SAINT MARY’S PARISH 1865 – 2015
HISTORY OF A SAINT PAUL PARISH AND MARY T. HILL’S CONNECTION
By Eileen R. McCormack
In 1865, the downtown area of Saint Paul had two Catholic parishes, the Cathedral, at Sixth & Saint Peter Streets, and Assumption Church built in 1856 to serve the city’s German Catholic members. As the residential area in Saint Paul’s Lowertown grew its Catholic inhabitants asked for a new parish. Bishop Grace agreed, and plans went forward for a new church, to be built at the northeast corner of Ninth and Locust Streets. The cornerstone of Saint Mary’s, blessed on May 20th, 1866, was an important event in the city. The Great Western Band led the procession from the Cathedral to the Lowertown site, and many of Saint Paul’s 7000 Catholics attended the ceremony. Contributions to Saint Mary’s building fund came from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and included a number of the city’s most prominent citizens; Rice, Sibley, Prince, McQuillan, Merrriam, Borup, Davidson, Thompson, Wilder, Sheehy, Markoe, and James Hill.
Construction of the church was completed in 1867, the same year James J. Hill and Mary Theresa Mehegan married and moved to their first home in Lowertown. Father Louis Caillet, Mary Hill’s old friend, was named the pastor of Saint Mary’s, and the first Mass was said on July 28, 1867. The ten children born to the Hills were baptized and received their First Holy Communion in Father Caillet’s church. The first parish school was opened in 1869 with a new building constructed in 1887 and high school classes added in 1896.
Saint Mary’s was a very active community from its inception, and Mary Hill and other women were involved in not only the parish organizations and activities, but also in raising funds and administering some of the institutions associated with the church. In 1882 the women presented Father Caillet with $12,000 to pay off the church debt (Mary Hill $5000.) and in 1884 Saint Mary’s Home for Girls was opened under the direction of a Board consisting of parish women, with Mary as president. On May 19, 1884 Mary Hill’s diary entry read, “Opened St. Mary’s home today informally.” The Home provided lodging and industrial classes, such as sewing instruction, for young women who came to the city to work. A day nursery to care for the children of working mothers was added and both institutions were under the supervision of the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1891, after 24 years in Lowertown, the Hill family moved to their new home on Summit Avenue, joining the movement of other neighbors whose homes were being encroached on by railroad and industrial development. Mary continued her involvement with Saint Mary’s and attended services there until old age and fragile health necessitated her attending Mass closer to her home although she returned for funerals of old friends and special occasions. “We went to closing of St. Mary’s School exercises at Opera House this afternoon. The exercises were creditable indeed.” Over the years James and Mary Hill donated over $16,000 (about $290,000 in 2014 dollars) to Saint Mary’s not including “pew rent” that Mary continued to pay until her death in 1921.
The importance of “Old Saint Mary’s” in the lives of the Hill family was demonstrated in 1926, five years after Mary Hill’s death. An almost exact replica of the original Lowertown Saint Mary’s was constructed in White Bear Lake, funded by Mary’s daughters. The Hill family spent summers at their North Oaks farm and attended Mass at Saint Mary’s in White Bear Lake. The new church was dedicated, “In Memory of a Beloved Mother Mary Theresa Hill…”
In 1919, the same factors that had precipitated the move of many of Lowertown’s original residents more than thirty years earlier, now necessitated the move of Saint Mary’s Church itself. The old church property was sold to the Great Northern Railway and property was purchased at Eighth & Rosabel Streets, across Ninth Street from where the Hill home had stood. The new church was dedicated in May 1922 and Saint Mary’s remains in that location today, and is serving an emerging residential area once more.
SAINT MARY’S 150th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION!
Saturday May 16, 2015
261 E 8th Street in St. Paul’s Lowertown
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
4:30pm Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nienstedt with the Saint Mary’s Choir and May Crowning
6-7pm Social Hour
7-8pm Buffet Dinner — reservations required, call 651-222-2619
8-10pm Music by City Vibes
NOTE ON SOURCES: Two books by Rev. James M. Reardon, pastor of Saint Mary’s from 1916-1921, The Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Paul (St. Paul: 1952) and The Church of St. Mary of Saint Paul (St. Paul: 1935). Excerpts taken from my article in Ramsey County History (Spring 2006) “Lost Neighborhood: Mary Hill’s Lowertown 1867-1891”.