Saint Ignatius Loyola, Buchanan Valley
"Old Jesuit Mission"—"The Mountain Church"
This historic church, dedicated under the patronage of Saint Ignatius, is also known as the "Old Jesuit Mission of Buchanan Valley" and was called by the priests who attended it "The Mountain Church." It was established by the Conewago Jesuits at an early date, the exact date of its origin being uncertain. It is on the mission trail from Conewago to Chambersburg and the Conewago Creek has its source nearby. As the early records of the Mission Chapel were destroyed by fire, the history of the early days is based on tradition, very clear and very consistent. Buchanan Valley had its Mass-House which was used by Jesuit missionaries in the latter part of the Eighteenth Century. This was the Irvin farmhouse, a large, solid frame house, used by descendants of this pioneer family until it, too, was destroyed by fire in 1942.
Early in the Nineteenth Century the Jesuit Fathers planned a modest little church for the growing community. Apparently it was built by the people, for the cornerstone was laid October 10, 1816, and the first Mass was offered a year later, October 17, 1817. When doubts arose concerning the validity of the land title, Father Louis Debarth purchased it in 1819, giving clear title to the church.
Bishop Francis P. Kenrick visited the church in 1830 and gives the following interesting description of the parish at that time:
"September the twenty-ninth day, having made the journey on the previous day over a very steep hill together with Father Matthew Lekeu and Father John Joseph Curtin, I administered the sacrament of Confirmation to fifty-two persons, eleven of whom were converts to the Catholic faith. No bishop had ever visited this church before."
The Jesuit Fathers attended their mission on the mountain from Conewago until 1858 when Gettysburg and Buchanan Valley were separated from Conewago and placed under the charge of a diocesan priest, Father Basil A. Shorb.
Through the years, the small group of Catholics kept the faith although they did not have a resident pastor for almost a century being served from Gettysburg or Chambersburg.
In the fall of 1911, Bishop John W. Shanahan established the "Old Jesuit Mission" as a parish and appointed Father William A. Howard the first resident pastor. The longest pastorate to the present was that of Father William W. Whalen (1917-1938) during which time the Centenary of the Church was fittingly celebrated. The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, aided by two lay teachers, have provided religious instruction for the children.
The year of Our Lord, 1967, the pastor, Monsignor Louis J. Yeager and the people of the parish celebrated the Sesquicentennial of their loved church, still standing and in good condition. The parish serves over 150 families still "widely scattered in this mountain region." The well preserved church, the recently renovated rectory, the recently enlarged cemetery, the newly erected dining pavilion with the traditional picnic grove, present a unique and beautiful picture, located as they are on the pleasant mountainside.