St. Peter Catholic Church, located on the corner of Third Street and Adams in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, traces its origins to the fall of 1840 when Bishop Richard Miles, O.P., the first Bishop of Nashville, appointed Father Michael McAleer as the first pastor of St. Peter. Just one year after the first Catholic mass was celebrated in the parlor of the adjacent Magevny House, the parish opened its doors. The oldest Roman Catholic parish in the region; the present structure is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Memphis.
On October 29, 1841, John S. Claybrook, trustee of Judge John Overton’s estate, conveyed block 409 of the original plan of Memphis to Bishop Miles. As a partial donation, the price was made a nominal $500.00, which was generously subscribed by a number of Protestant Memphians as a gift to the Catholic community. In the summer of 1842 a brick church, 30 by 70 feet, was begun. It was completed the following year, reportedly at a cost of $5000.00. Rev. Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P. was named the new pastor in 1846. He later became the first Bishop of Monterey, California, and, finally, was appointed as the first archbishop of San Francisco. The Dominican Order has served continuously at St. Peter since 1846.
Construction of the present church began in 1852 around the intact older original sanctuary and was completed in 1855. Once built, parts of the original church were dismantled and carried out the doors, piece by piece. The new church was dedicated by Bishop Miles in 1858.
With its vaulted ceilings, Gothic characteristics and upward thrusting arches, St. Peter Church is a historical masterpiece and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Patrick Charles Keely, an eminent architect, the church’s beautiful, stained glass windows narrate the events in the life of Christ and several saints. The beauty of the church is magnified by the Casavant Organ located in the choir loft.
The church has had multiple expansions throughout its many years beginning with the construction of the present rectory in 1873, followed by the addition of the Crystal Room and former chapel in 1891. In 2001, a new 3-story building added six classrooms, parish hall with kitchen, choir room and other meeting facilities, all handicapped accessible.
A new chapel houses the national Shrine of St. Martin de Porres, a sixteenth-century Dominican and the patron saint of social justice. The Shrine is open daily for prayer and also sponsors various events throughout the year.