Founded in 1852
When the city of LaPorte was established, it was just a handful of log cabins. In 1833 just 15 families were in residence. Missionary priests from the Holy Cross Fathers at Notre Dame University served the Catholic community, often traveling many miles through wilderness, carrying their necessary supplies and meager provisions. With no Catholic Church yet, Mass was either celebrated in private homes, or the settlers travelled by horse and wagon to Michigan City or South Bend.
It was in the year 1852 that a large number of Irish Catholic families settled in LaPorte to work on the railroads. The need for a church to serve the growing Catholic population was realized. In 1853, Holy Cross Father Michael Rooney arrived as the first pastor of the new church: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (eventually renamed St. Peter’s). Initially there was no church building, but by the end of the year, a small 30 x 40-foot frame building was constructed at 1114 Monroe Street. It was a very simple structure with dirt floor, plank pews, and packing crates for an altar.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it."
An addition was added to the church in 1854 which served as priests’ quarters, brick veneered in 1857, and wings added some time later. Eventually the priests’ quarters were turned into the sacristy when a new rectory was built. In 1885, the interior of the church was renovated, the sanctuary was enlarged, and a steeple was added.
Holy Cross Fathers continued to serve the church in LaPorte and the missions in the surrounding rural areas. It was a difficult job since the region was rather extensive. It wasn’t until 1859 that the first Diocesan priest came to St. Peter’s: Fr. Francis Lawler. The year before, 1858, the German members of the congregation separated from St. Peter’s to form St. Joseph’s Church (see St. Joseph).
Years of Growth
Expanding to Grow
The number of parishioners was rapidly growing as St. Peter’s entered the 20th century and the church building was in need of expansion. A building fund was started for this purpose but was diverted to the building of a school. St. Peter’s had used various building for its parochial school: the church as a school in 1855, a four-room single-story frame building next to the church in 1856, and St. Rose Academy on the Walker homestead on Ridge Street in 1875 (now the location of the Civic Center). It was in 1923 that a new school building was completed. There were 125 students at the time and the new St. Peter’s school was completed at the cost of $57,000. This is the same school that stands on the property today.
With the school construction completed, attention was turned to a much-needed church. A new building fund was started and lots on Michigan Street were purchased for the building project. In the spring of 1930 ground was broken and on November 27, 1930, the current St. Peter’s church was dedicated.
War-time expansion in LaPorte led to a substantial boom to the economy in LaPorte resulting in jobs and reflected in the financial support of St. Peter’s Church. The debt left from the building of the new church was paid and new renovations were possible including the repair of the leaky roof and decoration of the church interior. The Stations of the Cross currently in the church date to this renovation.
In the late 1960’s there were discussions about building a new, larger school building. Property was purchased to the north of the church in 1967 and steps were taken to demolish non-essential buildings on the church property in 1969. Unfortunately, the Marist Brothers and Holy Cross Sisters both pulled out of education at St. Peter’s and there were now no teachers to staff a school. In 1970 St. Peter’s School closed. The building continues to be used as a center for Religious Education.
Where we are Today
Tri-Parish Catholic Community
St. Peter's underwent an extensive interior renovation in 2005. It had been 75 years since any major building project at the church. The renovation included painting the church walls, refinishing the pews, adding a baptismal font, expanding the altar, and adding handicap accessibility. The project cost $800,000 and the new altar was dedicated by Bishop Dale Melczek on November 20, 2005
In 2016 Fr. Ian was assigned as the pastor of Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, and St.Peter's Churches, thus combining what was once the three distinct ethnic parishes into one vibrant parish community. Over time, the Mass schedules changed to better reflect this new combined parish structure and the various ministries have worked together to combine their efforts to reach out to the parish and community.
Currently, the three parishes continue to find new ways to collaborate in living the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.