*The number of families and individual members were last updated in November 2017.
History of St. Joan of Arc Church
The history of the Parish of St. Joan of Arc can be traced back to the turn of the century when many Catholics came to the area to work at the Hershey Chocolate Factory and the quarries at Waltonville, Swatara, and Palmyra. In 1913 it was reported that there were upwards of 400 Catholic laborers in the vicinity, most of them from Italy. Mr. Walter P. Bradley, who operated the quarries, offered land and a generous donation for a chapel. For reasons we no longer remember, the chapel was not built.
On June 23, 1918 Father Patrick J. Phelan, an Assistant Pastor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, gathered together 130 persons and offered the first Mass in Hershey at the Central Theater. He named this new congregation the Catholic Mission of St. John the Evangelist. During the next few years, Mr. Milton S. Hershey, the founder of Hershey, made various public buildings available for Mass. Mr. Hershey also donated a plot of land on Cocoa Avenue to be used when the time came for the building of the church.
In 1920 the plot of ground donated by Mr. Hershey was exchanged for a larger tract of land on West Chocolate Avenue. At the suggestion of Bishop Philip R. McDevitt, a new church was planned in honor of St. Joan of Arc, who had recently been canonized. Ground was broken for the new church on August 11 of that year. When the cornerstone was laid on December 5, 1920, the first mass was celebrated in the unfinished church.
Father Phelan, who had continued to serve the area over the years, was named pastor of the 300 member church by Bishop McDevitt on September 12, 1921. The church was completed and dedicated on May 26, 1922. The crown of the new church was set with a beautiful new bell which was donated by Mr. Hershey in memory of his deceased wife, a devout Catholic.
In December of 1924, the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy from Steelton began to visit families in the parish and offer instruction to the children. Father Phelan noted the important role the Sisters were playing in the spiritual development of the parish and received permission to build a convent. In August 1925, four Sisters of the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy came to live at St. Joan of Arc Convent. With the sisters in residence, the religious education improved and attendance immediately increased. The St. Joan of Arc Parochial School was opened for the first time in September 1927.
As the parish began to grow, plans were made for a larger church. These plans were delayed first because of World War II and later because the erection of the new school took priority. It was during the pastorate of Monsignor Anthony J. Mayan that a decision was made to purchase a large tract of land overlooking the west end of Hershey and relocate the parish. On November 23, 1947, ground was broken for the new school. The school opened on September 1, 1948, with an enrollment of 220 children. In order to accommodate the growing congregation, the school auditorium was used as the site for services. The bell in memory of Mrs. Hershey was carried to the tower of the new school-church.
In 1953, a new rectory was built, and it was followed by a new convent in 1956. The parish complex on West Areba Avenue was completed on May 30, 1962, with the dedication of the magnificent new church. The original church building still stands and today houses the congregation of the United Church of Christ.
In 2016, the parish purchased the home that site directly behind the main entrance of the convent. It was completely renovated and the remaining three religious sisters from Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy moved from the former convent into their new home at .
The Catholic family in Hershey continues to grow, with over 2,659 households* and 7,977 members* now registered in our parish.
Rev. John McQuire: June 1937 - 1941
Msgr. Anthony Mayan: June 1941 - 1973
Msgr. Donald Adams: June 1973 - 1977
Msgr. Leo Bierster: June 1977 - 2002
Rev. Philip Burger: June 2002 - 2010
Rev. Michael Rothan: June 2010 - 2014
Rev. Philip Burger: June 2014 - 2015
Rev. Alfred Sceski: June 2015 - Present