A History of St. Mary's Catholic Church
In the 1890s, there were very few Catholics in Anacortes. They were: Mrs. Davis, Miss Adelaide Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Benn, Mrs. Flynn, Mr. & Mrs. Rodgers, Mr. Lathrop, and Captain Doyle. Mass was said in the homes of Anacortes Catholics when a missionary priest was available. Due to a lack of priests at this time, Anacortes Catholics would sometimes have to wait months in between Masses. Miss Adelaide Davis had the children meet at her house for Catechism classes. Each year, the class would travel to La Conner to receive the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. The first noted celebration of these two sacraments was on November 17, 1895. On this occasion, the First Communicants, Confirmands, and their families had to leave Anacortes at 5:00am to travel two and a half hours by hay wagon to La Conner. Upon arrival they would change into their Sunday best at a local hotel. During Lent, the few Catholic families would join together on Wednesday and Fridays to say the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, much the same way we do today.
In 1895, Adelaide Davis saw the need for a small church hall to be used for Mass and Catechism classes, so she approached her mother and Mrs. Flynn with this idea. Adelaide approached her father, Mr. Davis, a non-catholic, who was a contractor asking if he could build such a place. He agreed, providing the ladies could acquire a parcel of land and about $60.00 in lumber. Enthused with the idea of having their own church hall, the ladies approached the lumber mills who responded so generously with donations of both wood and cash that the ladies decided to waste no time. Mr. Lathrop, a Catholic and local rancher, donated a piece of land to house the church hall. This particular piece of land was not ideal for a church, however, so they promptly sold it for a profit after acquiring a lot on 7th Avenue from the great Northern Railway and used those funds to buy the adjacent lot. It was actually Mr. Lathrop who suggested that the church be named St. Mary's. He agreed to live on bread and water alone so that he could purchase the statue of the Virgin Mary. In actuality, the statue ended up costing about $25.00 more than Mr. Lathrop had expected, but Adelaide didn't have the heart to tell him he had to cough up additional funds, so the Catholic ladies covered the additional amount amongst themselves.
After securing a lot for their church hall, the ladies enthusiasm was so great that they took to selling book subscriptions. The ladies covered all the logging and lumber camps in the area, sometimes traveling as far as Seattle or Bellingham and walking miles a day on foot. During this time, in 1897, Fr. Metz created the Altar Society, which would later become many parish guilds including the Star of the Sea Guild and the Holy Family Guild which would later merge to become the Belles of St. Mary's. By 1900, Fr. Peter LaRoux was the missionary priest for Anacortes.While thoroughly impressed with the ladies' efforts thus far, he informed them that it had to be a church, not just a hall. He also insisted that they have the entire amount of money saved, about $1,500.00, before construction could begin. Mr. Davis drew plans for a small church instead of a hall, and these plans were approved by Fr. LaRoux.The very first St. Mary's church was completed in 1904, almost ten years after the idea was conceived by Adelaide.
The Early 1900s
When Fr. Gustave Treunet was appointed pastor of St. Mary's in 1910, he immediately saw the need for a larger church. He did not want to dive into such a major project right way, however, but he did arrange for work to begin on a basement of a larger church. In 1911, the first rectory was built to be the home of Fr. Treunet. Also in 1911, the first mission was held by visiting priest Geo Mehoney. In 1912, the church's bell was donated by J. J. Gorman of Gorman Fishing company, a non-Catholic. The bell would later be moved to St. Edward's Seminary. In 1915, the Last Supper scene was donated and installed by the Rodgers family. This is the very same Last Supper that adorns our altar today, meaning it is about a century old! In 1916, the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto was created. The statue of St. Bernadette was donated by Captain Doyle. Flowers and shrubs were planted in the Grotto and a rustic archway allowed entrance to an outdoor chapel ideal for meditation and prayer. The outside altar for the feast of Corpus Christi was located there, and weather permitting, a procession with the blessed sacrament proceeded to this location for Benediction. During the 38 years, St. Mary's was lucky enough to have Fr. Treunet as Pastor, the little church blossomed into a full-fledged parish with 500 members, Catechism classes of 85 students, and Knights of Columbus Council # 3611.
Fr. Treuent celebrated his Silver Jubilee, 25 years of Priesthood, in 1921 in the now-completed basement Joan of Arc Hall. Tragedy struck on January 11, 1924 when the little church caught fire and burned “Do not worry," Fr. Treunet said, "Our church building may be burned, but the church cannot be destroyed. Though the church was burned, we have our hall; if the hall is burned, I shall say Mass in my house; if the house is burned, we shall have Mass outdoors." For the next five years, Mass was said in the St. Joan of Arc Hall until a new church was completed. During this time, Fr. Treunet had to borrow vestments and a chalice from neighboring churches. It wasn't until 1927 that the budget allowed for a new church, designed by Fr. Treunet in the Gothic style. The church was finished in 1929 and dedicated by Bishop O'Dea. Confirmation was also administered on this date, with a large reception in the basement hall. Fr. Treunet gifted the church with a statue of St. Therese, the Little Flower to honor the occasion. This statue currently resides in our church today.
The mid 1900s:
Between 1929 and 1945, the Great Depression took its toll on St. Mary’s parish. There were times when the pastor’s salary was non-existent and most of the time was far less than that allowed by the Archdiocese. Being the kind and genial man he was, Fr. Treunet never complained. In 1946, Father Treunet celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Priesthood marked by the first parish and city-wide celebration in a long time. All citizens of Anacortes were invited, because many regarded him highly and found in him a friend. After Fr.Treunet’s death in 1948, St. Mary’s went through several priests over the next few years: Fr. Andrew Squier, Fr. Theodore Sullivan, Fr. Donald Conger, and Fr. Paul Auer.
Fr. Auer was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s in 1955. At this time, all parishioners hoped to have a complete parish plant with a parochial school, which was the object of everyone’s generosity. During the year 1955, the parish managed to raise $12,000.00 to purchase land to house the new school. The following year, 8 acres of land were purchased on Hillcrest Drive to be the future site of a parish school. Additional acreage was purchased later by the Auer Family. In 1960, the parish celebrated its Golden Anniversary. The spiritual record for the first 50 years of St. Mary’s is impressive: 321 marriages, 1475 baptisms, and 195 converts entered the church. Finally, in 1965, work began on St. Mary’s School. In 1968, the school was completed and dedicated by Bishop O'Dea. Although it never became an actual school due to a lack of religious women to teach, the building was used for Sunday School classes, weekly bible study, and parish-wide festivals, much like it is used today. The following groups, which together once formed the Altar Society, used the classrooms to conduct meetings: St. Ann’s Guild, Lady of Fatima Guild, St. Anthony’s Guild, Sacred Heart Guild, St. Jude’s Guild, St. Theresa’s Guild, Knights of Columbus, Star of the Sea Guild, Holy Family Guild, and the Holy Name Society.
St. Mary’s was blessed with several religious women including Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, who actually grew up in St. Mary's parish. She taught Catechism classes on Sundays, but in her free time she committed herself to the arts. She is recognized as one the leading American Paper-Cutters. Throughout her lifetime she wrote 18 different books, most of them for children, which she illustrated herself. Today, Sister's literary and artistic works are known world-wide.
The Late 1900s
In 1972, the majority of parishioners (75%) agreed that all savings should go toward a new church and rectory at the Hillcrest Drive location rather than modernizing the old church. A complete parish plant had many pros: increased availability of a Priest, increased security, a larger outdoor space, more adequate parking, and it would help parishioners follow the Church’s mission: to build and evangelize. Over the next three years, plans were meticulously drawn up for the new church.
In 1976, Fr. Jay Shanahan succeeded Fr. Auer when he took a much needed sabbatical. In 1977, Fr. Ogrodowski, affectionately known as "Fr. O," was named Pastor of St. Mary’s. Under Fr. Ogrodowski’s leadership, construction began on the new church and rectory in 1978. Additional funds were needed, so the old church on 7th Street was sold and is now a Croatian Club. Fr. Auer purchased the old Rectory and used it as his residence. He bequeathed it to the parish in his last Will and Testament. The new church building was dedicated by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen on May 13, 1979. Fr. “O” retired in 1981 and the parish was handed over to Fr. McLean. Shortly thereafter, Fr. Clenaghan was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s in 1987. The parish parish celebrated it's 75th anniversary in 1990 by commissioning the Statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace to be placed on the grounds. In 1993, Fr. Harris was named pastor of St. Mary’s. The School was renamed the Father Auer Center to commemorate Fr. Auer’s Golden Jubilee in 1995. Fr. Auer remained in the parish and served as he was needed until he was called home to God on Sept. 25th, 2000.
Fr. Harris is perhaps most famous for the Domus Dei Project, a $1.3m project to upgrade the church building completed 2004. When Fr. Harris was moved to another parish in 2006, Fr. Vu Tran became the Pastor of St. Mary's. In 2010, the parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary. In honor of this occasion, Fr. Vu commissioned a Memorial Wall commemorating the lives of our deceased parishioners.