The actual name of St. Mary’s is The Church of the Immaculate Conception. (This is the same title that the Blessed Virgin Mary used to identify herself to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”) The first St. Mary’s was built for the German Catholic community in Alton in May 1859. This two-story brick structure was unfortunately destroyed by a tornado in June 1860.
This present building is actually the third St. Mary’s. It was completed in the summer of 1895. It measures approximately 150’ in length and 65’ in width. The tower is about 96’ high. Candles in sconces along the side walls and crosses inscribed in the marble on either side of the entranceway signify it as being a consecrated church. The four “Bells of St. Mary’s” were cast in St. Louis in the early 1880’s and are dedicated, in ascending order of size, to St. Joseph, the Immaculate Conception, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. John the Apostle.
Church altars normally contain a relic(s) of one of the martyrs of the Church. Our high altar contains the relics of the holy martyrs Boniface (he is Patron Saint of Germany) and Maria Anna Jesus de Paradis. The high altar also includes a statue of St. Aloysius Gonzaga on the left and of St. Clare on the right. St. Aloysius is patron saint of youths and therefore was likely installed as a tribute to the young people of the parish. St. Clare is displayed on our altar because of her great devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She is shown holding a “monstrance” (an ornate receptacle for displaying the Holy Eucharist).
St. Mary’s has always been blessed with dedicated pastors. You will still hear people speak with great affection of Monsignor James A. Suddes. Msgr. Suddes was pastor of St. Mary’s from 1954 – 1987 (he also served as assistant pastor at St. Mary’s from 1938 to 1947). For 33 years Monsignor focused on the individuals and families under his care, tending to their spiritual needs selflessly and making sure their children were properly educated. He knew everyone by name. Msgr. Suddes passed away in 1997. Diocesan priests always served St. Mary’s until 1987 when priests and brothers of the religious community of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary were called to serve our parish (the Oblates’ central base in the United States is in Boston). Fr. Jim Walther, O.M.V., is presently St. Mary’s 11th pastor and began serving in this position in January 2002.
Music has always been integral to the history of St. Mary’s. At no time throughout its history has St. Mary’s been without a choir. At some points in time it boasted of several choirs. In 1923 St. Mary’s was most fortunate in securing the services of Professor Max Hiendlmayr upon his arrival from Germany in 1923. He served in this position throughout the rest of his life. For many years he was not only the organist, but also the choir director and composer of much of its music. Most noted among his compositions was his “Mass of the Immaculate Conception,” based on the theme of Shubert’s Ave Maria. He died in 1972. Ken and Jean Conrady then served for 33 years as organist and choir director. They recently retired, but still regularly lend their services to our liturgies. Our new choir director is Mrs. Anna Haine and she is assisted by several dedicated organists and pianists. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is always a glorious experience with our choir and musicians.
Located directly outside and behind our church is a small replica of the Grotto in Lourdes, France, where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. Our grotto was built and dedicated to all those in the parish who served in World War II. At certain times of the year, St. Mary’s holds communal rosary services at the Grotto, and each May the children of St Mary’s “crown” this statue of our Mother at the grotto.