The Rock Hill Oratory, founded in 1934, is a part of a worldwide federation of 60 independent houses. It is the oldest and largest house in the United States. Founded by St. Philip Neri in Rome, members of the Oratory are bound not by vows, but by bonds of love. The community remains deliberately small to encourage interpersonal relationships. Governed democratically, the entire community shares in making major decisions with all members having equal rights and responsibilities.

Please view the timeline below to read more about our great history. After each timeline you may click a link to view the full chapter of each era.

The Early Years

  • 1934

    First Oratorians Arrived

    Bishop Wahl invited the first Oratorians to establish The Rock Hill Oratory, a new mission for a small but growing Catholic population.

  • 1930s

    St. Philip's Mercy Hospital

    St. Philip's Mercy Hospital on Confederate Avenue is operated by The Franciscan Sisters of Peoria, who were invited to Rock Hill by the Diocese and The Oratory. The hospital closes in the 1950s due to a lack of funds to build a new hospital.

  • 1937

    The Oratory School for Boys

    The Oratory School for Boys opens, a boarding school that is later closed for lack of funds.

  • 1940s

    The Oratory helps to establish labor unions

    York County textile workers labored for long hours under poor working conditions, and some died from job-related ills like brown lung. The Oratory helps to establish labor unions for Rock Hill textile mill employees, enabling workers to press for better conditions.

  • 1946

    St. Mary's Catholic Church

    St. Mary's Catholic Church is established on Crawford Road in Rock Hill. A recreation center serves the youth.

  • 1947

    Church on Saluda Street

    About 100 Catholic families in Rock Hill worshipped in a tiny church on Saluda Street. Catholics made up about half of 1 percent of the state's population at this time.

Searching for Oratory

The early years just described required a very special commitment to Church and to a vision. Those first members were heroic and established a solid foundation despite knowing very little about the Oratory. Somehow they caught Philip’s spirit, and his values were evidenced in lifestyle and ministry.

  • 1951

    A credit union is established

    A credit union is established with the recreation center to help people get loans and encourage them to save money. The union operates until about 1980.

  • 1954

    St. Anne Catholic School

    St. Anne Catholic School, at the church rectory on Saluda Street, becomes the first racially integrated school in South Carolina. A new school is built on South Jones Avenue in 1958.

  • 1960s

    Supporting the civil rights movement

    Before the civil rights movement, African-Americans were banned from white establishments. Members of the Oratory supported the civil rights movement and local sit-in participants. They helped local black citizens register to vote.

Years of Renewal

In 1967, we arrived at an important decision. We would continue to give maximum effort to parish ministry, but would also develop more fully, extra parochial ministries. Also, in the late 1960’s, we clearly delineated the purpose and content of our initial formation program (i.e., training seminarians and brothers) in a way which stressed the charisms of Philip and our traditions.

  • 1975

    Helping refugees into their new communities

    Refugees from Southeast Asia sought their freedom in the United States, but many needed help to assimilate into their new communities. The Oratory brings the first of several hundred refugees from Southeast Asia to Rock Hill. Later, it expands the ministry to include Hispanic immigrants.

  • Today

    Catholic churches in York County

    About 5,000 families worship at five different Catholic churches in York County -- two in Rock Hill and others in Fort Mill, York and Lake Wylie. Catholics make up about 4.5 percent of the state's population