The history of Our Lady of Visitation Church shows the persistence of the church members of western Cumberland County.
The first Roman Catholic Church In Shippensburg was built in 1840 along the railroad tracks. This church served a congregation of Irish railroad workers and others.This church had the title of St. Mary of the Visitation. The congregation was not large, and by 1864 the Church was sold. For the next 75 years, Roman Catholics went to Chambersburg to attend Holy Mass.
In 1939, a census showed 215 Catholics in Shippensburg. The pastor of Corpus Christi Church began celebrating the mass in a private home in Shippensburg and then in a one-room school house.
On February 17, 1950, Bishop George L. Leech of Harrisburg made Shippensburg a parish in its own right. This church would also be responsible for the mission chapel of Doylesburg. Dolyesburg was part of the parish until 1965. On February 18th, Father Norman Koller took up residence at the Hotel Shippens. Fr. Koller was a native of Buffalo, New York. Daily Mass was started on February 19, 1950.
In 1950 the Hosfeld property, 4.5 acres and buildings was purchased for the parish. A large house was remodeled to include the rectory and small meeting rooms. A former stable was made into a chapel.This was a time of anti-Catholic feelings in the general area populace.
On Sunday December 3, 1950, the Holy Mass was offered for the first time on the new site.
In 1967 the current church was built. This modern structure included many imaginative features. The sacrifice is the central action of our Christian life. The altar stands in the focal center of the church. Supported by concrete arches, the roof rises to a fifty foot summit, giving it a sweeping movement. The pews are positioned to focus attention on the altar. The second level and the ramps provide a flexible seating arrangement to accommodate the whole church congregation, which includes the university student population. The large stained glass windows provide light and help create an atmosphere of devotion and piety. Pennsylvania and Vermont slate are used in the sanctuary and altars. The laminated roof beams support a ceiling of red cedar.
Our Lady of Visitation Parish grew and on July 2, 1967, the new church and rectory were formally dedicated. The church now provides services to 460 families and also provides space for some of the activities of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Shippensburg University. The social hall and education building was built in 1999.
The Church has progressed from one-room school house and later a former stable to a modern Church building.
The persistence of the church community must be recognized in this long historical process.
Fr. Dwight, the current pastor, in describing the local community stated , “I would describe the parish as a resilient one. In the 1950’s; there was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in Shippensburg. But the people remained steadfast to the Catholic Faith. There is a spiirt of confidence in the Catholic Faith and persistence.”
On July 2, 2017, the parish marked the 50th Anniversary of the dedication of the Church building with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer.
Looking ahead for the 21st Century
The parish looks forward to continuing to provide diverse spiritual programs for both the residents of Shippensburg and the students at Shippensburg University.