Establishment of the Parish in 1826

In his History of the Catholic Church in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, Rev. Lambing states “Huntingdon, the seat of justice of the county of the same name, is situated on the north bank of the Juniata River, just above the mouth of Standing Stone Creek. The town is built upon an elevated bank sloping gently up from the river, and behind the town rising into a hill. It was laid out a short time previous to the Revolutionary War by Dr. William Smith, Provost of the University of PA. When in England soliciting funds for the university, he found the Countess of Huntingdon a munificent donor; and, in return for her liberality, he gave her name to the town. Previous to that time, the place had been noted as the site of an ancient Indian village called Standing Stone. A tall slim pillar of stone, four inches thick by eight inches wide, had been erected here by the resident tribe many years before, perhaps as a sort of Ebenezer or “Stone of Help.”

“The scenery around Huntingdon is beautiful beyond description, being mountainous and broken and generally wooded. To one who ascends the hill or mountain to the north, west, and south, extending in places to the distance of more than 30 miles over a broken mountainous country until the view is intercepted by the loftier summit of the main ridge of the Alleghenies.”

Thus, in 1767, the town of Huntingdon was started by Dr. William Smith, an Episcopal priest. J. Simpson Africa (in his History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, PA) relates that about 1774 Dr. Smith, after preaching one Sabbath at Standing Stone, offered to baptize any children who might be presented to him. To his surprise about 80 children were presented and that he was most probably the first clergyman of any denomination that administered baptism in the county, unless it might be Catholic. As far as any of our records show, the first Catholic baptism that we have mention of seems to have taken place in around the year 1785 by a Father Smythe. The above mentioned baptism was found in the records at Most Holy Trinity. Rev. S. Wall on March 30, 1865, recorded a conversation that he had with an elderly lady (not named) in which she states that she was baptized by a Father Smythe some 80 years before this conversation. That Father Smythe and Dr. William Smith might be one in the same person could be a possibility. However, there were indications of a Catholic presence at that time. The Records of the American Catholic Historical Society, (vol. 6 page 304), states that Father Pellentz, in 1784, paid 31 pounds for a church site at Standing Stone (the present Huntingdon). A few years later on December 10, 1788, lots at the northwest corner of Third and Penn were deeded by William Smith to John Carroll, D.D. of Baltimore. Bishop John Carroll was the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States of America and was one of the brothers of Charles Carroll who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. J. Simpson Africa notes in his historical work that “it was started by some of the pioneer settlers that the first building Monitor erected in this town for religious purposes was by the Catholic citizens.” And in 1894, there was recorded by the Huntingdon Monitor that Rev. P. J. Hawe receives by Rev. Regis Canevin, Chancellor, St. Paul Cathedral, an old deed (dated December 10, 1788) bearing on the transfer of certain properties in this town. The price paid for the property was 5 shillings and a yearly rental of “one Spanish milled piece of eight, weighing 17 penny weight and 6 grams at least or value thereof in lawful money of this state.” That William Smith offered land to religious organizations who would settle in Huntingdon at very low prices is confirmed by Africa in his History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, PA, page 436.

In the previously mentioned conversation recorded by Father Wall, he states that he learned some of the names of the priests who passed through Huntingdon on the circuit. There were two priests, whose names were similar, therefore causing them to be confused with each other. One, Father Helbron, a Franciscan of Irish extraction; the other a Father Hilbom, of German extraction. Next came a Father Hall, an Englishman who by account of the elderly lady of Rev. Wall’s acquaintance was “as heard from other sources, a very polished gentleman; she told me that he was a very delicate man, afflicted with a lame leg for many years before his death.” At about this time a Father Brosius (ordained probably in France) came to this country, and to this area, and served the people of Huntingdon. A note in Father Wall’s record shows that he came over with a Prince Demetrius Gallitzin. (For further information on this, one is referred to the Booklet on the dedication of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Altoona).

On August 1, 1794, there was another land transaction involving two lots at the southwest corner of Second and Church. These were conveyed to John Carroll, D.D., which were across from the cemetery ground on the north side of Church Street, also conveyed on the same day. The cemetery ground is still owned by the Church and today is marked by a plain cross donated by the Catholic Knights of St. George. The Catholic community then erected another chapel for worship and rented the previous structure out to a Parkinson family and later sold the property to William Orbison (founder of Orbisonia) who then built the present building on the site. The second chapel was still intact, presumably around 1806, when John Callawader advertised in the Huntingdon Gazette (December 2) that he had property for sale between the chapel and himself. Africa states in his History that with the passage of time the log structure was torn down and services were conducted in private homes, one such location was Dopp’s public house on 7th and Penn (later the Washington House).

It was about the turn of the 19th century that Prince Gallitzin began to take care of the Catholic Community here. An attorney, named Richard B. McCabe (admitted to the Huntingdon Bar in 1824), states that he first met Dr. Gallitzin in 1803 in Huntingdon and that Dr. Gallitzin was there for the purpose of preaching (possibly Mass) the next day (Sunday) in the meadow. More about Attorney McCabe and Dr. Gallitzin can be found in the Bicentennial History of Loretto, PA under the article written by Mrs. Frances Shields of Ebensburg. It is for our purposes sufficient to quote the source, when Attorney McCabe states that Father Gallitzin “for with all his acknowledged intellectual ability and superior education in social intercourse he appeared as frank, sincere and simple as a child.”

In and around the 1820’s, Huntingdon was cared for by a Father Lanigan, an Irishman who was a very large man wearing a white wig who imposed a tax of $1.00 a year to pay for expenses. It was at this time that Lambing in his History states that Father Heyden came from Bedford to care part-time for the little Catholic community here in town. This seems to be the situation until 1826 when Most Holy Trinity was founded by the Diocese of Philadelphia and plans for a church began to be thought of. In the summer months the Catholics in the Huntingdon area were notified in the Republican Advocate that Bishop Conwell would be in Huntingdon to bestow the sacrament of Confirmation on August 2, 1827, at Dopp’s residence. The following Monday plans for the building of a Catholic Church would be dealt with. In November, 1827, public announcements were made that sealed proposals would be received at Dopp’s up to January 1, 1828, “for the building and finishing of a brick Catholic Church (Africa’s History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, PA). The American Catholic Historical Researchers vol. XIV, page 92, states that the church of Huntingdon was founded September, 1828, by the Rev. John O’Reilly and was a brick building 35 x 65 feet. Lambing in his History quotes the “United States Catholic Miscellany” as saying “The Church, which was commenced towards the end of September, 1828, under the care of Rev. John O’Reilly, is of brick, solid and substantial, 62 x 35 feet, including a sanctuary, built in the form of an offset with a small vestry room on the left which is also used as a confessional. It has a front gallery supported by four columns, which together with the nave numbers 57 pews. The height of the ceiling from the floor is 25 feet. The whole is tastefully executed, for the most part, according to the Gothic style of architecture. It is but just to remark that the church, as well as many others recently erected, had been raised principally by the generosity of poor Irishmen working on the canal.”

On July 4, 1830, a newly consecrated Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick formerly of the Diocese of Bardstown, KY, and newly appointed auxiliary of Philadelphia, blessed the church in the presence of his Ordinary, Bishop Henry Conwell. After the ceremony Bishop Kenrick preached a sermon. The sermon in the afternoon was preached by the Rev. Nicholas O’Donnell, O.S.A. The Huntingdon Gazette on the following Wednesday noted that a large crowd attended the divine services, and a few weeks later carried a short background story on Bishop Kenrick, concerning some of his education, pastoral experiences, and about his new appointment in Philadelphia.

In 1833, the Catholic Directory states that Rev. Patrick Leavy served at the Church on the first Sunday of every month. In 1835, the services were decreased to once every two months. Father Leavy lived in Huntingdon for a time, and then resided in Lewistown and cared for the churches in Lewistown (All Saints, third Sunday) Bellefonte (St. John the Evangelist, second Sunday), Clearfield (St. Francis of Assisi, first Sunday of every second month), and Williamsburg and Alexandria (fourth Sunday alternately). From 1837 to 1843, the church at Huntingdon was under the care of Father James Bradley. At first, Mass was only once every two months; then around 1841, it was once every month. In 1844, Rev. Patrick Prendergast of Bellefonte took over and soon after that, approximately 1847, it was attached to the new mission of Hollidaysburg. When Bishop O’Connor (first Bishop of Pittsburgh) visited the congregation in 1847 there were, according to his notes, 130 parishioners. In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, a number of clergy were temporarily stationed here at Huntingdon or helped out from some other parish most probably from Hollidaysburg. Among those who came to service the little congregation of Most Holy Trinity was a Father J. Tuigg, founder of old St. John “Pro-Cathedral” in Altoona, who later became the third Bishop of Pittsburgh.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad was opened, Huntingdon became an independent mission embracing the entire county. From that time, Mass was celebrated twice in the month until the Broad Top congregation was detached from it in 1863, at which time Mass was offered up on all Sundays but the one given to Shade Valley. The first resident pastor was Rev. Peter M. Doyle who remained until the outbreak of the Civil War. Father Doyle was succeeded by Father Peter Hughes; but in the beginning of 1863, the growing importance of the Broad Top induced the Bishop to make a further division of the mission and Father Hughes was transferred to it, and Rev. S. Wall became the pastor of Huntingdon. Having ministered to the congregation until October, 1865, he was appointed president of the diocesan seminary, and Rev. O. P. Gallagher succeeded him. During his pastorate, he built the priest’s residence by the side of the church, besides making improvements to the Church and its surroundings. In July 1868, he was transferred to Wilmore. In 1871, after many temporary changes, Rev. Martin Murphy succeeded Father Patrick O’Halloran who was in feeble health and was forced to retire (and died a short time later in his native land of Ireland). Father Murphy, soon after his appointment purchased a piece of ground near the town for a cemetery. Lambing, in his History, states that a new impetus had been given to the business in these years and the population had increased considerably. The congregation also benefited a little, but the increase was not considerable and would not number more than 50 families.

From the late 1870’s to the mid 1890’s, the usual stay of the priest was approximately four years. The priests who succeeded Father Murphy were Rev. Arthur Devlin (1878-1881), Rev. Thomas Neville (1882-died from typhoid while he was pastor at Most Holy Trinity), Rev. Louis M. Woelfel (1882-1888), Rev. Joseph J. McDonnell (1881-1891), Rev, James Donavin (May-October 1891), Rev. Patrick J. Hawe (1892-1896), Rev. David J. Walsh (1896-1900), Rev. Thomas Conlin (1900-1901). It was in this interim that the steeple to the Church was built. The project was started in 1893, under the Rev. Patrick J. Hawe. A note from the Huntingdon newspapers in 1893 states, “The steeple is 13 x 13 x 100 feet high. The brick walls will be 22 inches thick up to the cornice of the building, and 18 inches above that. There will be a vestibule in the tower leading into the church and the second story of the tower will be used for the organ. The windows in the front of the building will be stained glass. The work is estimated to cost $1,500.”

On September 8, 1901, Msgr. Eugene Garvey was consecrated the first Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Altoona. The first Altoona diocesan priest to be pastor here in Huntingdon was Rev. Peter R. Fox, a man who was to be a constructive force in the growth and development of this new diocese located here in the Alleghenies. This man endeared himself not only to his people but also to the good citizens of Huntingdon. Father Fox was from Dublin, born of a middle class family. He was a kind, soft spoken man. It was thought that he was the first priest to build a “parish” high school in PA. This was when he was in Renovo. Father Fox served here from 1901 to 1904. He was succeeded by a Father James A. Keenoy, who was a quiet man and kindly. He served as pastor from 1904 to 1906. The next priest to come to Huntingdon was Father Jerome L. McQuillen. He was remembered as a big man, very fine looking, very friendly and active. Father McQuillen was not only impressive to the people of Huntingdon, but also to the Philadelphia clergy – especially the priest’s friends of Bishop McCort. Many was the time that Father McQuillen would be invited to Philadelphia to share his good humor, stories and insights with them. Father McQuillen was succeeded by Father John O’Donnell. Father O’Donnell was here only two years. Memories of him were that he was an outgoing and fairly active priest. In 1912, Huntingdon received Father James Tolan who was to be the longest residing priest in Huntingdon in its 150 year history. Father Tolan came here in 1912 and left in 1930. Up until this time Huntingdon had charge of two missions, one at Mount Union (Mass was said in the private home of John Dougherty) and the other at Shade Gap. At this time Mass was on three Sundays a month with one Sunday at Shade Gap (an area which was loved very much by Father Tolan). In the fall of 1912 Father Tolan began the building of a Catholic Church in Mount Union and in 1913 it was completed and blessed by Bishop Garvey. Father Tolan continued taking care of Mount Union until St. Catherine became a parish on July 1, 1921, and with this division St. Mary in Shade Gap became Mount Union’s responsibility (until June 7, 1962). In 1930, Father Edmund Cain was assigned to Most Holy Trinity after Father Tolan became pastor of St. Matthew in Tyrone, PA. Father Cain, like Father Tolan was a quiet man. Father had come from New York City where he had been a student of the Paulist Fathers. Father Cain was known as a good speaker and a source of spiritual guidance for his people. Father Tolin and Father Cain both had charge of the Reformatory at Huntingdon, but in 1937, Father Lambert Beiter came to reside at Holy Trinity to work at the Reformatory. Father Beiter influenced this Parish by his simple, down to earth style of life, and by his deep commitment to prayer and charity. Although not assigned as part of the Parish, he brought much good and comfort to the people here. In 1947, Father Cain was succeeded by Father John J. Burkhardt that same year. Father Burkhardt was here only four years. He was a precise, practical man. In his life he is remembered as a man who demanded much of himself and his people.

In the first half of the twentieth century, although Most Holy Trinity had only about 50 to 100 families, it produced six men to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. On August 12, 1927, a young, well educated, newly ordained priest celebrated Mass in his home town of Huntingdon. His name was Father John Cullinan, who later became Msgr. Cullinan, pastor of St. Michael in Hollidaysburg and on the Marriage Tribunal for our diocese. Assisting him in the celebration of Mass were Rev. John Quinn, Rev. George Quinn, Rev. R. John Ergler, and Rev. Harold Miller – all native sons of Huntingdon’s Most Holy Trinity. A number of years later Father Richard Cullinan would join his brother to be the sixth priestly vocation from the parish. The religious vocations from our parish are as follows: Brother Mark Lilly, T.O.R., a Franciscan Brother, Sister Gertrude Marie Cullinan (sister to the two priests mentioned above), Sister of Mercy from Dallas, PA., Sister Victoria Mondo, a Sister of Mercy from Steelton, PA. and Sister Rosanne Moran, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

Rev. John Crowley came to Huntingdon, succeeding Father Burkhardt, in 1951. It was during the last part of Father Crowley’s pastorate that the parish of Most Holy Trinity began to grow. The old church began to be filled at all the Sunday Masses, and the need for space to carry out parish activities for the growing church became critical. In 1956, Father Crowley built the present Parish social hall at the corner of Sixth and Mifflin Streets to answer this problem. The building consists of a large hall and kitchen with classrooms upstairs – to take care of the growing enrollment of the children needing religious education. In 1959, Most Holy Trinity Church numbered 179 families. Many remember Father Crowley as a very outgoing, pleasant man, impressing all who met him with this warmth and friendliness. In l961, Father Crowley died and was succeeded by Father Francis Ackerson. In Father Ackerson’s pastorate the old Church was completely inadequate for handling the crowds at the Sunday Masses. In 1962, the old Church was expanded to twice its size by the addition of another wing in back of the altar. In 1965, the parish had 253 families. In 1967, the Mother Seton Sisters of Charity from Greensburg, PA. were invited by Father Ackerson to work in the Most Holy Trinity Parish. The first sisters to come to Huntingdon were Sister Helen Cecilia, Sister Theodosia, Sister Audrey and Sister Gregory Ann. They arrived on September 6, 1967. The sisters resided at St. Catherine Convent in Mt. Union until November 6, 1967, when they moved into the newly purchased convent at the corner of Fifth and Mifflin Streets.

In 1970, Father Ackerson was assigned as pastor of St. Michael in Loretto and was succeeded by Father John A. O’Toole. Under the pastorage of Father O’Toole, Most Holy Trinity underwent its most rapid growth rate. In 1971, the parish had 284 families, in 1976 it had 320 families and in 1978 it had 360.

Excerpted from:

THE LEGACY OF PRINCE GALLITZIN…A History of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese…Father Donald W. Dusza, Editor

In 1978, the parish celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in use in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, and the second oldest church in Huntingdon County. Bishop James Hogan presided at a concelebrated Mass to mark the occasion in the fall of 1978.

In 1980, Father O’Toole retired. Monsignor Ackerson returned as pastor that year. During his pastorate, repairs were made to the Church steeple. In 1982, Father Joseph Orr became the seventh native son of Most Holy Trinity to be ordained to the priesthood.

In 1983, Monsignor Ackerson was transferred to the pastorate of St. Joseph’s Church in Williamsburg. Father John Orlando succeeded Msgr. Ackerson. During Father Orlando’s tenure, two influential events took place in the parish.

First, many parishioners participated in the Cursillo Renewal Movement which prepared them to serve as leaders in the post-Vatican II Church. Second, the new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) was implemented in Most Holy Trinity with the guidance and direction of Father David Arseneault. Father David served in Huntingdon from 1984 to 1994 as Juniata College Campus Minister and Associate Pastor of Most Holy Trinity.

In 1988, Father Orlando retired as pastor and was succeeded by Father David Lockard. In January 1989, Sr. Jane Miller and two other members of the Carmelite Community of the Word moved into the old convent which had been empty for several years. Sr. Jane served as Pastoral Associate/Director of Religious Education until 1995.

One of the first things that Father Lockard did upon arriving was to establish a Parish Pastoral Council with several standing committees to surface and address the needs of the parishioners. Many spiritual, educational and social activities were strengthened or begun. It soon became clear to the Pastoral Council that the parish buildings needed improvement.

A new rectory located at 1000 Warm Springs Avenue was purchased in 1990. In 1991, a Building Committee was appointed to address the need for a new church and office and to renovate the hall. Their work culminated in the present building complex which was dedicated by Bishop Joseph Adamec on March 26, 1995.

At present, there are 473 families registered as members of Most Holy Trinity Church.