When the town of Peru was plotted, lots were reserved for the churches likely to need them. The Catholics were the first to build and erected the first church in 1835. It was a frame building 20 x 40 feet in area and was constructed by James B. Campbell, a carpenter living here at the time. A bell was hung in position and inspired the Christian people with great fervor.
The history of Catholicity in and around Peru had its beginning a few years before the town, located in Miami County, was surveyed and laid out in the spring of 1834. Construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal brought to the area many persons seeking work or desiring to engage in trade. These first settlers, whose names appear throughout the years on the records of the church, are ancestors of many of the present parishioners. Today the families bearing these names, together with others who came to the parish in later years, are trying to preserve the religious ideals fostered at great sacrifice by those instrumental in promoting the Faith in those early years.
Before Peru had a resident pastor, traveling missionaries ministered to the early Catholics. Probably the first missionary to offer Mass in Peru was Rev. Stephen Badin, C.S.C., who stopped here periodically from 1831 to 1837. Fr. Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, was the cofounder of the University of Notre Dame.
Another of the early missionaries was Rev. John Corcoran, who died on his last visit to Peru and was buried on the Banks of the Wabash. Later, at the request of William D. McGregor, Peru’s first white resident and its first mayor, Fr. Corcoran’s remains were removed to the Reyburn cemetery. In 1887 his body was reinterred in St. Charles’ cemetery on the lot of Michael Cannon.
Among the other missionaries visiting and ministering to Peru and Miami County from 1837 – 1860 were: Rev. Matthew Ruff, Rev. Maurice St. Palais, Rev. John C. Francois, Rev. August Martin and Rev. Michael Clark. Pastors from St. Vincent (Logansport, Ind.), the mother church of the region, continued to visit the Peru mission at least once a month until 1860.
Prior to the building of the original church, Mass was offered in the homes of various parishioners. Among these were Mr. & Mrs. John Guendling. God blessed this couple with a vocation to the priesthood for three sons.
Peru’s church became a unit of the new Diocese of Fort Wayne, established September 22, 1857, with Rev. John Henry Luers as its first Bishop. Confirmation was administered for the first time in 1859 and the same year Rev. George Hamilton of Logansport purchased a cemetery for St. Charles’ Parish.
In April, of 1860, Rev. Bernard J. Force, C.S.C., became Peru’s initial resident pastor, accepting Kokomo and Tipton as missions. He remained until January 1864 and built the first rectory, at a cost of $1,700.00. Bishop Luers consecrated the cemetery in 1861 and Peru’s first mission was given in 1862 by Rev. F.X. Weninger, S.J.
Rev. Bernard Kroeger succeeded Fr. Force in Peru on January 5, 1864. He also served the missions of Kokomo, Tipton and Lagro and the stations of Wabash, Rochester and Fairmount. His first project was to build a sacristy onto the frame church. Purchased somewhat previously, the corner lot east of the church was filled in with soil from nearby farms by members of the congregation.
Bishop Luers approved plans for the present church, a 60 x 133 foot red brick edifice, strictly Gothic in architecture, and its construction was begun in the spring of 1865. Huge logs were hewn for its imposing pillars and most of the heavy timber was donated by a parishioner from his farm. The stone was taken from the Mississinewa River near Peoria (Indiana), present site of the huge dam dedicated in 1968 forming the Mississinewa Reservoir. Interior decoration and the erection of the spire were not completed until a later date. Total original cost of the church was $21,000.
The new St. Charles Borromeo Church was dedicated by Bishop Luers on December 8, 1867. The old church was converted into a full-time school and used as such until it burned to the ground in 1873. Rev. Lawrence Lamour, who came to Peru as pastor on October 1, 1871 promoted the erection of a new three-story brick school for $16,350 and placed the Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods in charge of teaching the girls. They arrived in Peru in 1874 and after 1881 taught boys as well as girls.
On January 14, 1887 St. Charles Borromeo parish was raised to the status of an irremovable rectorship. Among the major improvements made on the church was the erection of a spire 183 feet high topped by a gold cross overlooking the city. The church was remodeled and frescoed, with side altars installed, emphasizing the Gothic lines. A pulpit and a pipe organ were also installed. The plain glass windows were replaced by windows fashioned from triangular sections of stained glass imported from Munich, Bavaria. Saints from every state of life and from every nation and age are represented by the statues and by the figures on the windows. Further represented on the windows are the seven sacraments, the nine choirs of angels and the three theological (faith, hope and love/charity) and four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance).
The main altar received special attention in decoration. The figure of our Savior on the cross, hanging above the altar, and the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph are the work of Munich artists. Other statues on the altars were made in Paris.