Beneath the grandeur of historic frescoes and decades-old stained-glass windows, and before the Tabernacle that has housed the Body of Christ for generations, the faithful of St. Patrick Parish in York assembled in their beloved church on Sunday, September 10 for a Mass in celebration of its 125th anniversary.
Since 1898, the current St. Patrick Church has stood at the corner of South Beaver Street and West College Avenue, a reminder of the presence of God to the people of York.
The church is the third in the history of the parish. Marking the significant milestone, Bishop Timothy Senior was the main celebrant and the homilist of the September 10 Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer; Father John Bateman, pastor; and former pastors and parochial vicars of the parish. An anniversary dinner followed, featuring a presentation on the history of the church and displays of photos of its construction and renovation over the years.
Hundreds filled the pews of St. Patrick’s for the Mass, which was also livestreamed on the parish’s YouTube channel.
In his homily, Bishop Senior reflected on the Gospel reading for the Mass (Matthew 18:15-20), in which Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”
“Jesus says that to us in the Gospel today, and it is good to call to mind this historic church in a historic parish, that’s almost 250 years old,” the bishop said. “Catholics have been gathering to celebrate the Eucharist and the Sacraments in this place for 125 years.”
“I can only imagine the circumstances and lives of families and individuals over the last 125 years; the sorrows and the joys that were celebrated or experienced in this church. Those who have gone before us, they pray for us now. They’re still with us in the Communion of Saints. They’re with us as we celebrate today at the Eucharistic Table,” he said.
“But above all else, Jesus is with us. He is the center of this faith community, as He is in every parish, and His presence is the reason for this church. So as we celebrate the dedication 125 years ago, we renew our awareness, our consciousness: Jesus is with us here and now,” Bishop Senior remarked.
St. Patrick’s was established as a parish in 1776, and built its first church in 1810, with renovations 30 years later in order to accommodate a growing Catholic population in the city. But by 1890, York’s population had quadrupled, and the parish was in need of a larger church to accommodate the growing congregation.
According to parish history, with more than $6,500 in donations from parishioners, a $5,000 bequest from the estate of a benefactor, and a $1,000 contribution from the pastor, Father Charles Galligan, the former church was demolished to make way for a new construction.
Bishop Thomas McGovern, the second Bishop of Harrisburg and former pastor of St. Patrick Parish (1870-1873) presided at the groundbreaking ceremony for the church on October 6, 1895. The church was dedicated on September 11, 1898, by Father J. J. Koch, in the interim between the death of Bishop McGovern and the appointment of Bishop John Shanahan.
In 1909, marble altars replaced the temporary wooden ones that were initially installed as a cost savings, and the walls were adorned with frescoes – two of which remain: the Ascension above the high altar and the images of the apostles on the ceiling.
Since its construction in 1989, the church interior has been renovated on several occasions, including wall treatments that covered many of the frescoes and the restoration of the luminous Rose Window above the choir loft.
In 2018, Father Keith Caroll, St. Patrick’s most previous pastor, oversaw a $1.2 million capital campaign and multi-phase renovation project that included new flooring, new kneelers, reupholstered pews, a repaired drainage system and a renovated choir loft.
Today, the church is a breathtaking combination of old and new, with gleaming white altars, vibrant stained-glass windows, archways, wooden doorways and historic architecture. The parish will celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2026.
A Reminder of God’s Presence
The celebration of a church anniversary is significant in that “the church represents the presence of God in our midst,” Father Bateman told The Witness. “The church building represents God – it’s why they’re built. They’re built in a way that lifts our hearts and minds to God in an impressive way.”
It’s also an occasion for parishioners to celebrate the place where their families have worshiped and received the sacraments for generations.
“So many people will say, ‘My grandparents were married here, we were married here, and my children are now married here. It’s important for me that my grandchildren are married here.’ It’s the affinity we have for the place – it’s a symbol of God’s presence in our midst. And we need to celebrate that,” Father Bateman said.
The church is also a visible sign to the larger community, a reminder of God’s presence even to those who are not Catholic or Christian.
“Our location in the city is particular to that,” Father Bateman said. “We are directly across the street from the public high school, and our parking lot at one point was the site of the public high school. St. Patrick Church has always been that witness in the middle of everything to God’s presence in the city.”
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness