On February 15, 1865, a newly ordained priest arrived in Stillwater to form a new parish serving German and Swiss immigrants. The first church building was “a pitifully inadequate” structure, formerly used by the Presbyterians, on Third street and Chestnut. In 1871, the parish acquired the property on Fifth street due to the philanthropy of parishioner Joseph Wolf. There they first built a school and the St. Joseph Sisters from St. Paul came to teach. Then they began constructing the present day church building. Finished in 1884, Bishop Ireland consecrated it on July 20th; only the fourth church to be consecrated in Minnesota. The present parsonage was built in 1888. The organ did not arrive until 1901.
The Benedictine Order of St. John’s Abbey at Collegeville, Minnesota, began providing pastors for St. Mary’s parish in 1880. In 1882, two Benedictine Sisters from St. Joseph, Minnesota, took over the teaching responsibility at the school. The parish purchased the house at 416 South Fifth Street for their convent. Benedictines would continue to staff the school until 1948 when Sisters from St. Paul Priory took over the teaching. In 1968, St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s parishes consolidated their elementary schools and located the new school in the school building at St. Michael’s, thus creating the St. Croix Catholic School. The St. Mary’s school building would house the Religious Education program for both parishes.
St. Mary’s church building was renovated and made handicapped accessible in 1989 in time to be rededicated by Bishop Robert Carlson for the parish’s 125th year celebration. That year, 1990, also saw the organ rebuilt. Two years later construction of the parish center connected the church and education building and renovation of the rectory returned it to its original Victorian style.
In 1997, after 117 years of service, the Benedictine Abbey informed St. Mary’s they could no longer provide pastors. Today, two priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s parishes jointly while the St. Croix Catholic School, the Religious Education Program and Youth Ministry are a collaboration of St. Mary’s, St. Michael’s and St. Charles of Bayport.
St. Mary’s continues to provide the sense of a small church and close community. The parish is made up of over 1650 individuals including about 540 families. St. Mary’s community spirit is evident each September when the parish recreates the Wild Rice Festival, a tradition since 1968.