History of OLP
In September 1955, Archbishop John Mark Gannon had purchased a tract of land on the south side of West 38th Street in Millcreek Township. Always the visionary, Archbishop Gannon created Our Lady of Peace Parish anticipating the spiritual needs of people who would be moving into the area. On September 23rd, he issued a decree establishing the parish on September 30th.
Father Daily was appointed the founding pastor effective October 1st. His mission: establish both the physical and spiritual makings of a parish.
Plans unfolded quickly. On the first Friday of October, James Wilson, superintendent of Millcreek Schools, assured Father Daily that the Millcreek School Board would grant permission for the use of McDowell High School Auditorium for Sunday Masses. With a major hurdle crossed, the fledgling parish celebrated its first Masses on October 17th. About 150 faithful attended either the 9 or 11 AM. Masses. The total Sunday collection was $95.77, the only funds available for the parish.
Each passing Sunday brought more people. Two more Masses - 8 AM. and Noon - were added in November. On the third Sunday of May 1956, a 10 AM. Mass was added. Father Gilio Dipre, a professor at Gannon College, became the first weekend assistant at Our Lady of Peace.
The unfinished house on the new parish property became the rectory on November 1,1955. From there, Father Daily began the framework that would support necessary parish activities. The Holy Name and Rosary Altar Societies were organized first. On a November afternoon following Sunday Masses, Holy Name men set out through the area to take a quick census. Meanwhile, the ladies of the Rosary Altar Society organized a card party.
Members of each society were just getting to know each other. Committee "heads" were neither elected nor appointed; they simply volunteered their services. The ladies chose the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1955, to dedicate our first parish social function to our Patroness - a card party at Cathedral Preparatory School. More than 1,000 attended an enjoyable afternoon during which a raffle earned $2,500, welcome funds to lay the parish financial foundation.
Soon, architects were hired and sketches of a proposed school and church were drawn. Meetings were conducted in the unfinished rectory basement. Little by little, the various activities of parish life took root. A baptismal font was purchased and set up in the rectory basement. Sixty-seven new Catholic souls were baptized. Confessions were heard each Saturday in a confessional set up in the fruit cellar. The basement was home to convert and catechism classes and study clubs.
On August 23, 1956, the rectory became Father Daily's home and soon after the "historic" basement was converted into a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Weekday Masses also were offered there. Just a few days earlier on August 19th, Archbishop Gannon broke ground for the new school and construction began the next day. Although work was slowed by a long, severe winter, the archbishop laid the cornerstone for the school in June 1957 and presided at a Benediction service in the unfinished lobby of the new building.
On September 8th of that year, the first Sunday Masses were offered in "our own" building, using the cafeteria of the new school as a church. That Sunday, 1,576 people attended Masses, a figure about 10 times higher than the group that attended the first Masses under the Our Lady of Peace banner only two years earlier.
The next day, Our Lady of Peace School opened for the first time with a Mass at 9 A.M. In that initial year 388 students learned religion, reading, writing and arithmetic in eight grades occupying 16 rooms. Sister Consuela Quinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, was the school's first principal and capably guided school enrollment to 503 students in the second year.
During the early years, parishioners stepped forward with time, talent and treasure to help their pastor meet the needs of a rapidly growing parish. Severe summer rains could not dampen the success of parish festivals in 1957 and 1958. The latter festival closed with the parish raffling off its first "grand prize": a Chevrolet station wagon. The enthusiasm and hard work of parishioners spilled into other projects, too, such as bake sales, dinners, dances and rummage sales. That constant spirit was a key to the success of the young parish.
As the parish grew so did the school. The original school building soon became too small and in 1962 construction began to add eight additional classrooms and an activities room. With this building, the parish was able to continue to use the cafeteria as a church and the activities room for school and church functions. In 1965, the auditorium was built and "doubled" as the church. During the mid-1970s, more than 1,000 students called Our Lady of Peace School home. The figure is a "high water mark" for enrollment.
The growth of the mid-1970s signaled the need for a "real" church. On January 12, 1976, Bishop Alfred M. Watson helped break ground for a parish complex that would include a church, rectory, sacristy and offices. Construction began in February and the first Mass was offered in the new church on Saturday, Febuary 5, 1977. In the years from the completion of the auditorium to the completion of the new church, a solid team of Father Daily, parish organizations and parishioners raised nearly $1 million for construction of the parish complex. That effort came after paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for the construction and expansion of the school.
In 1977, Our Lady of Peace Parish was honored when Pope Paul VI made Pastor James F Daily a Prelate of Honor with the title of Monsignor Msgr. Daily retired in 1981 and lived for many years at St. Mary's Home in Erie. He lived to see the first phase of the parish's journey completed, when, in August 1988, the parish made the final payment on its debt. Msgr. Daily celebrated a golden jubilee Mass, May 2, 1990, at Our Lady of Peace. Three years later, he died on October 31st. Msgr. Louis Lorei became the second pastor of Our Lady of Peace in 1981 and served until 1985. Father (now Msgr.) John Dollinger was parish administrator until Msgr. Ernest J. Daley became pastor in 1986. Msgr. Daley celebrated his 40th anniversary as a priest the same year the parish was 40 years old. With Msgr. Daley, the parish retired its financial debt and the parish ranks increased to 2,000 families, making it one of the largest Catholic parishes in northwestern Pennsylvania.
In 1996, the school underwent a $1.2 million renovation to include an art room, music room and a meeting room to replace the old activities room. Under Msgr. Daley, parish festivals and bingo were discontinued and the stewardship appeal was implemented to raise funds. Also, he worked with Sister Ann Amen, SSJ, author of the Care and Concern model of parish social ministry, to start "Hearts and Hands" at Our Lady of Peace.
In 1999, Father Thomas M. Brooks was named Our Lady of Peace pastor. With an increasing school enrollment demanding even more space, Father Brooks led parishioners in a fund drive that raised over $1 million in pledges. Four classrooms were added on the east end of school. Also, two meeting rooms were built and the school library and religious education office were expanded. A kitchen office and loading dock rounded out the project.
Parish ministries have expanded in recent years. The "OLP Seniors," Elizabeth Ministries supporting motherhood and Boy Scout Troop 59 are examples of how Our Lady of Peace continues its rich tradition of meeting the needs of parishioners. Together as a community of 2,500 families, we believe that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and manifestation of God's love. From our humble beginnings in 1955 to today, we proclaim, live and celebrate God's love best by sharing it with others.