A brief history of
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception
If one were asked to characterize the Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, one would have to use the words “dedicated” and “faithful”. Throughout her history, the parish has displayed a strong faith in God and a dedication to each other time and time again. Although nestled in a suburban countryside, the quiet peace that surrounds her belies the challenges the parish has endured.
Around the year 1812, only a few Catholics lived in the Wooster area. They were settlers primarily from Maryland and Pennsylvania of German and Italian descent. They often faced suspicion, misunderstanding, and discrimination for their beliefs. They began forming in 1817 as a small community for support and prayer. Fr. Edward Fenwick, a missionary from Kentucky (and later the bishop of Cincinnati), occasionally visited and celebrated Mass at the home of the Gallagher family. By 1826 this growing mission Church had become a solid Catholic presence that was visited routinely by various priests from the Cincinnati Diocese.
By 1846 the Church comprised approximately 15 charter families. They took the name and patronage of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, even before the title was officially recognized. They began constructing a two-story brick church for weekly worship on Madison Hill (in the vicinity of Tyler Grain mill). The cornerstone was laid on August 27, 1847.
Around that time the Catholics of Wayne County were incorporated into the newly created Diocese of Cleveland. A pastor was assigned, and parishioners dedicated themselves in meeting the educational needs of their children. In 1864 a schoolhouse was built. One year later 90 pupils were enrolled in the first class at St. Mary School.
One of our more prominent pastors, Fr. Fridolin Ankly, was assigned to St. Mary in October 1865. Under his auspice the Church purchased a new bell, a new organ, ten acres of land for a new cemetery, and eventually enlarged the church to accommodate the growing congregation. Near the end of his fifty-year pastorate the parish comprised 80 families.
Devastating news came on March 19, 1913 when at 2:00 P. M. the church burnt to the ground. It was thought a spark from a passing locomotive lighted the roof. The City Fire Department was unprepared and unable to render much service. But faithful to God in spite of disaster, parishioners celebrated Mass the following Sunday in the school. A meeting was later held to “get sentiment and learn the wishes of the people”. Every man with the exception of one voted to build a new church. Within six months, parishioners had acquired twenty-six of the $29,000 needed to construct a new place of worship. The Bishop of Cleveland permitted a new church to be built, but not at the original location!
On the corner of Beall and Bowman Streets stood the home of August Imgard, a German tailor. According to local lore, in 1847 the Imgards were the first to adorn their home with a Christmas Tree. They began a tradition that continues in many homes today. Their land was purchased and on May 24, 1915 parishioners broke ground for the present church. The Imgard’s Victorian home was moved south and continues to serve as the parish rectory.
The parishioners of St. Mary persevered in their efforts. They raised additional funds to furnish the church, erected the Stations of the Cross, and purchased a convent for the religious sisters teaching the children. On June 16, 1918 the Rt. Rev. John B. Farrelly, Bishop of Cleveland, Ohio, dedicated our church and consecrated her main altar to the greater honor and glory of God.
Throughout this past century the Catholic Church in Wooster remained faithful and dedicated to God in the midst of many changes. The Church witnessed the influx of many immigrants. Another parish was considered to meet the growing needs, but the idea was not agreed upon. A larger school was eventually constructed and the Sisters of St. Dominic taught the parish children.
During civil conflicts, many men and women from the parish dedicated themselves to our country as members of the Armed Services. For many, their Catholic faith was a source of strength, as their relatives would gather in church to pray for their safe return.
Some parishioners followed a call to the priesthood and religious life. In June 1946, William Lee was ordained into the priesthood here in his home parish. A number of women entered religious congregations to take the Gospel message to other cities and lands.