Church History

(In 1967, two sisters, Bernadette Greenwood Oldemoppen and Genevive Greenwood Spafford, wrote a history of St. Mary's Parish to mark the occasion of the parish's 100th anniversary. This synopsis is taken from that history.)

In 1867, just after the Civil War, Mobile was in the process of reconstruction. In March of that year, Bishop John Quinlan, second bishop of Mobile, recognized the need for a parish in the "outlying western section of Mobile." He appointed the Rev. David O'Meara to establish the parish.

During the organizational period of the parish, the infirmary of the Old Catholic Boys' Home on Lafayette Street was used as a chapel. The original church, donated on the corner of Lafayette Street and Spring Hill Shell Road, was a white frame building, dedicated November 29, 1868.

A parish school was begun in 1871, staffed by volunteer lay teachers until the Sisters of Mercy were brought from Ireland. The hall at the rear of the sacristy was converted into two classrooms. Seven pupils enrolled in the first class: five Zimlichs and two Keegans. The school continued to grow so that by 1910 the brick school and convent were built across from the present rectory. The cost was $20,000.

Rev. O'Meara was succeeded as pastor by the famous "poet-priest," Rev. Abram Ryan (1877-1882.) One of Rev. Ryan's poems written during these years was a tribute to St. Mary's. The Rev. Michael Filan served 14 years at St. Mary's and was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Eaton. Rev. Eaton oversaw many changes and tremendous growth during his tenure at St. Mary's. By 1913, such growth had taken place in west Mobile that a mission church was built in Chrichton - St. Catherine of Siena - dedicated February 1, 1914. In 1920, another portion of St. Mary's became a parish - St. Joan of Arc.

Construction of the present church was begun in 1926 with Mr. John J. Cary as supervising architect. The old church was moved across Old Shell Road and used as a parish hall. The present St. Mary's Church was dedicated on February 5, 1928. Monsignor Eaton died September 21, 1929, and was succeeded by the Rev. Msgr. John R. O'Donoghue, V.G., P.A., who paid off the construction debt in 1945.

Ground was broken for the present school building on May 4, 1948 to include 14 classrooms and a gymnasium. The cost was $250,000. The building was opened and dedicated in 1949.
Msgr. O'Donoghue died July 1, 1962 on vacation in his native Ireland. He was succeeded by the Rev. Msgr. Thomas Cullen, P.A. who renovated the sanctuary after Vatican Council II. Following Msgr. Cullen as pastors were Rev. Msgr. Daniel Harnett (1972-1982), Rev. John Aherne, V.G. (1982-1993) and Rev. Msgr. Kenneth J. Klepac (1993-1997.)  Rev. Msgr. Klepac began the development program at St. Mary Parish and hired the Archdiocese of Mobile's first parish director of development.  The program was established to unite the chuch and school as a parish and to involve people in the mission and vision of the parish's future.

The current pastor is Rev.Msgr.Peter J. Cunningham who came on board in 1999. The current Associate Pastor is Rev. Antony Kadavil.

In 2000, St. Mary Parish launched the "Celebrating the Past....Building the Future" Campaign raising $1.4 million.  Proceeds allowed for renovations including: St. Mary's historic church organ and choir loft, a completely upgraded electrical sytem in the church and improved lighting, an a new church roof. St. Mary Catholic School gained a new state of the art science lab, a completely renovated kitchen to include all new equipment, and a new administrative suite and reception area to better serve the families of the school. The shining glory of the capital campaign was the restoration of the bottom of second floor of the Sisters of Mercy Builidng.  Built in 1909, this building originally served as the first school builidng for St. Mary Catholic School under the administration of the Sisters of Mercy.  The building was in great disrepair as the use dwindled over the years after the new school was built in 1949.  The campaign allowed for the bottom floor to become the new preschool presently serving three and four year old students.  The second floor was renovated to include three glorious reception rooms and administrative offices for the parish.  The building renovations were blessed by Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb on November 16, 2003.

As the parish continued to grow, St.Mary Catholic School was beginning to burst at the seams.  The school was growing by leaps and bounds and was moving from one class per grade to two classes per grade.  The parish realized that they were facing a pivotal point in history.  If additional space could not be provided for classrooms, the school would have to turn parish families away.  Through the great leadership of the parish council, school board, and development advisory board, St. Mary Parish decided to renovate the top floor of the Sisters of Mercy Building to provide a new home for St. Mary's Middle School.  The renovations were completed in 2006 and brought the school back full circle to its glory days as a school.  Currently, St. Mary Catholic School has an enrollment of 485 students from three year old preschool through eighth grade.