The Early Years
Catholics in southwestern Somerset County were first served on a regular basis by priests from Meyersdale. The German missionary priests established ministry to the region as early as 1832. By 1847 a parish, Ss. Philip and James, was created in Meyersdale and within five years a church was built. Prior to 1868, priests from the Carmelite monastery in New Baltimore provided the spiritual and pastoral care for Meyersdale and its mission territory. In 1868, the Diocese of Pittsburgh assumed responsibility for the care of these souls. So, priests from the Meyersdale parish traveled by railroad to Somerset to celebrate the sacraments in private homes and later in the basement of the courthouse. This arrangement continued after the Diocese of Altoona was created in 1901.
In 1915, a new English-speaking congregation, St. Joseph Church, was split off from the Polish-speaking parish of St. Stanislaus in Boswell. The Catholics in Somerset were included in the territory of this new church.
The First Church in Somerset
In the summer of 1920, Rev. Michael Brett, the pastor of St. Joseph, was commissioned by Bishop John J. McCort to purchase for $8,000 a building on West Union Street in Somerset which would serve as the church and rectory of the new St. Peter Parish. Within months he moved his residence from Boswell to Somerset while continuing to minister to the people of St. Joseph. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas 1920.
There were numerous pastors during those early years. Father Brett was succeeded by his brother, Rev. Joseph Brett, in 1921, who was followed by Rev. Charles Gallagher later that same year. Father Gallagher served the Somerset and Boswell churches until 1927, when Rev. John Hackett arrived for a short stay. Rev. Maurice Buck was assigned as pastor of the two churches from 1927 to 1930.
Rev. John Manning arrived in Somerset in 1930 and remained until 1943. His first census recorded 130 Catholics in Somerset and 50 in Boswell. During his tenure as pastor, Father Manning increased the seating capacity in the church to 150, which coincided with the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 and the resultant growth in the community. In 1940, Father Manning reported 311 persons under his care in Somerset, in addition to the congregation in Boswell and a second mission church, St. Michael in Listie, which had been included in his ministry in 1938.
The Present Church
Rev. Albert Gartland was appointed pastor of these three churches in 1943. A year later, he reported that the Somerset parish numbered 438 souls. In 1950, the population of St. Peter’s had grown to 708 persons, prompting Father Gartland to request permission from Bishop Richard T. Guilfoyle to buy land for a new parish complex. The current site, 9.5 acres on West Church Street, was purchased in 1951, and site preparation began immediately. Groundbreaking for the new church and rectory occurred in October 1953, and the cornerstone for the new church was laid on August 15, 1954. The church was finished in December and the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day that year. The rectory was ready for occupancy the following February. The total project cost $176,700 and was paid for without having to borrow any money.
Father Gartland immediately undertook the construction of the current church hall. That project was started and finished in 1955 at a cost of $81,300. The first event held in the new hall just happened to be the celebration of Father Gartland’s 25th anniversary of ordination in February 1956.
By 1960, the parish population totaled 301 families, or 1,019 souls. In November of that year, Father Gartland began to plan for the construction of a school of eight grades and a convent to accommodate eight sisters. The goal was to have the school open by September 1961. Construction began in April and the buildings were dedicated September 18, 1961. Initially, students were enrolled in four grades on opening day, with an additional grade to be added in each of the next four years. Sr. Francis Regis of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pennsylvania, was the first principal. Since then, other members of her religious community have served as prinicpal, including: Sr. Ann Francis, Sr. Mary Victor, Sr. Mary Bernadette, Sr. Francette, and Sr. Mary Louise.
The Tomaselli Era
In 1968, Rev. Samuel J. Tomaselli was assigned by then-Bishop James J. Hogan as the first associate pastor of St. Peter’s. He and Father Gartland worked together to minister to the people in Somerset, Boswell and Listie.
In 1970, Father Gartland suffered a stroke, which incapacitated him until his death in Garvey Manor several years later. Father Tomaselli assumed the responsibility of administering the three parishes, with help from the Capuchin priests in Cumberland, Md.
Enrollment declined in the school’s upper grades as students chose to attend the public junior high school. So in 1971 Father Tomaselli closed the seventh and eight grades of St. Peter’s School.
Also in 1971, Bishop James J. Hogan assigned Rev. Donald Voytish to assist Father Tomaselli, who was formally named pastor of St. Peter’s in 1972. In 1974 Rev. Harold Biller replaced Voytish and remained until 1983. The demands of ministry to three faith communities caused Bishop Hogan to assign a second assistant, Rev. Eugene Molnar, in 1978.
In 1980, Bishop Hogan asked Father Tomaselli to accept responsibility for a third mission church, St. Gregory in MacDonaldton.
Both Father Biller and Father Molnar were replaced in 1983 by Rev. Daniel O’Neill and Rev. Joseph Fleming each of whom stayed at the Somerset church until 1986.
Rev. Patrick Kirsch spent a short time at St. Peter’s in 1986 and then Bishop Hogan assigned Rev. Leonard Inman as an assistant from 1986 to 1988. Rev. Joseph Orr arrived in 1989 and was reassigned in 1990.
During this time, the demands of ministry upon the priests at St. Peter’s were reduced significantly. Responsibility for the congregation of St. Gregory Church in MacDonaldton was turned over to the pastor of Ss. Philip and James in 1987, and St. Michael Church in Listie was closed in 1990 and its parishioners joined St. Peter’s congregation.
In recognition for his years of dedicated service, the Vatican approved Bishop Hogan’s recommendation that Father Tomaselli be given the title Monsignor. This occurred in 1987.
St. Peter’s in the 90’s and 00’s
In 1990, the parish undertook an extensive renovation of the sanctuary of the church. Most prominent among the changes were the addition of two murals behind the altar depicting scriptural scenes of St. Peter’s weakness and strength, and the replacement of the main altar and pulpit with simple wooden structures, and adding wooden archways over the side altars, and improved lighting throughout the church. All the furniture and woodwork was handcrafted by a parishioner, Bob Szymanski. The project cost $40,700.
In 1992, Fred Weaver, a parishioner, was ordained as a Permanent Deacon and assigned to St. Peter’s.
In 1993, Rev. Joseph Mazurkiewicz was appointed Chaplain to the newly constructed State Correctional Institution at Somerset, residing at St. Peter’s. He served in that capacity until the fall of 1998 and then moved.
In 1993, Sr. Mary Louise Simmons, C.S.J., resigned as principal of the school, the last sister to serve in that capacity. She was succeeded by Mrs. Susan Curfman and later by Mrs. Karen Ferry in 1999.
In 1995, a diocesan reorganization plan was implemented, and the two churches in Boswell, St. Stanislaus and St. Joseph, were combined with St. John Church in Acosta and the new parish was named the Church of All Saints, having its own pastor.
In the spring of 1996, Peter Kuligowski, having completed his studies at St. Vincent Seminary, was assigned to spend his Deacon year at St. Peter’s. He was ordained in May 1997 and reassigned.
Rev. Sean Code arrived in Somerset in the summer of 1997 and served as assistant pastor until he was reassigned to a parish in Lock Haven in the summer of 2002.
In July 2007, Rev. Derek Fairman was assigned as Parochial Vicar until he was reassigned to a Johnstown parish in the summer of 2008.
The Current Pastor
In addition to the reassignment of Fr. Fairman, 2008 saw a number of other changes for the parish. Deacon Fred Weaver left the Somerset community after 16 years of service and Msgr. Tomaselli retired upon his 75th birthday. In July 2008, Rev. Fr. Daniel O’Neill was appointed Pastor by Bishop Joseph Adamec. He is the ninth pastor of the parish.
In 2009, newly-ordained Permanent Deacon Ron Kolonich was assigned to the parish to assist Fr. O’Neill in administering to the Somerset Catholic community.