Beginning February 16, 1964, due to overcrowded conditions at St. Joseph’s Parish in Lancaster, a weekly Sunday Mass was held in the Manor Shopping Center Auditorium to accommodate more than 1,000 people who lived in what was the western part of St. Joseph’s parish. On May 11, 1965, the Feast Day of St. Philip the Apostle, the Diocese of Harrisburg created our parish and named it after St. Philip and Reverend Philip R. McDevitt, the fourth bishop of our diocese.
The first parish Mass was offered on Sunday, May 30, 1965 by Fr. Eline. The diocese purchased 18 acres of land at the corner of Millersville Pike and Millersville Road on October 18, 1965 as the future site of St. Philip’s Parish. Bishop George Leech broke ground for our church in June of 1967. After celebrating Mass for another year in the shopping center, our church was completed on June 9, 1968. Our parish community grew in size and fervor under Fr. Eline. Many activities were held to raise funds for our new parish and to provide opportunities for parishioners to grow in unity.
In May of 1971, Fr. Michael Homola became St. Philip’s second pastor. Under his leadership, the parish continued to grow, and many new organizations and a variety of activities began. As the parish flourished, the religious education program expanded, and a two-story wing was added to serve as classrooms. The circumference of the church was enriched by the installation of stain glass windows depicting the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of the rosary with additional panels in the lobby. The windows were blessed by Bishop Keeler in 1984. 1985 saw the completion of the pavilion on the hill, offering a place for picnics and the yearly parish festival. In the summer of 1993, the interior of the Church was refurbished, along with a revamped choir area, a new sound and alarm system; these improvements were done in time for the 25th anniversary celebration of the parish. The first parish directory was produced as part of this celebration. Many parishioners and parish organizations donated funds for the purchase of an electronic piano to be used for liturgy starting in 1996. Several celebrations were held in 1998 to mark the retirement of Fr. Homola after 27 years of being the pastor of St. Philip’s. That same June, the parish rejoiced at the ordination and first Mass of Fr. David Keller, the only priest ordained from St. Philip’s.
Later in June of 1998, Fr. Conrad was welcomed back to St. Philip’s and installed as the third pastor. Fr. Conrad had been a parochial vicar at St. Philip’s in 1991 and 1992. In 1999, Fr. Conrad, (with Fr. Homola’s input), planned a moving liturgy and delicious buffet to celebrate the golden jubilee of priesthood of Father Homola, our pastor emeritus. Over the next five years, more improvements were made to our parish property and facilities. Spaces were added to the lower parking lot, three parish garages were constructed at the rectory, and the former scout house was demolished as plans were finalized for a new parish office and activity center. The space formerly used in the rectory for parish offices was no longer adequate. Ground breaking for this facility and the dedication of the building by Bishop Datillo followed in 2003. Meanwhile, in 2002, members of St. Philip’s Mothers’ Group had asked parish council to consider starting a preschool program for 3 and 4 year olds. The project was given approval after a feasibility study. In September 2003 St. Philip’s Preschool opened, providing a much needed service to the parish and community. A new organ and upgraded sound system were purchased in 2003. The farmhouse rectory was remodeled with a modern kitchen and enclosed porch in 2004. The parish kitchen floor, counter tops, and appliances were also replaced. In 2004, a team of parishioners began the Alpha Program on Monday evenings. The program provided a supper meal for a minimal offering and a chance to meet believers from St. Philip’s as well as other interested Christians. The Alpha Program included a video presentation and small group discussion. The serving of Lenten meals continued with the help of parish organizations; attending the Lenten meal was a way to encourage parishioners to attend Friday Stations of the Cross. A talented seamstress and parishioner designed and quilted a tapestry to hang on the wall above the stair well, welcoming people to St. Philip the Apostle Parish. Depicted on the tapestry are symbols of the Catholic faith, including the chalice, host, wheat, and grapes. The images remind all who come to St. Philip’s that they are entering a holy place. A successful parish festival and a 50th Anniversary Mass and celebration for Father “Inky” Gross rounded out the 2004 season.
But the health of our Pastor had begun to decline from the beginning of the summer of 1999, when Fr. Conrad had a heart attack, and within a few weeks of the heart attack, he was in a serious car accident on Millersville Pike. With the assistance of other priests from the South-Lancaster deanery, the parish secretary and staff worked to keep the parish going as Father Conrad recuperated. In October of 2000, St. Philip’s welcomed our pastor back. In April of 2001, the parish celebrated Fr. Conrad’s silver jubilee with a special liturgy and a reception in the gym. During the next seven years, several of the parish priests and staff were diagnosed with serious illnesses. August 2007 found Fr. Conrad unable to say Mass because of breathing problems as a result of his fight with lung cancer. Help came with Deacon Mark Speitel who was to be mentored by Fr. Conrad as he prepared for his ordination. In the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2008, priests from Lancaster, Millersville University, and the Diocese of Harrisburg said daily and weekend Masses at St. Philip’s. During Father Conrad’s absence, parishioners and organizations kept the spirit of helping others alive. The Renewal Committee had a ministry fair to encourage parish members to commit time and talent to our parish. Deacon Beighley encouraged groups to plan, cook, and serve a meal to the homeless every other month on the 3rd Friday at St. Mary’s. Once a month, Sunday food collections supporting the Lancaster County Council of Churches food bank were held. The Bible Study Timeline class helped those who attended to have a better understanding of scripture. The adult choir serenaded Fr. Gross and the other residents at Manor Care. A Mass of Thanksgiving followed by a reception in the gym on June 14, 2008 celebrated the ordination of Fr. Mark Speitel. Even though his home parish was St. Mary’s, celebrating Mass at St. Philip’s after his ordination was appropriate as Father Speitel had become an integral part of the parish through his deaconate year.
Fr. Mark Weiss was appointed administrator pro-tem in June 2008 to give Fr. Conrad time to recuperate. In June of 2009, as Father Conrad’s health continued to decline, Fr. Weiss was installed as the 4th pastor of St. Philip’s. Father Conrad died quietly on February 13, 2011. Our parish entered a week of remembering Father Conrad as our pastor. Bishop McFadden celebrated the funeral Mass of Transference at St. Philip’s as Father Conrad’s family, priest friends, and former parishioners from St. Philip’s and other parishes in which he served prayed together for his eternal rest. After the funeral Mass, a picnic luncheon, complete with “Father’s Famous Franks,” was held in the gym, offering a time to share stories of Father Conrad and console one another at his death.
The first four years as pastor were a busy, challenging and rewarding time for Father Weiss. The Building and Grounds Committee and Finance Council were more formally organized and engaged to help assess and prioritize maintenance and repair projects and to help in the preparation and implementation of a parish budget. New church doors were bought to improve heating efficiency, and building security systems were revamped. Also, as a result of Father Weiss’ recommendation to parish council, a personnel committee was formed to hire a parish manager. As fall of 2010 arrived, St. Philip’s had hired a parish manager to help oversee the buildings and grounds repair and maintenance, to negotiate and oversee vendors and contracts, and to manage the day to day physical and financial operations of a busy, thriving parish. Relieving Father Weiss of such administrative tasks freed him up and enabled him to better serve in his pastoral capacity, distributing communion on First Fridays, saying Mass at Oak Leaf Manor, counseling parishioners on various problems, and focusing on parish offerings like annual Eucharistic devotions and monthly Holy Hours.
Renovations of the bathrooms and the addition of a family bathroom in the church building were completed in the summer of 2011, making the parish facilities more accessible for the physically challenged. The parish directory committee completed the first directory in ten years. A recycling program was set in place. The stewardship committee was formed with a first-year focus on hospitality, education and communication. A family sock hop was held; in addition, many attended an August camp-out around the pavilion. Both events were sponsored by the parish to encourage unity and provide fun filled free activities for our church family. Throughout both Father Conrad’s and Father Weiss’ time as pastor, youth ministry flourished at St. Philip’s parish, as youth participated in various spiritual, social and service opportunities, including a summer Work Camp held for 10 years at St. Philips, followed by annual attendance at Catholic Heart Workcamp beginning in 2008. In the summer of 2010, along with Father Weiss, youth and young adults of the parish began planning, fund-raising and working toward attending World Youth Day in Spain in August 2011.
By fall of 2011 after prayer, reflection and discussion, parish council adopted a parish Mission Statement to identify and express St. Philip the Apostle parish’s unique path to worship and serve the Lord. The parish web site was updated, and on-line giving was introduced. Lighting in the gym and parking lots has been improved. The church lights were upgraded. Landscaping around St. Philip’s Statue was revamped with the addition of granite benches and a plaque to remember Fr. Homola, who, during his time as pastor at St. Philip’s, could often be found weeding the flower beds around the rectory and parish. Also as fall of 2011 arrived at St. Philip’s so did Eucharistic Devotions, the beginning of a new Religious Education year, the parish picnic, Guys and Dolls meetings and trips, Relay for Life fund-raisers, Scout Meetings, dinners, bingos, a Veteran’s Day luncheon, the annual Thanksgiving dinner, and various other spiritual and social events.
As St. Philip’s parish looks back and forward, we remember and celebrate our parishioners, past and present, who have been examples of love and caring. Daily we continue to live out our faith, as upcoming events challenge us to look beyond our own needs to the physical and spiritual needs of others. In the days ahead, our parishioners will be buying clothes and gifts for those less fortunate at holidays, and preparing and serving funeral lunches, making and giving rosaries, sending art supplies to Catholic prisoners, selling pies for Habitat for Humanity, and whatever else invites our parish to serve as Jesus served. As we approach the 50th Anniversary of our parish in 2015, we are grateful for our four pastors, the priests, religious, deacons, staff and volunteers who have fostered our growth and commitment to God. No longer satisfied by being identified as “the round church”, we have proven to be and will continue to strive to be living stones reflecting God’s love to others.