Parish History

In the beginning . . . .

The borough of Columbia lies midway between York and Lancaster on the east bank of the Susquehanna River. The community was founded in 1726 and was known as Wright’s Ferry. Later the name was changed to Columbia after the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus.

The early Catholic settlers had to travel to Lancaster, York or Elizabethtown to attend Holy Mass. In the early Nineteenth Century occasionally a priest would come and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in private homes for the Catholics of Columbia.

The first Catholic Church, known as St. Peter’s, was erected on Union Street and dedicated on September 12, 1828, by Most Reverend F.P. Kenrick, Coadjutor Bishop of Philadelphia. All Catholics in and around Columbia attended St. Peter’s Church. The earliest Catholic settlers were English-speaking and chiefly were of Irish ancestry. At this early date, this part of Pennsylvania had not yet been formed into the Harrisburg Diocese, but belonged to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Between the years 1840 and 1860 there was a great influx of German people into Columbia. This was because chaotic conditions throughout Europe as the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Many German peoples felt that they would cast their lots for a new life in the New World. Those who practiced the Catholic Faith affiliated themselves with St. Peter’s church. The sermons there were in English and many of the newly arrived Germans had difficulty in understanding them. The Most Reverend John Nepomucene Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia, suggested that the Germans might find it advisable to erect a church for themselves. (Bishop Neumann was Canonized a Saint by Pope Paul VI in 1976).