In 1923 Father Joseph H. Farran was sent by The Most Reverend John J. McCort to establish a parish in the western section of Altoona to serve the needs of the 225 Catholic families residing in the area. On October 15, Father Farran took up residence in a house at 2412 Beale Avenue and on October 21 celebrated the ﬁrst public Mass there. “Our Lady of Lourdes'' was selected as the name for the newly formed parish. This was granted by Bishop McCort at the request of Father Farran, who had accompanied the Bishop on a pilgrimage to the shrine in Lourdes, France where the Virgin Mary had appeared to Marie Bernarde Soubirous (St Bernadette).
In November of 1923 construction was begun on a temporary chapel at 2613-15 Broad Ave. The ﬁrst Mass was celebrated on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bishop McCort held a thanksgiving service at the chapel in the evening. In May 1924 Father Farran moved to a home at 2529 Broad Ave., which was used as the rectory until 1977.
The parish began work on Our Lady of Lourdes School in 1926, and it opened on January 4, 1927. The school was staﬀed by the Sisters of Mercy.
The church in the basement of the school building was blessed by Bishop McCort on February 10, 1927. The following day, on the feast of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate, the ﬁrst Solemn Mass was celebrated. In 1935, Father Farran was transferred to St Patrick’s Church in Gallitzin, where he remained until his death in 1951. Father James F. Hanlon, in residence at Lourdes, while teaching at Altoona Catholic High School, served brieﬂy as pastor until Father Roger O’Donnell was appointed by the bishop. He served as pastor for ﬁve years, from 1935 until his death in 1940.
Father Philip J. O’Donnell served as pastor from 1940 until 1965 and as pastor emeritus until his death in 1974. Under his leadership the parish built a modern Romanesque church at the corner of Broad Ave and 27th St. The groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1959, and the church was dedicated on February 12, 1961, by the Most Reverend J. Carroll McCormick.
Father John J. Laﬀerty was appointed assistant pastor in June 1958. He became the administrator in June 1963 and pastor in 1965 when Father O’Donnell became pastor emeritus.
In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Father Laﬀerty responded to the call for liturgical renewal. He formed home study groups, oﬀered adult education courses, and trained lectors and commentators.
The interior of the church was renovated in 1970. The side altars and railing were removed, and the baptismal font was placed in the sanctuary. The side altars were replaced with magniﬁcent murals in art relief depicting salvation history, and new Stations of the Cross were installed. In 1977, a new rectory was built next to the church at 2716 Broad Ave.
Father Laﬀerty was elevated to Monsignor in 1982. In June 1989, he was appointed pastor of Holy Rosary parish in Juniata and left the parish that was his home for 31 years. Monsignor Michael Servinsky was the pastor from 1989 to 1992, Father Raymond Crosser from 1992 to 1995 and Father Robert Hall from 1995 to 2000. He was followed by Father Dennis Kurdziel, who served from 2000 to 2009. Declining enrollment necessitated the closing of the parish school in 2000.
Father David Rizzo served the people of Our Lady of Lourdes from May 2009 until September 2016. Under his leadership, the parish had made many improvements to the church. A new restroom was installed on the ﬁrst ﬂoor. A new tabernacle was donated, and the lighting in the sanctuary was updated. The walls in the nave of the church were painted with blue trim that compliments the stained glass windows. We have seen a renewed emphasis on Eucharistic adoration in the parish and the promotion of more profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes.
In November 2017, it was announced that Father James Dugan had been assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes as pastor. It is good to remember the past as we look forward to the continuing ministry of Our Lady of Lourdes parish. We pray that our church community may make Christ present to our neighbors in Altoona.
Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church is a parish of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.