St Peter Parish History              (Download or view as a pdf file)

St. Peter’s was the first Catholic Church built in Montgomery.  And since its beginning in 1834, the church has unceasingly provided an active Catholic presence in Montgomery.  From the eve of the Civil War to the dawning of the civil rights movement, St. Peter’s location has enabled the church to be a witness to monumental events that have shaped Alabama and the nation’s history.  This short history of St. Peter’s has attempted to be not just a discussion of the church building and resident clergy. Therefore, included also is the history of Montgomery, other Catholic Churches and institutions, some interesting facts about a few past parishioners and, to demonstrate how St. Peter’s was affected by these institutions and people and the effect that St. Peter’s then had on those same Catholic institutions and people. The Beginning First, it must be stated that prior to the settlement of what is now Montgomery and the creation of St. Peter’s Parish, there was an earlier Catholic presence in the area. The first Roman Catholic presence, in what is now Montgomery, can be attributed possibly to the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Soto in 1540.  This ‘entrada’ (expedition of exploration and conquest) took de Soto from Tampa Bay to Texas between 1539-1542.  Though this famed ‘entrada’ is still a controversy among historians, it is affirmed that the expedition did cross Alabama and Spanish priests accompanied most, if not all, expeditions.  So very possibly these priests were the first to celebrate Mass in the area near Montgomery.  (Hall pp. 12-21)  Diocesan History Bishop Toolen’s first statement as Bishop to the people of the Diocese of Mobile was that their diocese was a missionary Diocese.  Though Bishop Toolen stated this in 1927, it remains a fact in many areas of the Archdiocese today.  However, the first Bishop of Mobile, Michael Portier, faced a monumental task of even establishing a mission in his new dominion in 1826.  As Apostolic Vicarate, Portier’s dominion consisted of the whole state of Alabama and all of northwest Florida, stretching to the present day Jacksonville.  His clergy consisted to two priests and one subdeacon.  Unfortunately, the two priests soon departed for New Orleans and Portier was left with only his subdeacon, Gabriel Chalon, a cousin of Portier (Catholic Week, p. 9).  Chalon would later become the first pastor of St. Peter’s.  Bishop Portier returned to Europe in 1828 in an effort to recruit priests for his depleted vicarate.  He returned to Mobile in 1830 with two priests and six Seminarians from Lyons, France.  By this time, his vicarate had been elevated to a diocese.  These brave men would become the first of many to serve as missionary priests, planting the seeds of Catholicism in the fertile ground of the Mobile Diocese. Next Page