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Parish History

In 1890 the Right Reverend Alfred A. Curtis, D.D. appointed Reverend Edward "Ned" Mickle as Pastor of the St. Charles Borromeo Church on Randolph Ave. in the town of Cape Charles. "Go to the peninsula south of Delaware," the bishop challenged Father Ned, "live there among the people, make your own tracks through the woods and gather what stray Catholics you may find."

On August 14, 1928 he is tickled when one Catholic moved to Onancock. "Wife of the new Health Officer, Dr. Campbell," he wrote, "has arrived in Onancock. She is Catholic. Met her husband last Saturday at the opening of the Nassawadox Hospital. Very pleasant fellow. Big thing to have a good Catholic at Onancock."

In May of 1930 he writes about the Pennsylvania Railroad bringing in many Catholics and then adds, "Much needed as we have been going backward. "He summarized as he wrote, "Great friendliness of all the people throughout the peninsula. A few conversations were made, but the main effect has been to make friends, and the violent prejudice which existed for forty years ago is much abated. Catholics here stand high, and are very much respected, especially in Northampton County."

Two nicknames caught on during his 40 years here. First, he was known as the "Apostle of the Eastern Shore" to applaud his pioneer type of work and the other was "The Great Destroyer" giving gratitude for the advances he made in putting down bigotry.

Following Fr. Mickle's death, although he was immediately succeeded by Father John J. Foley, it would be another 18 years (1948) before a second Catholic Priest would be building the second Catholic church on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the first being in Cape Charles City.

"Our little chapel by the side of the road"

On a cloudy and warm Sunday in mid-June 1948 a new church named after a fisherman-saint called Peter, was dedicated. It was a small chapel having pew capacity for less than two hundred. Located on U.S. Route 13 in Accomack County, Virginia, an area known as the Delmarva Peninsula, this simply structured church would be God's house for offering the Catholic sacraments. At this time Saint Peter's was governed under the Diocese of Wilmington.

After a simple ground-breaking ceremony the previous December the people's anticipation had grown with the placing of each brick. So, it was understandably a celebrating glow that went through the 141 attending parishioners and their 40 non-Catholic guests as they came now to dedicate the new building. The mood of the day was the most relished and reflected by the pastor, the Reverend Bennet C. McNulty. The opening day of the new chapel had been set for June the 20th. The anticipation that had built up was mixed with some feelings with regret because the unusual outdoor waterside Masses on Onancock Creek would be ending. Everyone seemed to appreciate the Masses in this unusual setting and knew they had a treasure of a memory to tuck away even as they looked forward to having a church building.

Opening Day in June, 1948
Father Bennet McNulty with his altar boys, the Jones Brothers, John and Chuck.

As the first half of 1948 was a time of building the chapel of St. Peter, it was happily followed in the second six months of a period of finishing and furnishing. Along with the ongoing work at the Chapel, another series of firsts began: volunteers responded to Father's request for help;a marriage was solemnized and much more. On August 2nd the first wedding took place in the chapel, the Sacrament of Matrimony with a Nuptial Mass between and for Dr. Ralph J. Onofrio and Anne Tutkus from the Chincoteague Naval Air Station. Volunteers Wilma and Fenton Jones monitored the building and Bill Daley and his sons tendered the outside duties. This committment was another that held on through the years. The Daleys and the Joneses were real living foundation bricks.

In 1950, Kathleen Daley, Bill and Audrey's first daughter, was the first baby baptized. The earliest First Holy Communion class of five children was received on April 16, 1950. Three days later Bishop FitzMaurice, on his first official visit to St. Peter's administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to sixteen boys, twelve girls, seven men, and five women.


The annual Mass attendance count of approximately 8,000 held steady throughout the 1950s but steady growth arrived in the early 1960s with well over 9,000 in annual attendance.

On March 21, 1968 Father Bennet C. McNulty died at seventy-two years of age. He had been with us for twenty-three years. Through the latter half of the '60s and through the '70s and '80s St. Peter truly became a lively parish. The people who came from elsewhere, increasing our Catholic family, had much to do to work it up to the stature it enjoys today. St. Peter's needed their expertise. Of course, it is Christ's church and He worked through them all. Also, the Spanish migrant members steadily increased, so commitment to their needs was addressed. In 1975, a Mass in Spanish was begun during the summer months.

During 1975 a redistricting of the Catholic Dioceses resulted in St. Peter's being transferred from the Wilmington to the Richmond Diocese, and St. Andrews in Chincoteague became a mission of St. Peter's. After 107 years the Eastern Shore of Virginia was again under the Virginia Diocese.

Two years later, in July of 1977, the Knights of Columbus was formed in Accomack County and Adrian Hall became its first Grand Knight. They became a great asset to the parish sponsoring such activities as spaghetti dinners, seafood festivals, and training of the altar boys.

In the hands of Pastor Father Rinaldi and an euthusiastic council, major additions to the church were initiated and became reality. A fund drive to finance these undertakings was launched and the response was overwhelming. On September 1, 1977 construction began on a vestibule overlooking a meditative garden, an office, restrooms, a meeting room, a parish hall, and a completely equipped kitchen. On October 4 of 1979 a letter from Walter F. Sullivan, Bishop of Richmond, to the Oblate Pastor stated that he was "impressed with your leadership in the parish and the spirit among the parishioners." And, in the following year, Mark Paranzino, an architect, designed a new rectory that was built to the side and slightly back of the church.

The people and the pastors of St. Peter's have been and are holy people. Each one through his or her individuality strives to please God. They are saints---not canonized saints imaged in a stained glass window; no one names any churches after them. They are saints, nevertheless, by the same definition that makes each flower, each tree, each bird, and all such beings living saints. That is, they spend their lives simply doing what they were created to do---God's will for them. They all demonstrate God's presence and pleasure in their lives. Together they form a bright microcosm of Christianity. Together, they are the Church.

Source: Here is the Church by Mary Kate Foster