Established in 1743, St. Joseph’s Mission was the first organized Roman Catholic community in Harford County. Known as Priest Neale’s Mass House, the mission was located at Priest’s Ford. The first formally established parish in Harford County, St. Ignatius (1792), began as a mission of the original St. Joseph’s.
The new parish of St. Ignatius soon began to develop its own missions. By January of 1863 the pastor, Father James McDevitt reported to Archbishop Martin J. Spaulding of Baltimore that “a church is also wanted at Abingdon. A congregation of at least 200 Catholics could be formed there. . .” In October, 1865, less than two years later, four acres of farmland were donated for the purpose of building a church by a local non-Catholic William Pannell.
Father James Gibbons (later Cardinal) laid the cornerstone of the new church on July 12, 1866. Members of the parish at St. Ignatius donated their time, talent and money to complete construction of the Stone Chapel. Father Patrick O’Connor celebrated the first Mass in the new church on Christmas Day, 1866. The new mission would later be named after St. Francis de Sales.
Although the church opened its doors in 1866, it would be nearly 20 years before it would be formally dedicated. Father Don Lag Satori would perform the ceremony on March 27, 1887 (Passion Sunday). In the same year, the Districh family donated the marble altar, which is still in use today in the Stone Chapel. Parishioners also donated the wooden pews and large stained glass windows, including three added in the 1930’s, donated by the family of Arthur Magness.
In May, 1964, St. Francis de Sales was established as a separate parish. During the first official parish meeting on June 18, 1964, it was unanimously agreed upon to build a shrine to St. Francis. Two years later, in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Stone Chapel, the shrine to St. Francis de Sales was dedicated. His Eminence, Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan, officiated at the Mass.
Father Maurice Wolf, who succeeded Father Clements at St. Francis de Sales Parish in 1960, broke the ground for the new parish center in September, 1970. By November of the following year, the building opened its doors. The final cost of the Parish Center was $205,000. Parishioners donated the majority of the furnishings.
After celebrating 40 years as a priest, St. Francis’ first pastor, Father Wolfe passed over on December 11, 1984.
In February of 1985, Father Thomas Phillips was assigned to St. Francis. Within weeks of his arrival, the first Parish Council was formed. The council determined there was a need for a larger church. In 1987, the council initiated the captial campaign designated to raise funds for this. By May of 1988, St. Francis parish had accumulated $535,000 of an estimated 1.2 million dollars needed for the new Church.
In the spring of 1989, a major setback was encountered. Soil conditions indicated potential building problems. Consideration was given to moving to another location in Abingdon. However, parishioners voted to remain at our present site and build a smaller church.
In 1991, Christmas Mass was held in the unfinished interior of the new Church, now known as the Worship Center, in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Stone Chapel. The finishing touches to the new structure were made and on Passion Sunday, April 12, 1992, the new Worship Center officially opened its doors. On September 19, 1992, the then Archbishop William Keeler dedicated the new Worship Center at St. Francis de Sales as “The Church on the Hill”.
In June of 1997, Father Thomas Phillips was transferred to St. Gabriel’s Church in Woodlawn, Maryland. Father Patrick Carrion was temporarily appointed as the Parish Administrator and in May of 1998, Msgr. G. Michael Schleupner became the third pastor of St. Francis de Sales. Shortly after beginning his pastorate, Msgr. Schleupner, in collaboration with the pastoral council, initiated a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of a new Religious Education building. In addition to the much needed construction of this building, an effort began to construct a chapel off of the nave of the Worship Center. This chapel would be the space where the Holy Eucharist would be reserved on the weekends. Funding for the chapel was raised through the donations of many generous people and was dedicated on December 1, 2001. The groundbreaking for the Religious Education building occurred shortly after this on December 9, 2001 and the building was dedicated on October 12, 2002 by his Eminence William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore.