The Conewago Chapel, also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is one of the most historically significant Catholic churches in Pennsylvania. The chapel can trace its history back to 1741, although the construction of the present church, with its thick brownstone walls, wasn't completed until 1787. It was one of the first Catholic houses of worship in the United States and also served as the headquarters for Jesuit missionaries during the era of the American Revolution. While the Conewago Chapel attracts numerous visitors each year, many would be surprised to learn that this quaint country church has quite a spooky past.
In fact, one of the church's priests has even gone on record addressing the claims that the chapel is haunted. The following is a story which appeared in the August 27, 1903 edition of the Alexandria (VA) Gazette:
A dispatch from Gettysburg, Pa., says that Conowago [sic] Chapel is receiving considerable attention of late in account of the ghostly apparitions that appear and the weird rappings that are nightly heard in this ancient house of worship, which, untill three years, had been used as a Jesuit mission.
These spectral visits and rappings have been occurring with more or less regularity ever since the abandonment of the chapel by the Jesuits, and Father Halftermyer, the priest now in charge, has found it impossible to keep an assistant for any length of time, two weeks being the usual length of time that the young men are able to endure the nervous shocks and frights to which the inhabitants of the chapel are exposed.
Father Halftermyer, on being interviewed, said: "I am finding it almost impossible to keep an assistant on account of the queer things that have been transpiring in this old edifice since I have been in charge. I have had no personal experience with the apparition. Those who have seen it described it as a thing of mist, having the outlines of a human form garbed in ecclesiastical robes. The midnight hour is the usual time of its coming, and it has been seen most frequently in the sleeping apartment assigned to the assistant rectors. The rappings I have often heard. These, too, occur at midnight, and hadly [sic] a night passes that we are not disturbed by them. On one occasion they were heard at midday on my study door as I sat talking with a priest from New Oxford. When a door is quickly opened in response to the raps nothing is to be seen.
"One of my assistants, who was here but a few weeks, greeted me one morning with eyes staring, and told me that in the night, as he was lying awake in his bed, unseen fingers, having a temperature of the grave, seized his hair and pulled it vigorously. He started up just in time to see the dim outlines of a priestly figure vanish into mist. To have the covers pulled from their bed while they slept, and to awake to see the apparition dissolving, has been the common experience of all those assistants who occupied the sleeping chambers.
"I am not superstitious. It would be contrary to my religion to be so. I know that most of these supposed or reputed manifestations of the spirit world are usually traceable to natural causes, but in our efforts to ascribe the chapel's ghost and his conduct to such sources we have been baffled, and our investigations have only served to mystify us the more."
The Jesuits, who founded the Conowago [sic] Chapel in 1720 in the wilds of the Pennsylvania wilderness, were from Baltimore and Canada, and the original mission was established in a hut fashioned like the lodges of the Conowago Indians.