Parish History

St. Agnes Parish has a long and interesting history. It could never be totally captured here but as you enter our web site our desire is to give the visitor a thumbnail sketch of the beginnings of Catholicism in West Chester and what is now called St. Agnes Parish.Notes contained in the West Chester Historical Society tell us that “prior to 1812 the only church building in West Chester was a miniature one of Catholic persuasion, erected in 1793 where now stands the present edifice”. The first church was a one story brick structure containing three windows on each side with a front door facing west. It accommodated 150 people.

A Father Patrick Kenney arrived in America in 1804 and very shortly thereafter he began his work in West Chester. Father Kenny made monthly visits to chapels in West Chester, Coffee Run, DE, Wilmington, DE and New Castle, DE. Father Kenny died on March 21, 1840 at the age of 77.

Following the death of Father Patrick Kenney, there was a rapid succession of pastors between 1840-1850:

Pastors between 1840-1850
Revs. Patrick Donohue 1840 (months)
Bernard McCabe 1840-42
Patrick Sheridan 1842-44
Henry Fitzsimmons 1844-45
James Forbes 1845-46
Michael Malone 1847-48
John Loughran 1849-50
John Morris 1950-51

After a succession of 8 pastors in 11 years, Father John Prendergast came to St. Agnes Parish in 1851 and served here until his death in 1871.  Father John, as he was affectionately called, supervised the construction of the second church which was built on the site of the first building.  Prior to Father Prendergast’s stewardship, our parish was known as Christ’s Church. In 1852 the church was renamed in honor of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr.  The title of St. Agnes Church in West Chester appeared in print in the issue of the Catholic Standard for October 7, 1852.   During Father Prendergast’s tenure our country became bitterly divided by the Civil War and the Pastor of St. Agnes supported measures to keep the United States a unified nation.  The saintly, Bishop Neumann was the bishop of Philadelphia at this time and John Neumann visited our parish five times to administer the sacrament of Confirmation: 1853, 1854, 1855, 1858 and 1859.  Neumann  died in 1860.  Father Prendergast died on April 4, 1871 and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery.  His grave marker is visible from Route 100.  Father Prendergast was the first resident pastor of St. Agnes Parish.  During his 20 years as pastor he saw much growth.

The pastorate of Father John Prendergast is followed by 7 pastors in 15 years.

Rev. John Wall 1871-72
Father Wall built the first school which was opened in the fall of 1872. He died after one year and is buried near Father Prendergast.
Rev. John Cox 1872
Rev. James Fitzsimmons 1872-74
Rev. Patrick Donegan 1874-77
Rev. Thomas Power 1877
Rev. Hugh Garvey 1878-80
Rev. Daniel McDermott 1880-85