{The following information was taken from, Upon This Rock, Chapter I, The First Years, pp. 15 – 25.} A handful of French people, disturbed by the revolution in their native land, traveled to Ohio. These people – a few physicians, army officers, coach makers and barbers – mislead by exaggerated advertisements, bought worthless land warrants from the French Scioto Land Company, and settle at what is now Gallipolis. It is the year 1790 – the first Catholic settlement in Ohio. Famine and Indian attacks persuade some of the group to push on to other settlements, but most of the group stays on. They brought a French priest with them, Benedictine Father Peter Joseph Didier who had been appointed Prefect Apostolic for the colony. Nine years later Father Didier is dead.

Other Catholic settlers had made the pioneer journey to the Ohio River area as early as 1774. Immigrants from Ireland would be joined in a few years by veterans of the War of Independence, coming west with their families to claim land bounties. Until a Catholic diocese was established in Kentucky, Catholics in the Ohio territory were under the supervision of Bishop Carroll, first bishop of Baltimore. At the beginning of the 19th century there were about fifty Catholic families in Ohio without a single priest. A German, Jacob Dittoe settled near Lancaster, wrote to appeal to Bishop Carroll, “Catholics were very anxious for the establishment of the Church and were willing to contribute towards its support.” Father Fenwick arrived at Dittoe’s farm in 1808 and built a rectory and a log house chapel. This was the mother church of Ohio, dedicated to St. Joseph on December 6, 1818, at what is now Somerset, Perry County.

Dominican priests from St. Joseph’s traveled through eastern Ohio making occasional visits to Steubenville, going from house to house, administering the sacraments. The first Mass ever offered in Steubenville is reported to have been said on Third Street in a private home.

A Franciscan priest from Pittsburgh, Father Bonaventure McGuire, made the first trips from PA to bring sacraments to Catholics living along the Ohio River. Other missionaries were Father O’Brien and Father Hill. When Father Hill came to Steubenville he made the home of John Rodgers at Cross Creek his headquarters. The families in Steubenville would travel to Cross Creek to attend Mass.

In 1796 most of the land that is now Steubenville was owned by two men, James Ross of Pittsburgh and Bezaleel Wells. A year later they laid out the town. Ross owned the land north of what is now North Street; Wells owned the land south of this street. In 1830 Father John H. McGrady, a Dominican priest ordained by Bishop Fenwick, purchased the land from Colonel Ross for the purpose of building the first Catholic Church in Steubenville. The plot of ground was small, located on Fourth and Logan Streets, but it was large enough to serve as a site for a little church and parish burial ground. The church was called St. Pius. The title of the church was changed to St. Peter in 1853.

Steubenville’s first Catholic Church was a small brick structure in the center of the present grounds and was surrounded by a graveyard. The church, completed in 1832, measured 45 feet long, 30 feet wide. The church furnishing for St. Pius gives the following: One set of vestments, $7.00; one pulpit, $8.00; one set of candlesticks, $1.37. Father McGrady did not reside at the church, but came twice a month from Hanover, Columbiana County, to offer Mass.

The first records of the Steubenville church date back to Father Conlan’s ministry. The earliest records is that of April 7, 1835 and reads, “I baptized Oliver, son of Oliver P. Sherman and Anna Wells; god-parents, James Hays and Mary Feehan.” The records show eight other baptisms that year, listing the names: Lousia O’Neal, M. Creal (60 yrs. Old), Mary Famming, Elizabeth Brady, Sara Cox, Thomas Brady, James Stanton and Mary Parish.

The little St. Pius Church was solemnly blessed on July 26, 1835 by Bishop Purcell. A letter dated Aug. 11, 1835, written by Bishop Purcell gives his impression of the faith in Steubenville: “The bishop of this diocese blessed the new Catholic Church of St. Pius. The building is small and was founded in 1832…not withstanding that the Catholics are here few in number, but has succeeded in raising sufficient means within the last five months…

In 1845 James Kearney became the first permanent resident pastor of St. Pius Church. There are no records of the events of St. Pius Church from 1845 to 1850. The Catholics came and worshipped their Eucharistic God, received the sacraments, buried their dead in the shadow of the church they loved. On December 5, 1841, Father Nuemann, stopped at St. Pius and baptized three children: Valentine Xenzman, Mary Magalene Krapp and Edward J. Hanon.

On May 4, 1845, Father Kearney organized the Catholic Women of the parish into a Society of Ladies. One of their main duties was to procure needed articles for the church. The ladies were not guilty of extravagance. For Christmas, 1845 they donated the following items: Glass Candlesticks $4.50, Altar Cloths $4.50, Pulpit decoration $5.00, Antependium for altar $15.0, articles for Credence table $1.00, cover for Tabernacle $2.55. Three years after Father Kearney was appointed, he became ill. That is when Father T.O. Farrell was in charge of the parish. Father Kearney returned in September of 1850, but was forced to retire a month later. His last official record states that on October 13, 1850 he baptized Patrick O’Brien.

Chapter II – St. Pius Church becomes St. Peter’s – Steubenville, 1850: A period of expansion, a period of industry; the key-word was progress! The Ohio Foundry was three years old; Steubenville was becoming synonymous with the word “steel.” The Western Herald newspaper had become a daily paper. From Pittsburgh a thin strand of wire stretched from tree to tree, across the Ohio River to a room on South Third Street; a telegraph system was in operation. In 1848 a charter for building the Steubenville – Indiana Railroad was issued. A plank road was being built in 1850 from Market Street, extending five miles west of town.

Edwin Stanton, prominent lawyer, was expanding his practice by opening a branch office in Pittsburgh. In just a few years Stanton would achieve national fame as Lincoln’s Secretary of War.

Father Thienpont came to Steubenville in 1850. He was pastor of St. Peter’s from 1850 to June 30, 1865. The congregation at Steubenville’s Catholic Church was composed mostly of Irish and German immigrants. By 1854 the railroad project was completed and the river road continued with a railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River.

Father Thienpont assumed the spiritual needs of the great number of Catholics that were working on the railroad. There were large gangs scattered all along the railroad line, and he traveled as far as fifty miles west of Steubenville. He would say Mass in the railroad shanties, in the fields. His journeys were by horseback, carrying altar missal, chalice, vestments, etc. in his saddlebags. It was often said that Father Thienpont possessed a natural disposition to kindness and affability and gained affection of the people which would make him their willing pupils.

Steubenville’s population was rapidly increasing in the 1850’s; the priest decided to enlarge the church. With the contributions from parishioners and railroaders, a new church was built. Father Thienpont changed the name from St. Pius to St. Peter’s and it was consecrated by Archbishop Purcell in 1854.

The new church stood on the corner of Fourth and Logan Streets. It was an imposing structure for that era; being about one-half the size of the present church. It was two stories high, and the front corners rose into two towers. The right side tower had two clocks, facing Fourth Street and Logan Street. The inner frames of the windows were fashioned in the form of a cross with four panels of glass in each window. The first floor of the church served as a school and there was a small student’s chapel. The entire edifice was surrounded by a wood fence.

St. Peter’s Church – Steubenville – 1854
{From, Upon This Rock, the first years}

Unpleasant incidents entered Father Thienpont’s life shortly after the church was built. He found himself bitterly opposed by an anti-Catholic spirit, motivated by religious prejudice. In fact, on the very day the corner stone of the new church was to be laid, religious prejudice so intense that a mob was organized to prevent, even by force, the laying of the corner stone. A man name McCook took a hand in the affair. It is not known exactly who this individual was. There was at that time a prominent Steubenville citizen name Captain Anson G. McCook who played a role in recruiting soldiers for the Civil War a few years later. There were other McCooks in Steubenville; in fact more than a dozen who, because of their fighting prowess gained the title of “The Fighting McCooks.” Nevertheless, McCook was a fair-minded individual whose interference with the mob was strong enough and persuasive enough to disband those who wished to halt the laying of the St. Peter’s corner stone.

Father Thienpont became elderly and had spent thirty-five years in the priesthood. Opposition, sectarian bitterness, grew stronger. It was deemed advisable to transfer him to another parish. In the fall of 1865, Father William Bigelow arrived in Steubenville and that day Father Thienpont received a letter and was transferred to Logan, Ohio.

In about 1882 Father Hartnedy deemed is advisable to make two parishes in Steubenville. In that event Father Hartley became pastor. The structure was commenced and has pushed rapidly. At the same time Holy Name Church was being constructed, Father Hartnedy was remodeling St. Peter’s Church. The church was widened and lengthened. Windows were replaced with large stained glass in triple arches were added. The fence surrounding the church was torn down and the grounds were landscaped.

In 1883 Father Hartnedy purchased a portion of the Huscroft farm and 130 acres of land west of Steubenville to be used as a cemetery, titled Mount Calvary Cemetery.

The 1870’s and through the 1880’s was a period of progress and expansion but it was also a period of marvels, tragedies, and of new industry.

…..electric marvels came in 1881 called the telephone. By 1886, the braver citizens were having another invention installed in their homes, the incandescent electric lamp. A year later Steubenville was selected as one of four communities in the nation to have an electric street railway line, and in 1887 the trolley car came to town.

It was a period of tragedy, the tragedy of a cyclone, a fire, a flood and a steamship sinking. The cyclone hit on January 16, 1885. A few months later, a fire broke out destroying a large section of the business establishments in the city…

Chapter III, Fourteen Years of Hardship – William Thomas Bigelow was ordained at the age of twenty-two, on August 6, 1864, and shortly afterwards was appointed pastor of St. Peter’s Church. Father Bigelow found the church too small for it growing congregation and added an extension to it, doubling its length. The small rectory which had previously been built was remodeled and the ground for a new cemetery had been purchased on Market Street, and all the bodies buried in St. Peter’s cemetery were removed and re-buried at the new cemetery.

Father Bigelow died at the age of twenty-nine, and those who had no means of transportation accompanied the body on foot to the cemetery. He was buried in the plot of his brother-in-law, N. J. Basley, in the lower part of the cemetery.

When the new Mt. Calvary Cemetery was opened in 1883, those buried in the old cemetery (on Market
Street) were transferred to the new cemetery. (This area, where the former Catholic Cemetery was located, appears on a 1902 city map, located on Market Street and is currently owned by Clyde and Kelly Larsen, Thrifty Car Rental.) Many old parishioners asked the Dean to open Father Bigelow’s casket, believing that God might have preserved the body as further proof of his holiness. The Dean complied with their request, opened the casket, but only a few bones were found in it.

Catholic Church
Diocese of Steubenville
422 Washington St.
P.O. Box 969
Steubenville, OH 43952
Official web site: www.diosteub.org/index.cfm
Columbus, Ohio: http://www.colsdioc.org/
Linda Nichols, Chancellor of the Diocese
Pat Coyle, Archivist Department
Phone 740-282-3631 {Thursday}

Area included in diocese: Athens, Belmont, Carroll, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Lawrence, Meigs, Morgan, Monroe, Noble and Washington. The Official Diocesan Directory for 2008-2010 is available for $10.00 by contacting Pat Coyle (listed above).
The Diocese of Steubenville 1845-1870
Steubenville Register
P.O. Box 160
Steubenville, OH 43952
*Note: Est. 1942 Papers may be researched at the newspaper offices by appointment only. Important note- Newspapers for many Ohio dioceses is available at the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, 43211. Note: The Steubenville Register is a Catholic newspaper. Above listings include names of priests, church histories and other information.
Persistent link to this list of sources: http://www.catholicweb.com/directory.cfm