on the parish by initiating the Catholic education tradition and establishing the very first St. Peter’s School with a faculty consisting of three young female teachers: Miss Elizabeth Haley of Sandusky, Miss Mame Gutzwiler and Miss Anna Schantz. Some of the names of the children enrolled–Massa, Berno, Wentz, and Leibfritz–are still found in the parish today.
The Father Andrew Magenhann, fourth pastor, took charge of St. Peter’s parish on September 7, 1869. He also ministered in Ashland and Loudonville. By 1870, the population of Mansfield had reached 10,000 and the parish numbered 200 families. Father Magenhann purchased three lots on the northwest corner of South Mulberry and West First Streets. On this land stood the First Ward public school building of yellow brick, two stories and providing four classrooms. This building was to become the new (and now second) St. Peter’s School.
This drawing of the second St. Peter’s School, replicates the former yellow-brick public school building purchased by Father Magenhann. Completed by St. Peter’s High School alumnus, Jonathan Gallaway, this sketch is based on descriptions of buildings of that time and a topical blueprint of the rooftop. No actual photos are available.
At the invitation of the pastor, the Sisters of St. Francis of Joliet, Illinois, arrived in 1871 to help staff the school. They have continued to serve the parish to date.
In June of 1870, to accommodate the growing flock, Father Magenhann laid the cornerstone for the second St. Peter’s Church. This beautiful gothic structure stood in the lot presently occupied by the elementary school.
Sadly, in 1889, a disastrous fire completely destroyed the nineteen-year-old church that was the second St. Peter’s Church.. The cause of the fire was never definitely determined. Both local papers, the “Daily Shield and Banner” and “The Herald” carried lengthy articles covering the fire. “The Herald” reported, “that he (Father Magenhann) is not discouraged but will build a finer church than the one that burned.”
The church building destroyed in the fire in 1889 was only partially insured. The parish still had a debt of $25,000. The councilmen at that time were Mr. James P. Keefe, Mr. John Massa, and Mr. J. E. Young. Under their guidance, the debt was paid off in just five years.
In September of that same year, the yellow brick school was torn down and the cornerstone laid for the third St. Peter’s combination church/school building.
Located on the northwest corner of South Mulberry and First Streets where the church parking lot is today, this combination building held a beautiful church on the second floor and four large classrooms below the church.
The first classes began in September of 1890. By September of 1907, school opened with an enrollment of 323 pupils. There were seven Sisters on the faculty. To make room for the growing enrollment, four classrooms were added to the west end of the combination church/school. About 1916, a two-year commercial course was added to the regular eight grades.
On December 26, 1897, Father Magenhann recorded his last baptism at St. Peter’s Church as he was assigned to another parish. In 1905, he died in Cleveland. He is the only pastor buried in the Mansfield Catholic Cemetery, marked by the large black cross statue near the main entrance to the right as you enter the cemetery.
The first entry in the baptismal record of 1898 was signed by the fifth pastor, Father Ferdinand A. Schreiber. He erected the beautiful stone church in Shelby Settlement before coming to Mansfield.
The Ohio State Reformatory, located about two miles from the church, was opened for its first inmates on September 17, 1896. Father Schreiber assumed the spiritual care of the Catholic prisoners. His interest in the welfare of the Reformatory continued throughout his pastorate.
Looking ahead to the need for a new church since the red brick church/school building was deteriorating, Father Schreiber purchased the “Hahn” property to the north of the red brick church/school building (where the present St. Peter’s Church building now stands). This property was next to the current priests’ rectory.
Back in the 1920’s, houses were not torn down; they were moved. In August of 1906, the house located on the “Hahn” property was moved to the east side of South Mulberry Street to the present elementary school parking lot. This vacated space provided additional ground for the new church. Once moved, the “Hahn” house became known as “The House of Seven Gables” because of the seven-gable roof construction The Sisters lived there from 1907 until 1958, at which time the new high school/convent was built.
Prior to the house being moved, the photo below shows the House of Seven Gables, home to the Franciscan Sisters, when it stood next to the present-day rectory which is to the right.
The House of Seven Gables, in the photo below, after it was moved to what is now the elementary school parking lot/playground. Notice the elementary school building to the right.
Strawberry Alley cut the site in half on which the new church (present church today) was to be built. The pastor petitioned the city council to vacate the alley from South Mulberry Street to Corporation Alley (now Championship Drive-alias Weldon Avenue). By ordinance of 1904, the alley was closed. This, together with the vacated land from the Hahn house move, gave the parish a plot of ground 140 x 180 feet on which to build a new church.
On September 16, 1909, the parish welcomed its first assistant pastor, Father Joseph R. Waechter. In 1910, he was transferred to Loudonville and was succeeded by Father John W. Schmitz who remained until December 1911 when Rev. James J. Gough became the third assistant pastor.
The local newspaper, the “Courier”, in its September 8, 1909 issue, printed the architect’s sketch of the proposed new church. The dimensions were 90 x 159 feet with a seating capacity of 1,100.
“It was of modified Romanesque Renaissance architecture and was fronted with an imposing classic porch entrance of four beautiful columns flanked by two striking towers one hundred and twenty-five feet high. Because of the church’s location near the top of one of Mansfield’s many hills, these towers are visible for some miles, particularly on the eastern approaches of the city. It was built of Berea sandstone, rough faced, and trimmed with sawed and carved sandstone. Plans for the new church were drawn by William P. Guinther of Akron. Albert Burkhart of Columbus was the contractor. Estimates of the cost of the church aggregate over $150,000. The building proper cost over $100,000, while the interior finishing and furnishings cost at least half that amount.”
May 14, 1911, was a memorable day in parish history. From 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., dinner was served by the ladies of the congregation at the Rink on West Fourth Street. Tickets cost 35 cents. At 1:30 p.m, a parade formed at First and Mulberry Streets and all male members of the congregation were requested to participate (no women invited since they were doing the cooking!). The line of march was north on Mulberry to Fourth, to Main to North Park and past the courthouse and back to the church. The parade was headed by Father Schmitz on a white horse. A postcard of the completed church with pictures inset of Father Ferdinand Schreiber and associate pastor Father Schmitz were distributed to members of the parish community. Following him also on horseback were James Feener, John O’Rourke, Louis Cunningham, and Joe Seibert. Different societies and visiting Catholics from nearby towns marched in the parade. The music was furnished by the City Band and the military band of the Knights of St. John. The streets were lined with thousands of citizens.
At 3:00 p.m., Bishop John P. Farrelly of Cleveland officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new church. From the May 15 issue of the “Mansfield News,” we have this description:
“A perfect day, blue skies, waving flags, green trees and a throng of happy people, formed a fitting panorama for the scene of the laying of the cornerstone of St. Peter’s Catholic Church.”
The cornerstone, a gift of William J. Cavanagh, was blessed by the bishop. A box containing copies of the Mansfield daily newspaper and several historical documents was placed in the cornerstone. After the laying of the cornerstone, the sermon was preached by the Father Francis T. Moran of Cleveland, a noted speaker.
A photo of the cornerstone ceremony. (Notice the cornerstone on the front center of the structure, just to the left of the priests and servers.)
The parade through the square in downtown Mansfield.
Since the laying of the cornerstone in 1911, the new church had been rising and pastor and people were anxious to use it. Although the stained glass windows had not yet arrived, they determined to move into the church. On Sunday, September 12, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated. Estimates at that time put the cost of the church at just over $150,000–$100,000 for the building proper and $50,000 for the furnishings.
In honor of their parents, Jacob and Elizabeth Scholl, the Scholl children paid for the purchase of the marble altar for the new church. The parish history book reads: “The interior of the beautiful new church is all of the best workmanship and design. All the marble work, altars, communion rail, shrines, baptismal font, holy water fonts, are of Carrara marble, executed by the McBride Studio of New York. All the work was done in the Pietrasanta Studios in Italy.”
The names of the father and mother of the Scholl family were Jacob and Elizabeth and, noticeably, on either side of Jesus Christ on the cross at the main altar are two small statues of St. James and St. Elizabeth. (Jacob is German for James.) In the design of the statues of St. James and St. Elizabeth, care was taken to have the bodies and faces of those statues facing southeast (in the direction of Wappner Funeral Home on Diamond Street) which was the location of the Scholl family home. The home still stands today across from Wappner Funeral Home.
The formal dedication took place on Sunday, September 16, 1917. World War I delayed shipment of the stained glass windows, the contract for which had been awarded to the Emil Frei Art Glass Studios of Munich, Germany. The church windows arrived in 1920 and were installed in December of that year.
The church as it appeared many years ago when Mass was said facing the main altar.
The sixth pastor, Father Nicholas Hassel (below), changed the parish from the Diocese of Cleveland to the Diocese of Toledo in 1922.
In 1923, when Father Rupert C. Goebel (below) became the seventh pastor, the increasing number of school children called for more space in our school. In August of that year, five portable school rooms were erected on the northwest corner of South Mulberry and West First Streets next to the red brick school. All school rooms, old and new, were filled in September. That area is now the current church parking lot.
The Most Reverend Samuel A. Stritch, Bishop of the Diocese of Toledo, directed that a four-year high school be established in 1924. The enrollment of the first class was 23 students and these same students graduated in 1928.
In 1925, the priests moved into a new rectory that they still occupy today. This move made space available for a new elementary school building where the old rectory once stood.
Father Goebel helped break ground for a new elementary school building on September 20, 1926. It was also during Father Goebel’s tenure as pastor, the Sunday envelope system was introduced as a result of the first financial campaign. It was on March 20, 1927, that the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Stritch. The Right Reverend Samuel A. Stritch, D.D., Bishop of Toledo, Reverend F. E. Malone, Chancellor of Toledo, and members of the Mansfield clergy and community took part in ceremonies which started at 8 a.m. on the morning of March 20, 1927. Arriving at the new building, Bishop Stritch, surrounded by the remainder of the procession, placed in the cornerstone a document, several religious coins and a coin dated 1926.
Bishop Stritch commended the congregation on constructing such an “edifice in order that their children might receive an education.” The cornerstone reads:
“Erected to our children that they may honor their parents That they may serve their country That they may love their God That they may save their souls.”
The architect was William R. Perry of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who designed it in Lombardesque architecture. Built at a cost of $250,000 and with Leo Herman of Bowling Green, Ohio, as general contractor, the elementary school granite building included 21 classrooms. In September of 1927 the doors were opened to almost 700 students. Originally, the top floor was used as a dormitory for the Franciscan sisters for whom there was no room in the House of Seven Gables next door. The high school took over the entire red brick building and all the portable structures were sold.
Many years later, newer, energy-efficient windows were installed in place of the original. This distinctive and beautiful school building continues to be the home of St. Peter’s Elementary School.
The panic of 1929 and succeeding years of depression made the debt a heavy burden on the parish but with the steady help of the men of the parish who would often meet in the basement of the church, the last note was taken up on January 10, 1944, the first time since 1913. The pastor and parishioners determined that the church should be renovated and redecorated as soon as possible.
The parish centennial was to have occurred in 1944 but was delayed because Monsignor Goebel wanted to wait for the men and women to return from World War II.
In February of 1944, Hungarian-born artist John Bernat was given the commission of decorating the church through the architectural firm of William R. Petty of Pittsburgh. The central theme was to be the teaching church. Many of his beautiful murals still adorn the walls of St. Peter’s Church today. John Bernat was educated at the Hungarian Royal Institute of Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and Rome, Italy. He was commissioned to do many church interiors, both in Europe and the United States, and his works now are in numerous private collections and museums throughout the world. His work was unusual in that each bit of it had significance and was original. He did not duplicate designs even though he may have been doing similar portrayals.
(From the Mansfield News Journal, February 18, 1945.) “Because the artist must paint the ceilings from a very close range and while lying flat on his back on the scaffolding, as Bernat does, it is impossible for him merely to climb the scaffolding and paint the vision he sees through his mind’s eye.”
Bernat’s method was making a “cartoon” or pattern of the entire scene on heavyweight paper sometimes 35 feet long. He would draw the outlines of the figures proportional to measurements of church ceilings and walls. He would then cut the paper on these lines and pin the patterns on the walls of the church basement, then sketch rapidly of “lay in” the vague outlines. The outlines of the figures in the pattern were then punctured with small holes and, after the pattern was placed against the ceiling, charcoal dust was patted through the holds, leaving a stenciled outline of the figures on the ceiling. This would take weeks with one individual figure taking anywhere from three hours to three days to draw. The artist was then ready to do the actual painting. On his palette, Bernat used only yellow, red, blue, green and white. Although he needed no living models for general work on figures of human beings, he sometimes used parishioners as well as high school students for models for the apostles and Christ for specific details.
The dominant figure of the decorations of St. Peter’s Church is the seated figure of Christ with arms outstretched, high above the main altar in the sanctuary. Other scenes to the right and left of Christ show the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The dome in the ceiling of St. Peter’s church which depicts scenes from the life of St. Peter–preaching on Pentecost, meeting St. Paul, restoring Dorcas to life, and the trial scene. Other paintings on the rear walls of the church are also Bernat’s work.
Following the Catholic Church liturgical trends in the 70’s for simplicity, some murals were painted over. And following the big fire in the 1990’s, the resulting major cleaning and restoration included painting the entire church, inclusive of painting over some murals. However, many beautiful scenes remain today, including Christ the King above the main altar.
Unfortunately, we have only one colored photo of these beautiful murals that once adorned the walls of St. Peter’s Church.
Bernat met his wife, the former Martha Miligan of Toledo, in Budapest in 1938. Although a U.S. citizen by birth, she was Hungarian by descent and was visiting relatives and studying art in the Royal Hungarian Academy of Art in Budapest. It was at that school that Bernat met her. He married Miss Miligan in 1939 in a little village church in which the two had jointly labored for four months in a fresco decoration project. He then decided that he wanted to come to America with his new wife. His hopes of coming to America were crushed after being drafted into the Hungarian army. Eventually, though, he was discharged from the Hungarian army because of the notorious meetings between Hitler and Mussolini from which came the dictatorial order of “no war” between Hungary and Romania.
His escape from Europe and eventual arrival in America is summed up by Bernat in this way: “After a few days’ wait we were lucky enough to secure berths on a little steamship of another company. Its capacity was only 285 but my wife and I and some 800 others squeezed into it for the trip to America.” They arrived at Jersey City on January 1, 1941. During his years in Mansfield, Mr. Bernat received his American citizenship, conducted art classes which eventually grew into the Mansfield Fine Arts Guild, and did the massive interior paintings and decorations for St. Peter’s Catholic Church. His wife, Martha (Miligan) Bernat, a sculptor, carved the wooden Fourteen Stations of the Cross in bas-relief from Philippine mahogany and they still hang in St. Peter’s Church today.
Mrs. Bernat is shown here carving one of the Stations of the Cross, all of which still hang in the church today. Replaced by those carved by Mrs. Bernat, shown here (marked in red) on the left above the doorway is one of the original Stations of the Cross.
While living in Mansfield, John Bernat taught private art classes to adults in the Mansfield area and each was carefully selected after showing promise and talent. Bernat’s policy was not to take on anyone as a private student under the age of 14 but he made an exception in the case of former St. Peter’s High School art teacher, Frank Daniell. “Young Frankie” as John Bernat called him, showed so much talent that at the age of 11 Bernat accepted him into his art class. Daniell studied with Bernat for three months, first working in charcoal studies, then in watercolor. On a return trip to Mansfield years later, Bernat greeted Mr. Daniell by saying, “Well, here’s young Frankie.”
John Bernat moved with his family, wife and three children, to California to work as a medical illustrator. In September of 1964 at age 54, he died of cancer in Duarte, California. Martha Miligan Bernat passed away peacefully on December 23, 2007, in Huntington Beach, California.
By 1927, the high school was in its third year and now occupied the entire red brick building since the new church was built next door. That church building is the one that we still have today. There was an enrollment of 97 in the high school. The new grade school was almost 700 students filling its halls. The principal, a Joliet Franciscan, Sister Edith Bryne, looked after both schools. Alumni members may remember the names of Sisters Teresita, Ephrem or Alberta in the grade school or Sisters Ethelberge and Lilian in the high school. There were twenty-five sisters serving in the parish school at that time.
All graduates of the classes from 1928 to 1958 have many fond memories of this old building. The first floor of this 1889 building housed two classrooms, a chemistry lab and a music room. The 1909 addition on the west end allowed for two more classrooms on each floor. The second floor, which was formerly the body of the church (until the new, present church was completed in 1912), became an auditorium with a library on the north side and a typing room on the south.
Many traditions grew out of these red-brick walls.
*The first May crowning was held in 1932 with Virginia Zartman as the May Queen who crowned the statue of Mary.
*The December bazaars became today’s Christmas Classic.
*The May Festival was a forerunner of the Easter Bake Sale.
*Each senior class took pride in selecting and presenting the class play. Do you remember the name of your class play?
*The school newspaper, “The Key,” was first published in October of 1943.
*Each class had a memory book but it was with the class of 1943-44 that the name “Petrarchan” was first used.
*The Mother’s Club was organized in 1956 and is today the Parents’ Club.
From the annals kept by the sisters comes this information: “During the summer vacation, the ladies of the parish took advantage of the Sisters’ absence for retreat and summer school to have the convent (Sisters’ house) papered and painted and various other renovations made. This was most necessary as it had been a long time since any work of the kind had been done. Owing to the crowded condition in the sisters’ house, provision was made for dormitories in the new school; the monitor (now the 4th floor art lab) and one of the classrooms was devoted to this purpose. Seventeen sisters slept in the school building.”
Father Rupert Goebel, the pastor, began the tradition of blessing all parish children, infants through high school, on the Sunday after the opening of the school year.
In October of 1927, it was decided that uniforms should be adopted for the high school girls. According to pictures in the yearbook of 1928, the girls wore a navy blue dress with a white collar and cuffs.
The very first senior class chose as their class play, “Kathleen”. This class also saw the beginning of another tradition when the high school public speaking and debate team sponsored its first contest in June of 1928.
First graduating class, 1928, (below) with pastor Father Rupert Goebel.
Class night was held for the first graduating class on June 12, 1928, in the high school auditorium. The following morning the class attended Mass together and then were invited to breakfast in the rectory. At this time, the St. Peter Alumni Association was inaugurated. (As seniors graduate from SPHS, they automatically become members of St. Peter’s Alumni. As of the summer of 2019, the Alumni Association numbers at 5,484.) Graduation exercises were held in the auditorium (street level floor) of the red brick church on the evening of June 13 for the 23 graduates. (Remember, the church was on the second floor of that red brick building.) The annual school picnic marked the close of the school year.
With the completion of decorating of the church and the return of the men and women from military service in 1946, the parish was ready to celebrate the centennial. Taking part in the celebration was Bishop Michael Ready, a former student of St. Peter’s Elementary School.
Music always played an important role in the St. Peter’s curriculum. The Sisters offered private music lessons. Gregorian chant was taught. It was used by all the high school students on the mornings that requiem masses were offered. The all-male choir with its boy sopranos enhanced our liturgical celebrations on feast days. The Sister who taught music organized an orchestra and sponsored recitals held each spring to give the music students a chance to perform.
With very few exceptions, the Sisters were the administration and faculty during the early years of the high school. Some thirty Sisters took pride in innovative teaching techniques, visits from diocesan supervisors and continuing education for themselves. Their summers were filled with school and workshops. Sister Edwina Simko was the first high school principal and Sister Tarcisius Welker, 1956-1958, was the last principal who administered both the grade and high schools.
In 1946, the King property to the west of the old high school was purchased. The seventh pastor of our parish, Monsignor R.C. Goebel, initiated a building fund appeal campaign in 1953. He did not live to see his plans completed.
It was Monsignor James Hebbeler who broke ground for the new high school on May 6, 1956. By February of 1957, the steel skeleton was visible.
A parishioner, Gus Hartung, stopped every day on his way home from work and snapped pictures. In one of the photos below, the girl and boy standing on the steps of the high school while under construction are his children, Fred and Marilyn (Hartung) Gallaway.
In September of 1958, the new high school opened its doors to 349 students. The school newspaper, The Key, announced the “Dream Come True”. With the land purchase of $30,000 and construction costs at 2.25 million, the top two floors of this new school became the new home of the Franciscan sisters. The remaining floors contained science labs, 14 classrooms, a library, cafeteria and a combination gym-auditorium. As a result, the House of Seven Gables as well as the old high school building were leveled, making way for parking lot facilities for the growing church and school.
In the first two photos below, you can see the present elementary school and church. The other building in this picture is the red brick school/church building which was later torn down after the high school building was complete.
After the new high school opened, the old convent (which stood where the elementary parking lot/playground now stands) and the old high school (red brick building which stood where the church parking lot now stands) were torn down.
In October of that first year, the local post of the American Legion presented a large American flag and smaller flags for each classroom of the new high school. Also, there was a record number of women – 544 to be exact – present for the meeting of the Mothers’ Club with Mrs. Colangelo presiding. Bishop George Rehring blessed the new building on November 9, 1958.
As the parish and school continued to flourish, there were many new opportunities for involvement. Choirmaster Raymond E. Baum was organist and choir director of 120 young men and adults.
In later years, women were invited to join the choir and now St. Peter’s enjoys music during Sunday liturgies from not only the choir, but the contemporary ensemble, bell choir (started in 1994), and children’s choir.
Students in the elementary school were required to fast before receiving Holy Communion at early day Mass. A group of women parishioners–the St. Rita’s Sodality who were later called the “cocoa ladies”–served hot cocoa to the children in the church basement after Mass. Children would bring their breakfast and top it off with the delicious hot drink.
New activities such as bingo and the parish festival became mainstay sources of income for the parish and schools, made possible by many dedicated parishioners through the years.
Parish-sponsored Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops were formed, playing an active role in the lives of elementary and high school children along with a growing and active parish youth group with their many projects and outings.
And there was an increase in adult education, prayer groups, advisory committees, and many other ministries that included scores of parish and school members. Eucharistic ministers, commentators, ushers, and lectors began assisting during Masses. Many church groups used their ministry as a means to connect with and serve the needs of the Mansfield community.
In the late 60’s, enrollments at both schools peaked. To help ease crowded conditions, an abandoned church building at the southeast corner of South Mulberry and First Streets was purchased for a gym and more classrooms. This building came to be called the Annex.
Monsignor Edward Dunn, ninth pastor of St. Peter’s, served the parish from 1969 to 1984. Many parishioners were instrumental in establishing the Monsignor Dunn Foundation for Education in 1985 with an endowment that will assure that St. Peter’s School continues to provide a Catholic education for children for many years to come. During his years, St. Peter’s School also saw the addition of the unique Montessori program in 1976. This program was housed in the Annex. In 1999, St. Peter’s purchased the Montessori House.
Father John Blaser, tenth pastor of St. Peter’s, called for a parish census and study. These studies produced a wealth of information and insight into the challenges and realities of the times. Future plans and directions were set to meet and respond to changing economic and social situations.
It was Thanksgiving day in 1991 and Father Joseph Szybka was coming down the center aisle after helping with clean up in the cafeteria following dinner for the hungry. His eye caught a boy crossing the sanctuary and the smoke alarm then sounded. Father saw smoke coming from the servers’ sacristy. The fire department responded with great speed and saved the church. Sunday Masses were held in the auditorium. Scaffolding went up in March and in June the parish celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving inviting choir members from the Inter-Church Council.
During the late 90’s and early into the 21st century, St. Peter’s eleventh pastor, Father Herbert F. Weber led the challenge of a new capital campaign that met the financial needs for improvements around the grounds of the church and school as well the construction of the Franciscan Activity Center, duly named in honor of the many years hundreds of Franciscan sisters have served here at St. Peter’s.
The “tin gym” (white building in background of this photo below) was removed and in its place now stands the Franciscan Activity Center that serves as a gymnasium and reception center for both parish and school functions. The dedication of the Franciscan Activity Center took place on June 13, 1999.
When Father Tony Borgia arrived as the twelfth pastor, one of his first activities was to sign the papers for the Spartan Field located about two miles from school. Presently, it allows the parish school to host soccer, baseball, and softball athletic programs with the prospect of tennis and track in the future. Renovation and building plans continue under the direction of an adept team of parish and school adults so the future holds even more promise for school and parish gatherings.
The year 2011 was marked by the arrival in July of the thirteenth pastor of St. Peter’s Parish, Father Gregory Hite. With experience as pastor and educational leader in his previous assignments, Father Hite has met the challenge of finances to generate creative strategies that will secure for the members of St. Peter’s Parish and students of St. Peter’s School a strong faith and academic experience.
Under his leadership, the “Preserving our Past, Securing our Future” Campaign campaign has the goal of $3 million to renew and improve the church (now complete) and school, address the needs of the Robert Frye gymnasium and auditorium, plus security enhancements and other smaller projects.
The challenge of St. Peter’s has always been to bring people to a faith which will be a model to children as well as to each other. The call of the laity of the church and school students and parents alike is to be active, involved, and fully participating members of their parish and school. Throughout these many years, individuals who have been a part of St. Peter’s at any time have focused on spiritual and academic hopes and aspirations in different ways, called upon to build up the Kingdom of God by deepening their own interior lives, by rendering generous service to those in spiritual or material need, and by giving authentic witness to the truth of the Gospel. We pause to honor and thank those who made our parish and school great, to each of you who have kept it great. Let us pray that we may keep the faith of those who have gone before us and pass it on to our children and their children.