The First Church
On the founding of the parish, Fr. Maher, the first pastor, rented a house at 34 State Street where he celebrated Mass. He later made use of Tallman Hall at the corner of State and Dill Streets.
The congregation grew so rapidly that Father Maher purchased the property at the corner of Clark and Green streets, known as the Button property. He erected a temporary wooden structure, 50×70 feet in size, at a cost of approximately eight hundred dollars. The structure became known as the “Shanty Church” because of its unimposing appearance. In September, 1869, Bishop McQuaid transferred Father Maher to Scottsville and appointed Dr. Miles J. Loughlin, D.D. as pastor of St. Mary’s.
The Present Church
Dr. Miles J. Loughlin, D.D. came, not a stranger, to his new appointment as pastor, formerly having been an assistant at Holy Family Church and at one time a resident of the city. Dr. Loughlin, both cultured and enthusiastic, was impressed with the needs of his people. The little wooden structure was not capable of accommodating the growing congregation so he purchased the adjoining lot, known as the Cheney property. P.C. Kiely of Brooklyn, an architect skilled in the styling of Gothic churches was hired to draw up plans for the new church. At first it was determined to erect a brick structure; other counsels, however, prevailed. A stone building was deemed more fitting and finally agreed upon. Excavations for the structure began in 1870 and the cornerstone was laid on September 18, 1870.
It was the determination, the courage and self-sacrifice of Dr. Loughlin and his power to inspire the people that created St. Mary’s beautiful Church on the corner of Clark and Green streets. During its construction, Dr. Loughlin toiled and labored as arduously as any workman upon it. For over six years he acted as superintendent, architect, builder and pastor, and scarcely a day during this period ever saw him absent from his labors. So intimately was he connected with it and so untiring did he work that it was said there was not one stone of the entire structure, which he did not select for its place.
St. Mary’s Church was dedicated with imposing ceremonies on April 29, 1877 by Bishop Bernard McQuaid assisted by Bishop Ryan of Buffalo and Bishop Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina. Into the church the delighted people went with gratitude to God, and pride for their fine church building and beloved pastor. The accomplishment of such a work is strong proof of the greatness of the sacrifice and the power of united action in the work of God.
St. Mary’s Church building is an excellent example of modified Gothic architecture, a style characterized by great point and height, with delicacy and precision in design. The edifice, built entirely of gray limestone, is 135 feet long and the ceiling is 65 feet high. The interior, with its clustered columns, its molded arches and finely vaulted ceiling, is consistent and perfectly planned. The unusual center decoration – a star-shaped formation between the transepts – is formed by ribs in the vaulted ceiling. The leaf and flower arrangements at the cornices, on the windows and around the arches are intricate and delicately sculptured. The triple arch, symbolic of the Trinity; the triangular windows, (one over the main altar with the Lamb of God in the center tracery, one in each of the transepts with the dove and the pelican in the center traceries); the beautiful stained glass windows with their jewel-like hues, their leaf and flower drawings characteristic of Gothic churches; the symbolic emblems (the keys, harp, nails, pulpit, crown, cross and chalice) in the traceries all proclaim the beauty and symmetry of this magnificent edifice.
An observer at the time commented, “St. Mary’s people are to be congratulated upon the possession of such a magnificent church. It would, indeed, be hard to find a more beautiful structure. Its interior is art crystallized, its architecture is devotion idealized, and its symmetry is art immortalized. Outside it hangs together like a picture, inside it pours down on you all the grandeur, devotion and magnificence of a cathedral.” Another said, “Art is frozen music, but art and architecture such as St. Mary’s are religion, not frozen, asleep, but with open eyes. Look at it; go into the church, and everything there, the walls, the pillars, the triple arch, the altars, the ceilings, furnishings, all speak mutely but eloquently of God, of Jesus, of Heaven and its inhabitants.” The exterior of the structure with its lofty lines, pinnacles, buttresses, crosses, niches, high-pitched roofs with wrought iron fencing, pointed windows and doors, is as impressive as the interior. The cost of erecting the building amounted to $79,350.40.