A small group of Catholics in the late 1860s celebrated mass in the home of the Illinois Central Railroad foreman, William Molloy. He most likely was responsible for the donation of land for the church from the railroad.
Records show the first 24' x 40' frame church was built in 1872 - possibly the first church of any denomination in the county. Fr. M.J. Gaffney was the first resident priest in 1878 to serve the 50 registered families. The first marriage in St. Mary's Church was November 28, 1878 between John Kearney and Mary Donovan.
Fr. Patrick Smith led the effort to build a new brick church in 1886 for the growing parish - 40' x 80'. Msgr. William Cooke was appointed pastor in June 1909. He enlarged the church to seat 400 on the main floor of the church and up to 65 in the balcony. Msgr. Cooke opened St. Mary's School in the fall of 1912 for grades 1-9 at the corner of Third and Cayuga. The Sisters of St. Francis from Clinton "accepted the charge of the infant school." High school classes were added each year with the first graduating class in 1916.
The current church building was envisioned by Msgr. Cleo J. Ivis and designed under the guidance of Fr. Edward M. Catich, then art director at St. Ambrose College in Davenport. It was ahead of its time built for the anticipated changes in the church that were implemented after the Second Vatican Council many years later. Opened for midnight mass on Christmas Eve in 1953, the church had a modern feel and a forward facing altar. The church features priceless modern Stations of the Cross and stained glass windows The new, unique building was featured in the 1959 national Catholic Management Journal.
Ivis was also responsible for the building of the new high school addition in 1964. The St. Anne Convent opened in August 1967 for the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Dubuque who helped run the school. (The sisters "traded" with the Clinton Franciscans around 1950-51.)
Former pastor Fr. Dan Lynch designed and built the two-story rectory and parish office building in 1979 that still stands south of the church building.
The church underwent a major renovation to modernize and refurbish in 2005 under the leadership of former pastor Fr. Bruce Lawler. The pews were refinished, the sanctuary area was tiled, altar and furnishings were reworked and updated. The roof was raised on the north and south transepts of the church. A meeting room was added, gathering area enlarged and bathrooms were remodeled.
The Growing Our Faith project added our first dedicated parish center in January 2016 to the west edge of the church so that parishioners can transition from the church to the parish hall without going outside. There is a fully functional kitchen, pantry and beverage center. The new parish center also has a main floor quilting room and music practice room (separate from the sanctuary). The priests are enjoying the rectory as just a residence as the parish offices are now in the parish center, as well as two conference room - one can seat 34 and the other can seat 14. The project also allowed for paving the north parking lot across Third Street from the church - a welcome improvement in wet weather!
1871-1878 Rev. (later Bishop) Thomas Lenehan
1878-1882 and 1884-1885 Rev. M.J. Gaffney
1882-1884 Rev. David Slattery
1886-1891 Rev. Patrick Smith
1891-1909 Rev. Michael Henessey
1909-1934 Rev. Msgr. William Cooke, V.G. (opened the school)
1934-1945 Rev. Msgr. Clarence P. Conway, V.G.
1945-1967 Rev. Msgr. Cleo J. Ivis, V.F.
1967-1974 Rev. Msgr. Richard V. Sweeney, V.F.
1974-1986 Very Rev. Daniel C. Lynch, V.F.
1986-1993 Very Rev. Paul-Louis Arts, V.F.
1993-2000 Rev. Clair L. Boes
2000-2003 Very Rev. Robert J. Schimmer, V.F.
2003-2013 Rev. Bruce A. Lawler
2013-present Rev. Timothy A. Friedrichsen