The origin of St. Mary's parish dates back to 1854. The mission at Waverly was opened by a Father Tracy in that year. At first there was not a resident pastor, and for ten or twelve years the mission was attended by priests from neighboring towns. Mass was celebrated for the first time in this community by Father Tracy in the home of William 0. Smith, which occupied the site where the Wile & Maaser furniture store now stands. The parish was formally organized by a Father McLaughlin, of Davenport, in 1865, who gave it the name of St. Mary's.

The earliest Catholic residents in Waverly were John J. Smith, William 0. Smith, Lorenz Selbig, Charles Fosselmann, Mrs. Tyrrell, Nicholas Cavanagh, Wendeline and Frederick Cretzmeyer. These people organized a parish society in 1865, and with the funds which they raised they bought vestments, a missal, and other requisites for carrying on divine worship. William 0. Smith organized and taught the first Catholic Sunday school, which met in his home every Sunday morning at 10:00 o'clock.

For some years services were held in the school house which stood on the present site of the Washington school on the west side of the river; then for a short time in the court house. About 1860 Father John Shields came as the first resident pastor. He immediately took steps toward the construction of a church, and the foundation for the old brick church was laid during his pastorate. He died while the work was in progress, and the church was completed by his successor, Father Murphy, in 1868. Its cost was $6000. Father Shields was buried in the old churchyard, but about four years ago his remains were moved to St. Mary's cemetery, where they were placed beside the body of Father Gilchrist, who died in 1897, while pastor of this parish.

The first episcopal visitation of the parish was made in 1870, by Bishop John Hennessey, who dedicated the church and administered confirmation.

In 1882 Father Bernard W. Coyle was appointed pastor. He remained until 1891, during which time he built the convent school and the parochial residence; he also founded a mission at Shell Rock and built the church there.

In 1912 Father Dennis Lundon, the present pastor, was appointed to Waverly. The old church was now deemed inadequate to meet the needs of the parish, and in 1912-1913 the splendid new church was built at the corner of Downing and State streets, at a cost of $40,000. In 1917 a modern parochial residence was constructed on the grounds adjoining the church.

Last updated 4/9/16
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Bremer County, Iowa
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Last updated 10/12/13
Pioneer Days of Bremer County -- Chapter IV