The story of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Libertytown begins in England with William Coale. Catholics in England suffered an unfavorable status and like many faithful Catholics, William set sail for the "New World" in hopes of religious freedom. William arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608 as a Quaker. When Virginia began persecuting non-Anglicans, he arrives in Maryland before the landing in St. Mary's by the Calvert contingent. The family converted back to the Mother Church in the late 1600's and began a long association with Lord Baltimore and the Calvert family. Maryland that was founded by Lord Baltimore as a safe haven for Catholics.
From the 1720’s – 1730’s, large tracks of land were made available by Lord Baltimore’s family to have Catholics live is safety and to colonize the area near the disputed border with Pennsylvania. This was especially important as the Maryland province in 1718 enacted penal laws against Catholics. In 1754 John Young bought Duke’s Woods from the Arnold Livers estate. Jesuit priests, riding on horseback from Southern Maryland first served the Catholics in the area. Catholics built "Mass Houses" instead of churches, as they were not permitted by law to build a church.
In 1782, John Young renamed Duke’s Woods "Liberty Town" in the fervor that followed the Revolutionary War victory. The town was laid out in lots for sale. The town’s population had grown to support a physician, businesses and a school. John Young had no family, so he left all the land and homes to Richard Coale, son of a third generation William Coale.
Richard Coale and his wife, Catharine (nee McSherry) had Jesuit priests from Frederick or Conewago Chapel, near McSherrystown, come to celebrate mass in the second floor ballroom of their house. The "Coale House", built in 1783 is located at the intersection of Main Street and Walnut Avenues.
Ministry at St. Peter’s has its roots with the true pioneers of the Catholic Church in America. Father John DuBois, a Sulpucian, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Richard and Catharine Coale were all contemporaries over 200 years ago. Two of Richard and Catharine’s children, Sarah "Sallie" Coale and James McSherry Coale were great benefactors to St. Peter’s.
In 1821, Richard Coale, a prominent Catholic resident of Libertytown, donated land for a church. The first church construction was overseen by Father Francis Malevé, S.J., a Jesuit pastor in Frederick but proceeded slowly due to lack of funds. Construction was delayed when Father Malevé died on Oct 3, 1822. The Jesuits in Frederick saw to the completion and dedication of the small church. The stone church stood where the statue of St. Peter was erected prior to the building of the new church in 2007, just outside the back of the church in the cemetery.
Sallie Coale, a devout Catholic, married Col. Thomas Sappington, the Episcopalian son of Dr. Francis Brown Sappington on May 8, 1814. It is the children of Sallie and Thomas Sappington, Sarah "Sallie" Rebecca Sappington, Dr. Sidney Sappington, and a grandson, James M. Sappington who later donated the land and built the school for St. Peter’s, the Notre Dame Academy.
Another child of Richard and Catharine Coale, Gen. James M. Coale, donated $15,000 so that the new brick church could be built. The cornerstone was laid on May 23, 1869 and was dedicated on Sunday, July 2, 1871.
St. Peter’s was under formal Jesuit supervision from 1821 to 1882. Father Eugene Sommers Gwynne was appointed the first resident pastor on January 1, 1886 and began a campaign to build a rectory and approached Miss Sallie Sappington who lived in the Coale Mansion, inherited from her uncle, Gen. Coale. She guaranteed the funds for the rectory as a loan with no interest. The rectory was completed in 1888.
In 1889, then pastor, Father William Henry Ironsides Reaney, approached Sallie Sappington about building a school. Sallie, her brother, Dr. Sidney Sappington, and nephew James M. Sappington, graciously agreed to donate the land and money for the Notre Dame Academy to educate boys and girls which opened in 1891. Caroline E. Davis became the first graduate of The Notre Dame Academy on June 29, 1895.
Fr. Reaney was followed as pastor by Fr. Thomas Montaverde.
In 1894, Fr. John Paul White, a former Jesuit, begins his pastorate. He had experience with working among the poor and did great work in Libertytown until October 1897.
Fr. Don Luigi Sartori was assigned June 1898.then pastor for only nine months. At this time, Our Lady of Mount Carmel mission was given a pastor. This brought great joy to Libertytown as now, Mass would be celebrated every Sunday.
Fr. John T. Norton came in August 3,1898 to replace Fr. Sartori. Fr. Norton was a scholar and a kind-hearted priest who took a great interest in the school. He was pastor at the turn of the century when there were 230 parishioners, a beautiful church, a school, a rectory, the old stone church that was being used as a hall, and the cemetery.
January 1902, Fr. Samuel Joseph Kavanagh became pastor and the church was consecrated on September 8, 1903 by Bishop Alfred Curtis. Deeply interested in the spiritual welfare of the parish, Fr. Kavanagh also beautified the church grounds to help stimulate the highest and noblest thoughts of the reverence of the parishioners for God. Aided by parishioners, Fr. Kavanagh laid out the walks of the cemetery, planted trees, flowers and shrubs to make St. Peter’s Cemetery one of the most beautiful on the East Coast.
When the original stone church was torn down in 1907, the stones were used in the foundation of the new community hall across the street from the church. The Parish Hall was completed in 1907.
In 1908 new steps were added to the front of the church; between 1908 and 1910 beautiful stained glass windows were imported from Germany and installed in the Church; in 1912 the new Calvary was erected as the first memorial to the ill-fated victims of the Titanic; in 1914 the peaceful Grotto of Lourdes was built behind the church; in 1916 the church was frescoed; and in 1918 a new marble altar and organ were installed.
St. Peter’s celebrated it’s centennial in 1921 and the Catholic Review, writing an article on the centennial stated, "The congregation of Libertytown, though small in numbers, is one of exceptional zeal. There is a fine parochial school and there always has been manifested by the people a real spirit of devotion." Fr. Kavanagh died in April 1922 and was buried at the foot of the Blessed Mother’s statue in our cemetery.
Fr. Martin McNulty was appointed pastor in 1923 and saw the advent of electricity in Libertytown. The parish buildings were among the first to be connected to the public system.
Fr. Phillip Farrell became pastor in 1928 and served the parish for nine years. During this time, the School Sisters of Notre Dame opened a school for African-American children using the parish hall.
Fr. John Collins served as pastor from 1937 until 1943 when illness caused him to retire. Fr. Thomas Haggerty served as administrator until Fr. Michael Hyle was appointed as pastor in December 1943. Fr. Hyle was named Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware in 1950.
In 1946, Fr. Stephen Chylinski assumes the pastorate and helps to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the parish in conjunction with a jousting tournament and picnic which was an annual event of St. Peter’s parish for over 50 years.
Fr. John Mountain came to St. Peter’s in 1952 and in 1958 Fr. Ed Sargus was appointed pastor. Fr. Sargus was in residence in Libertytown until November 11, 1961 when he was appointed to a post in Baltimore.
In 1961, Fr. Martin Flahaven was assigned to St. Peters. Fr. Flahaven appears in a Missal widely used in religious education for children showing him celebrating the new English Mass, right after the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Flahaven sold "gold bricks" to raise money to enclose the parish hall in a brick facade. He died December, 14, 1972.
Fr. Flahaven’s good friend, Fr. Francis Morrison became pastor in 1965 and we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the present church. Sadly, St. Peter’s school, the Notre Dame Academy, closes its doors after 80 years of service to parish children.
In 1974 Fr. Paul Iaia was assigned to St. Peter’s. During his pastorate, the youth program, SPY (St. Peter’s Youth), began. In 1980, Fr. Iaia oversaw the total renovation of the interior of the church; addition of four classrooms to the basement of the old Academy building; and the installation of a handicap ramp behind the church. Fr. Iaia left St. Peter’s in 1984 to become pastor of St. Joseph-On-Carrollton Manor, Buckeystown.
Fr. Gene Nichol assumed the pastorate in April 1984 and the parish experienced tremendous growth from 350 families in 1984 to 900 families in 1992. Fr. Gene oversaw the restoring of the steeple in 1986; began a campaign for a new parish center along with parishioner/architect, Dan Sullivan in 1980. Dan was instrumental in planning, studies, and developmental phases of the building process, but died in May, 1990, months before the center’s construction. The banquet hall of the parish center was named "The Sullivan Room" with gratitude for Dan’s contribution. Ground for the parish center was broken in June 1990 and construction was completed in December 1991. The Parish Center seats 300 people and contains eight additional classrooms for religious education and parish meetings. The parish has been blessed by the ministries of Deacon Michael Misulia, ordained in 1978 and Deacon James Wright, a native son, ordained in 1977.
From 1992 to 1993, the parish had two priests as administrators, Frs. Joseph DePetris and Jack Ward until January 1994, when Fr. John Dietzenbach became pastor. The parish has flourished from 1100 families in 1994 to 1600 families in 1999. Fr. Dietzenbach promoted the Heritage of Hope Campaign for the purposes of constructing a maintenance building, the addition of much-needed parking, and the renovation of the Old Hall (Sappington Hall). In 1994, the exterior of the church was repainted. In 1998, the parish built and dedicated the Memorial to the Unborn and Untombed which is located in the cemetery. In 1999, the front steps and railings of the church were replaced and updated.
In 2001 Fr. John updated the church Rectory and Angel Hill. With the help of many volunteers, Fr. John was able to renovate a property on Main Street into a much needed Thrift Shop. In 2003, he conducted a campaign that would provide our church with a new roof and steeple. This project was to be completed in Spring of 2004.
The 1871 St. Peter's Church was destroyed by fire on June 3, 2004. The fire occurred during the final phases of steeple reconstruction. The fire spread quickly through the steeple and then throughout the church after the burning steeple collapsed onto the tar paper covered roof. Thanks to the efforts of the many firefighters a portion of the old church was saved.
Planning for a new church started soon after the fire. With the help of Deacon Mike Misulia, it was determined that the site of the original stone church, marked by our statue of St. Peter and the existing church would provide enough space to build a new church. The ever familiar St. Peter's front facade and Steeple would be retained and serve as the architectural model for the new St. Peter's Church. The new church features a design by Rubeling and Associates that honors the history of the parish while expanding the size of the worship space to meet the needs of a growing faith community of 1,800 registered families. As the design continued to evolve, Oak Contracting of Towson, MD, was brought on as Construction Manager. In 2005, Fr. John began a capital campaign for our new church. On April 21, 2006, Cardinal Keeler, Bishop Malooly and Fr. John hosted a ground breaking for St. Peter's with an anticipated completion date of Fall 2008. During this momentous occasion, Cardinal Keeler announced that Fr. John would be elevated to Monsignor. Fr. John's formal installation took place on June 25, 2006 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, MD.
Salvaged pieces of stained glass were incorporated into the window around the Tabernacle, the eucharistic adoration chapel windows, and the votive candle window. Stained glass windows from the same manufacturer and vintage as the old church were purchased from St. Pius V parish in Baltimore. The statue of St. Peter that previously marked the location of the original church was restored and now stands between the two steeples on an outdoor stone patio.
The cornerstone was dedicated on June 29, 2008 by Msgr. John. The new cornerstone honors parish history with images of the two previous churches along with their dedication dates.
The Most Rev. Edwin F. O'Brien, Archbishop of Baltimore, dedicated St. Peter's on Sunday, September 7, 2008, with a consecration and dedication Mass and was joined by Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop William D. Borders, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop William C. Newman and more than 40 priests and deacons. More than 900 parishioners attended. Archbishop O'Brien stated that St. Peter's was the first church he had the pleasure of dedicating and commended the parish for their dedication to their faith community, to the Eucharist and for their promotion of vocations to the religious life. He called the building a "splendid house built to give glory to God." During the dedication liturgy, Archbishop O’Brien anointed the altar, into which he deposited relics of St. Francis Xavier. Several other priests anointed the church’s walls. Deacon Michael Misulia proclaimed the first Gospel reading in the new church.
See Coverage of the Dedication: Frederick News Post-1, The Gazette
In June 2009, Archbishop O'Brien announced that Msgr. John would be assigned to pastor Resurrection Parish in Ellicott City, MD effective July 1. In July 2009, Fr. Jason Worley was appointed as the next pastor for St. Peter's parish effective Sept 1, 2009.