St. Peter's Church History
Robert Mills, in his Statistics, says: "There are five religious denominations in Columbia. The Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Roman Catholics, whose comparative numbers are in the order named. The last have been
lately formed into a society, and are now erecting a handsome brick church in the form of a cross: with tower and spire in front; in the Gothic style of architecture."
The first Catholics to settle in Columbia, according to the most reliable traditions of the parish, were a body of laborers brought to work on the canal in 1821. Many of these, either overcome by the excessive heat, to which their labor exposed them, or affected by the miasma developed by their surroundings, died within a year after their arrival. There being no Catholic cemetery in the city, they were buried in potter's field. [About where the Atlantic Coast Line freight depot on Gervais Street was.] Most of those who survived returned North when the work on the canal was finished, the few who remained forming the first Catholic congregation in Columbia.
It was not until 1824 and after many embarrassing difficulties that those in charge of the construction were finally able, with patient and perservering energy, to make it serviceable as a house of worship. The first priest permanently stationed in Columbia was Father Corkery.
In 1844 Rev. Edward Quigley was appointed pastor. The first work to claim his attention after assuming charge was the renovation of the church. The combined efforts of the pastor and his flock soon restored and furnished it. In 1848 Rev. J. J. O'Connell succeeded him. His administration covering a period of 23 years.
Father O'Connell established "The St. Mary's College", which continued with varying success, patronized by Christians of all denominations, until its building on north Main Street (then Richardson Street) was occupied by the Confederate government as a commissary department. The building and the fine library of the college were supposedly burned by Sherman in February, 1865.
The Academy of the Immaculate Conception was established in 1852 by the Sisters of Mercy, and continued until 1858, to be succeeded by the Ursuline Nuns, whom Bishop England brought from the Ursuline convent, Black Rock, County Cork, Ireland, in 1834, into the diocese of Charleston. This continued until 1844 when some members returned to Ireland and others went to Cincinnati.
Some of the latter group Bishop Lynch persuaded to return to South Carolina in 1858. The building occupied by them, at the southeast corner of Main and Blanding streets, was burned in the fire of February, 1865. The nuns occupied the Methodist Female College (later Columbia Bible College, south side 1600 block Hampton Street) until August 31. They then went to Valle Crucis (where Heathwood Hall was located) where they remained until 1887 when they moved to the north side of the 1600 block of Blanding Street. They moved to their next home on the northwest corner of Assembly and Hampton streets, the current site of St. Peter's School, in 1891. Rev. Thomas J. Hegarty took charge of St. Peter's parish in May, 1905.
It was determined to build a new church, and the present church building was commenced in 1900 and was dedicated January 17, 1909, by the Rt, Rev. H. P. Northrop, Bishop of Charleston. Five other bishops and more than a dozen priests took part in the ceremonies. The cost of the building and furnishings was $60,506.64. After about 30 years of service at St. Peter's, because of failing health, Father Hegarty was forced to retire.