Immaculate Conception Parish has a long and proud history. The roots of the parish can be traced back to the early 1800s when priests traveling through the area would minister to scattered Catholic families. The priest would celebrate Mass, hear confessions and confer the other sacraments as needed before moving along on his way. In 1837, the bishop of Philadelphia appointed the first specific pastor, Father Michael Gallagher, to serve the Catholics in the Connellsville area. His parish included the counties of Fayette, Greene, Washington and parts of Westmoreland and Somerset. It would be 40 years before Connellsville would have a parish of its own.
As the number of area Catholics began to grow, particularly with a large influx of Irish immigrants, the bishop of Philadelphia, in 1870, felt the need to appoint a resident pastor to celebrate Mass every Sunday in Connellsville. Quickly a search for a suitable building to house a church began.
In 1871, a house located off Orchard Alley was purchased and remodeled into a church. The new parish was named in honor of the Immaculate Conception and the first church was dedicated by Bishop Domenic in July 1873.
In 1872 a rectory had been constructed. But, it was not long before the need for a new larger building became evident and in May, 1887 a new church was dedicated by Bishop Phelan. At this time there were over 100 Irish and American families registered in the parish.
Unfortunately on January 22, 1892, just a few years after it had been built, the church caught fire and burned to the ground. The congregation was determined to rebuild and in September 1896 the cornerstone was laid for a new church at its current site.
Bricks salvaged from the first church were incorporated into the church walls along with the new brick. The church, 129 feet long and 65 feet wide was built in a pure Gothic style. By that time the parish numbered 400 families with about 1,500 members.
In the next few decades, the parishioners worked hard to improve their parish church. Bells were hung in the tower in 1897. Still in use today, these same bells were electrified with computerized settings in 1993. In 1920, an electronically operated pipe organ was proudly installed. With more than 1,600 pipes, it is constructed in a very unique style that was generally used only in organs built to be played in the largest of concert halls. The organ with its clear and beautiful tones, 90 years later, continues to be employed to give musical praise to God.
Another noteworthy development in the history of the parish occurred in the early part of the 20th century. Originally a steeple, 185 feet tall, topped with a 14 foot cross, was part of the initial church rebuilding. It could be seen for miles.
However, as a newspaper account recorded “tremendous winds” caused the steeple to be removed and the cross was remounted on the center peak of the church roof in the 1930s. It stands there today.
Throughout its history, the parish was continually involved in building projects. In 1908, the rectory facing Crawford Street was completed at a cost of $10,000. The large four story school building that currently houses Conn-Area Catholic School was opened in 1912 and staffed by the Benedictine sisters in 1913. This religious community of sisters continued to serve in the school for the next 60 years. Eventually, a four year high school was also added, with its first class graduating June 8, 1930.
In 1922, Father Henry Geibel was appointed as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish. Serving the parish for 36 years until 1958, he oversaw many improvements and changes to the property of the “Irish church on the hill.”
In 1923-24 a three-story convent adjacent to the school was constructed. From 1930-31, he undertook a massive renovation project that included the installation of the marble altars, new lighting, and painting. Other improvements in the church included the 12 large stained glass windows, imported from Germany, that tell the Scripture stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary. Today, the windows are valued at over $1 million dollars.
In 1970, following the Second Vatican Council another major renovation of the church took place under the leadership of Msgr. John Garred. The parish was brought up to date to meet the needs of the revised liturgy.
In the decades following the church has been well maintained with improvements made as needed. This impressive edifice continues to serve the needs of nearly 600 Connellsville area families.