St. Mary's Parish
St. Mary's Catholic Church -- 600 Avenue B Sterling, IL 61081 -- Call 815-625-0640 -- Rev. James Keenan- Pastor

St. Mary's Church History

The earliest Catholics in Sterling were attended by Priests from Dixon.  As early as 1854, Father James Fitzgerald, the resident pastor in Dixon, came to St. Mary’s, known then as St. Patrick’s.  He was succeeded two years later by Father Thomas Kennedy, who celebrated Mass in Sterling three or four times a year, in a log cabin in the east end of town.

Father Michael Ford was appointed to Dixon in April, 1859, with Sterling as a mission.  In the 1860’s, Father William Herbert came to Sterling and remained for some time, although there are no parish records to indicate a separation from the Dixon parish until June, 1863.  At that time, Father John Daly was appointed the first resident pastor of Sterling by Bishop Duggan of Chicago.  In 1865, he directed the building of a brick church and rectory.

In 1876, the parish lost its property, and it was necessary for Bishop Foley to purchase the old Presbyterian Church.  Father Patrick McMahon became pastor in 1889.  During his time, Calvary Cemetery was purchased.

In October, 1893, Msgr. James J. Bennett came to Sterling as Pastor.  During his pastorate, the old Presbyterian Church was sold to the public school system, and the present church and rectory were built and dedicated on October 15, 1898.  At this time, the parish name was changed to St. Mary’s.

Father Andrew Burns was appointed as pastor on June 1, 1909, beginning an amazing period as pastor and churchman in Sterling.  The parochial school was built in 1913 at a cost of $70, 000.  This building has been torn down.  The Community High School was built in 1922 at a cost of $140,000.  This building served as the grade school from 1982 to its demolition in June, 1997.

On the 50th anniversary of our Church, new marble altars were dedicated on October 2, 1948.  The Newman Center, which houses a gymnasium, recreation room and class rooms, was dedicated on October 27, 1952.  After serving our parish for nearly half a century, Monsignor Burns died on March 28, 1957.

Father Everett Hiller replaced Msgr. Green in January of 1969.  During his administration, the church was completely renovated.

Father William Knott was appointed pastor on October 1, 1973.  During his pastorate, he visited 1,400 parishioners personally in their homes.  He also had the church air conditioned.

Father Geoffrey Wirth was the next pastor of St. Mary’s.  During his pastorate, there were several major programs that included a new pipe organ being installed in the church in 1980.  A parish center, which contains a small Chapel for daily liturgies, a large hall and kitchen, and all the parish offices was built and dedicated in May of 1984.

Father Thomas Bales was appointed as pastor in August, 1987.  The interior of the church was again redecorated and a new roof was installed in 1993.  Construction of the new three story grade school began in October, 1996.  It houses the current grade school and middle school from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade for St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart parishes.  The cost of the school was approximately $3,200,000.

The structure of the church is gothic.  In the various remodelings over its history, the type and age of the church were considered as to not destroy its uniqueness.  It contains many very valuable and beautiful stained glass windows.  More importantly, the structures and buildings were erected so that the faith of our parish assembly might be enriched and grow in the love of God and the service of our community.