TILLMAN NECHTMAN, chair of the Skidmore College history department and president of the parish council at St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs, introduces presenters Madison Lehrhaupt and Rosalind Rothwell to speak on St. Peter's 175th anniversary. (Dave Oxford photo)
TILLMAN NECHTMAN, chair of the Skidmore College history department and president of the parish council at St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs, introduces presenters Madison Lehrhaupt and Rosalind Rothwell to speak on St. Peter's 175th anniversary. (Dave Oxford photo)
(Editor's note: On Jan. 31, St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs kicked off the celebration of its 175th anniversary with a lengthy presentation by two senior Skidmore College history majors, Madison Lehrhaupt and Rosalind Rothwell, who did archival research to learn the history of the parish. The following is an excerpt from that presentation.)

"The want of a Catholic Church or place of worship at Saratoga Springs, has been felt and regretted for a long time by the Catholic inhabitants of the County, and also by the numerous families and individuals...who annually resort to the Springs....The advantages of having a Catholic Church and Ministry in places where Catholics reside or congregate, must be apparent to every person who reflects for a moment on the subject."

 With these words in 1839, John Costigan marked the moment when Catholics in Saratoga County first came together to worship in a Catholic church. Before the founding of St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs, Catholics met sporadically around town.

The earliest of these wanderers in upstate New York were French Jesuit missionaries who hoped to convert local Mohawk Indians to the Catholic faith in the 17th century. Most reacted violently to Catholicism. Nonetheless, a small group of Catholics, primarily of French origin, existed by the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains through the 19th century.

After the War of 1812, an increasing number of Irish and French Catholic immigrants came to Saratoga County. By 1834, the Catholic community in Saratoga Springs had banded together, relying on neighboring and traveling priests to lead them in worship. The community began to look for a permanent parish and donations to finance the operation.

Finally, in 1839, John Costigan purchased the Lyceum, an old playhouse, and thereby founded St. Peter's Church. The church served as a community base for the growing Irish and Italian immigrant populations. As St. Peter's continued to expand through property acquisitions, it also served as the "mother church" for emerging parishes in the county.

St. Peter's School opened in 1855, its first pupils being a "handful of boys." Though it is unclear why, the first school closed in 1882. The parish was given land for a cemetery in 1862 and finished renovations in 1895. St. Peter's Academy would follow, opening in 1926.

In 1916, the Albany Diocese approved the division of Saratoga Springs into two parish districts. This division occurred along Broadway, splitting the city into west and east sides. St. Clement's parish opened the following year.

During a storm in 1931, both St. Peter's parish and Academy were hit by lightning, leading to the second major renovation of the parish. In 1932, Bishop Gibbons consecrated the new St. Peter's.

By the 1950s, the parish school was overcrowded. A new modern school opened in 1954, with 149 students in the four-year high school and 551 students in the grade school. But by the late 1960s, St. Peter's parishioners could no longer financially sustain St. Peter's Academy. In 1976, St. Peter's Academy became Saratoga Central Catholic High.

The Sisters of St. Joseph taught there, but after St. Peter's Elementary and St. Clement's Schools combined in 1981, they primarily associated with the elementary school.

Throughout the 1970s, Vatican II's emphasis on "music of the people" became popular, including that of St. Peter's own folk band. They even produced their own record, "The Joyful Word, Reaching."

A 1980 renovation stripped the parish of its medieval interior in the hope of reflecting the Second Vatican Council's changes. Walls were whitewashed and support beams left bare. A new chapel holds the original tabernacle. An additional worship space was created as an intimate setting for smaller services; a confessional room replaced the confessional booth.

The current pastor, Rev. Dominic Ingemie, continues to foster parishioners' involvement. St. Peter's welcoming atmosphere remains a prominent part of the Saratoga County Catholic community. While, this year, the St. Peter's community celebrates 175 years of a permanent congregation, its legacy is longer: The community continues to preserve the ideals set forth at John Costigan's home 180 years ago, in 1834.