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History of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church

Wilton, Iowa

     The first Mass in Wilton was celebrated by Father Peter Magne in 1857, in a home on the east end of 4th Street owned by John Brown.  During the summer of 1858, under the direction of Father Magne, a small frame church was built on the present church property on East 3rd Street.  From this time until 1863, Father Magne and Father William Emonds came to celebrate Mass in the new church. 

     In 1863 Father Philip Shannahan was appointed as the first resident pastor.  In the years following, the parish was served by Father Patrick McGinnis,                                                                                 Father Philip Laurent from Saint Mathias in Muscatine, and Father John J. McCabe.

                                                                             During the pastorate of Father Quigley in 1867 plans were made for a new brick church.  The church was

                                                                             completed in 1868 under the pastorate of Father P. A. McCabe, who served until 1872.  A new steeple was                                                                                       added in 1900-1901.

                                                                             Over the years the pastors of Saint Mary's, Wilton, reached out to serve Catholics in many surrounding                                                                                           communities including West Liberty, Durant, Tipton, Ardon (once known as "Seventy-Six"), "Nichols Station",

                                                                             "Irish Valley" and "The Settlement."

                                                                              The church building was remodeled several times over the years.  The church interior was remodeled in 1929-                                                                    1930 and again in 1950.  In 1950, the walls of the building were bound together with steel rods and a new tile                                                                                ceiling was installed.  The sanctuary was remodeled with a beautiful oak crucifix and altar.  A terrazzo floor, oak pews and altar railings completed the interior.

     In 1953 the rectory was gutted by fire.  A new brick structure was built on the old foundation.

     A new brick parish hall was completed in 1961.  This building served as a religious education center as well as a meeting place for parish organizations.  In 1966, a lowered tile ceiling was placed in the church.  Reflecting current liturgical thought, a new altar was built from the existing communion railing and was made to face the congregation.  The church was redecorated, including the laying of a red carpet.  Changes and improvements to the church continued during the 1970's.  A reconciliation room was constructed for the sacrament of penance and new church doors were donated.  In 1981, a new choir loft was built and an addition added a sacristy, office, and five classrooms.


     The brick church was razed in 1987 due to structural problems that had grown too expensive to fix.  The parish hall began to be used for worship. 


     In 1991, when Fr. T.J. Reilman departed, Saint Mary's was left without a resident priest.  Sunday Masses continued with the aid of the Redemptorist priests from St. Alphonsus parish in Davenport.  To keep Saint Mary's as a viable, independent parish in the Davenport Diocese, a group of parishioners stepped up to fill the void left by not having a resident priest.  This included preparing the Sunday bulletins, maintaining the parish financial records and paying parish bills, representing Saint Mary's at Diocesan meetings, preparing and filing the many reports required by the Diocese, and generally handling the day-to-day operation of the parish.  The group maintained this effort until the arrival of Fr. Brian Shepley as a resident priest in 1998. 


     Fr. Shepley noted strengths of Saint Mary's in a Catholic Messenger featured Parish Profile.  "The people of the parish, and their faith, is the No. 1 strength.  Saint Mary and the communities of Wilton and Durant have a good ecumenical relationship with other congregations in the area, and responds well to social justice needs in the community."  He also noted that when the parish could have gone under in the mid-1980s, parishioners took active roles in keeping their parish alive and active.  "The parish took ownership and learned how to thrive despite some serious challenges," he added.


     Several attempts to design a new church building were made as the congregation longed to worship in a church.


     In 2003, Father Brian Shepley approached Bishop William Franklin about the need for a new church building.  With the Bishop's blessing, a parish Steering Committee was formed in September 2003.  Christine Reinhart was hired as the liturgical consultant.  Monthly meetings were held for liturgical and community formation.  Larrison and Associates from Davenport was hired to design and estimate costs.  A financial feasibility study followed. 


     In July 2006 all the necessary pieces came together to submit a corporate resolution to the Diocese of Davenport for the construction of a new church.


     Groundbreaking took place on September 8, 2006, the memorial of the Birth of the Blessed Mother. 













     Dedication of the new church was celebrated on June 10, 2007, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus.  2007 also marked the 150th Anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in Wilton.

The congregation was thrilled with the new worship space which seats 350.  Many donors continued to come forward to help pay for the new church and enhance the building and worship space.


     Following the achievement of a new church, Saint Mary's proceeded to evaluate the other buildings and needs of the parish.  It takes a church community to have an active, viable church.   Many parish members provided financial donations plus they donated time and labor over the years to accomplish maintenance and many improvements to buildings and grounds.  Saint Mary's has been blessed with several talented parish members that contributed to our parish campus.    


     In October 2013, a committee was developed to create a master plan for St Mary’s facilities.  The committee reviewed the condition of each of the facilities at Saint Mary’s and developed a plan to renovate the existing hall to accommodate the needed changes.  The hall was constructed in 1958 and had very little renovations completed besides paint and the general maintenance until the planned renovation.


     On September 19, 2014, Saint Mary's had the honor of Timothy Cardinal Dolan celebrating Mass and visiting with the congregation during a reception.  Cardinal Dolan was in Wilton visiting his dear friend, Father Robert Busher.



     In 2015, a storage addition was constructed on the east side of the hall. 


     After much planning, fund raising, and receiving bids, a major hall renovation began in January 2017.  Construction took several months.  Parish contributions plus a very generous estate donation of over $200,000 funded the project.  Construction included storage space, upgraded electrical, upgraded lighting, drywall on side walls, new ceiling, new restrooms, space dedicated to a day chapel, and three classrooms.  The kitchen and dining areas were completely remodeled and updated, including an industrial kitchen hood, new dishwasher, renovated existing cabinets, additional cabinets, and new counter tops.  The stained glass window form the original church was refurbished and incorporated into the hall renovations.  New parking lot lights were installed.  In 2018, new tables and chairs were purchased for the hall.


     In 2020, a ramp to the Altar was constructed, and a concrete parking lot was poured along the south of the church.  In 2021 a concrete parking lot to the north of the church was poured.

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