Msgr. James Peterson of the Erie Catholic Diocese Office of Special Ministry and Maria House Projects worked for over 60 years with college student, family groups, alcoholics, drug addicts, prison inmates, and homeless men and women. Msgr. Peterson served as a Catholic Priest in the Diocese of Erie for almost 63 years.
For over 30 years Maria Projects, currently operating six houses, founded by Msgr. Peterson have provided homes for troubled men who are in need of community for healing. They include alcoholics, drug addicts, men deeply disturbed emotionally, and men suffering from the effects of homelessness and imprisonment. Countless testimonials have been written about Msgr. Peterson and are found in five volumes of literary collections entitled "For Pete's Sake" from the Diocesan Lodge/Poetry Creative Writing Class. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals have experienced marvelous transformation, with a new awareness of God, of other people, of a living spirit, and a fulfilling work life.
After his ordination in 1947, Msgr. Peterson serves as an assistant at Blessed Sacrament in Erie. From 1947 to 1975 Msgr. Peterson served in higher education at Gannon University teaching scripture and theology. He organized and was the first "head" of the theology department. Msgr. Peterson was a campus minister and was the founder and moderator of the Thomas More Society. This organization maintained and extension in Merida, Yucatan for 12 years. In 1975 he was named pastor as St. Teresa of Avila, Union City and served there for ten years. At that time Union City had no shelters and the rectory, his living quarters, served often as a shelter for homeless men. Through the help of the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and their work with the community, Horizon House was opened as a shelter for women. In 1991 he was named administrator at St. Stephen church of Erie. As Pastor and administrator, Msgr. Peterson served the people with love and compassion by leading them in prayer, worship, teaching, community building, and spiritual counseling. From 1991 to 1995, Msgr. Peterson served as chaplain to the Carmelite Nuns at the Holy Family Monastery in Erie. For many years he was chaplain at the Erie County Prison and continued visiting inmates on a regular basis until his passing in the spring of 2013.
Msgr. Peterson wrote many books and devotional booklets that have aided Catholic and non-Catholics alike. Msgr. Peterson organized the diocesan vocation office in 1951 and became the first diocesan vocation director. In 1957 he made a 30 day retreat and joined the Secular Institute of Priests of the Sacred Heart with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Msgr. Peterson was the founder and lifelong board member of Avila House in Union City, which provided retreat services and spiritual programs. Msgr. Peterson has been honored and awarded throughout his 63 years as a priest many times; however, one honor that stands out occurred in July of 1994. Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title Chaplain of His Holiness.
Msgr. Peterson enriched and enhanced the human experience of thousands of lives. His life work has had a profound impact on people from all walks of life in the Union City area and beyond.