Our Parish History
In 1914, the Redemptorists were looking for a favorable site to establish a convalescent home for senior priests of the Order. They were also looking for a central home for missionaries who would preach the Redemptorists’ unique style of parish missions throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Redemptorists were very impressed with the Ephrata area of Lancaster County. They purchased the large, 80-acre Willson Estate (formerly known as Clare Point Stock Farm) on Pine Street, which had been a national center for horse breeding and racing.
The estate had been owned by Thomas A. Willson who died in 1910, and it contained a half-mile race track, which Horse World magazine praised as “probably the best and most expensive in the United States.”
The first Mass was offered in what was formerly the Willson family dining room the day after the estate was purchased (August 6, 1914). Only 13 Catholics were present, none of which lived in Ephrata. At the time, there were only five Catholic families in the area, and only one Catholic family lived in Ephrata itself.
The Redemptorists converted the Willson Mansion into a preparatory training school for young men desirous of becoming brothers. The school was named St. Gerard’s Hall in honor of St. Gerard Majella who was a contemporary of Redemptorist founder St. Alphonsus Liguori. A new mission residence, built in 1924, was named St. Clement’s Mission House, in honor of St. Clement Hofbauer, the second founder of the congregation who brought the dream of the Redemptorists to America. The community chapel in this building was the parish church until 1940.
Today this is used primarily as a private chapel for the Redemptorist community. After much growth and planning, a stone church was built on the corner of Pine Street and Church Avenue. It was dedicated in 1940 and named in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In this church, 200 people could be seated at each Mass. A large community room in the basement was perfect for parish activities.
A parish school was erected in 1956, staffed by the Bernardine Sisters of Saint Francis. These sisters continue to bless our parish today. In 1976, a Parish Center was built to accommodate the ever-growing population of Catholic families in the area. In it were a large gymnasium, the parish office, and a kindergarten classroom. Each Sunday families gathered in the Parish Center to celebrate Mass. But in January 1994, the accumulation of snow and ice on the roof caused our Parish Center to collapse. Miraculously, no one was in the Parish Center at the time, and no one was hurt.
OMPH Church & School Today
After a spirited debate on whether the event was a sign from God to build a church, a larger gym, or expand the school, it was decided that it was wisest to do all three! With the united support of parishioners, a new church, offices, meeting rooms, gymnasium, and expanded school were built.
These were then dedicated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in December 1995 by Bishop Nicholas Dattilo. The old stone church was renamed the Bernardine Center, and it is now used for meetings and other parish activities. Today our parish serves approximately 1,200 families in the Ephrata community, bringing them closer to Christ.