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With roots as far back as the 1840s when local Catholics invited a priest to say Mass in an Aurora home, St. Mary’s is a testimony of the faith and determination of Roman Catholics in an area fertile with the missionary work of Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. The parish was officially founded in 1857 according to information presented by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Presumably, the name, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, was assigned by the bishop; although that is the official name, the parish has been fondly known always as “St. Mary’s.”


Early priests came sporadically from Cincinnati, and the community’s ties with the Queen City were strong despite the fact that Aurora was part of the Diocese of Vincennes which was comprised of the entire state of Indiana and about half of Illinois. As early as 1849 the construction of a church was discussed; the first church building near the foot of Marketm
Street was built in 1857 probably by the German and Irish immigrants who made up the membership. That building also served as school; Catholic students had had to attend school at St. Lawrence prior to the building of the first church building. (St. Mary’s sold the site of the first church building to Thomas Gaff who later built Crescent Brewery at the
location. The caverns of that brewery still remain today.)

The History of Our Parish
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In a rare joint effort by Germans and Irish, Saint Mary’s grew, and by 1863 the congregation needed a bigger church. The lots were purchased on Fourth Street, and the present church building was finished in 1864. St. Mary’s has traditionally been a middle class parish with many of the early Irish parishioners earning their livings working on the railroad and in a variety of local entrepreneurial trades. Not until the early part of the 20th
century was the debt paid for the construction of the church, its steeple (finished in 1876, bells cast in 1868), the rectory, the sisters’ convent, and the school building (constructed from brick salvaged from the original church building).


Originally staffed by Sisters of Providence, the school was turned over to the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg in 1880. Their service lasted until 1996 when the last teaching sister retired. Under the auspices of the Franciscans, Saint Mary’s ran a successful parochial school (and even a high school until 1937); after 1985 the school was then operated by a dedicated staff of lay men and women until 2022 when it was merged with the parish school in Lawrenceburg. Today a preschool is operated by the
parish in the former St. Mary’s School building.

In the 1940s the parish had begun to raise money for a new school building. However, Father Spaulding (pastor from 1947-1952) decided that a new rectory was an urgent need, and the building fund was used to build a large rectory east of and attached to the church building. Some parishioners felt that such a fine home was not necessary, but Father
Spaulding’s argument was that the archbishop might need to stay overnight in Aurora. The rectory was finished in 1950 and was used as a home for pastors until 1993. At that time the home began to be used as a parish office, and the parish rented apartments and homes for the pastor.


Beginning in 2021 St. Mary’s and all parishes in Dearborn County were pastored by Fathers Daniel Mahan and Jonathan Meyer, pastors in solidum; in 2023 Fathers John Hollowell and Jonathan Meyer were appointed pastors in solidum. Their residence is the rectory at St. Teresa
Benedicta of the Cross in Bright.

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A generous bequest by parishioner John Kirby in the late 1950s finally allowed the parish to build a new school building in the summer of 1959 without disrupting the school schedule. Mr. Kirby also  bequeathed to the parish his Fifth Street home which was redesigned into a comfortable convent for the sisters. Later the Kirby home served the school as a library and art room and provided a home for St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, an outreach program operated by volunteers and through donations by parishioners and members of Aurora First United
Methodist Church. Currently the home continues to serve as headquarters for our St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, as meeting space for our religious education program, and as the meeting site for Aurora Knights of
Columbus Council.

In the early 1980s the need for a parish center became evident. Through the generosity of parishioners, a large building housing a gymnasium, a kitchen, locker rooms, a classroom, meeting room, and storage areas was completed in 1982. The Activity Center serves the parish as a gathering place and is used often by the parish community, particularly in the bereavement ministry in service through funeral meals.

 

The site had once provided parish parking, and partly due to the generosity of our local Knights of Columbus, the parish was able to acquire two lots catty-cornered to the church for parking (Fourth and Judiciary Streets).


Until 2022, the main ministry of outreach was our parish school; both religious education and community service (through the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry) continue to be key elements of parish life.  Membership includes just under four hundred households in a territory
which is comprised of a good portion of southern Dearborn County, all of Ohio County, and a portion of Switzerland County – the largest parish territory in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.


The Lord has called a number of men from Saint Mary’s to serve in the priesthood and men and women who joined a variety of religious orders. We proudly recognize our parish sons Father Pius Klein, OSB, a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, and also Father John Meyer, currently the pastor of St. Mary’s in Greensburg. Vocation awareness and prayer
for an increase in good vocations to the priesthood and religious life are an important part of every day at Saint Mary’s.

 

On February 14, 2024, Ash Wednesday, Lourdes Chapel opened in the former convent (John Kirby house) at 210 Fifth Street as a Perpetual Adoration Chapel.  Following a standing-room-only evening Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was processed to the chapel accompanied by over a dozen altar servers, members of the Knights of Columbus, and a large number of the faithful.  The chapel is housed in the same room used by the Oldenburg Franciscan sisters (who ministered at St. Mary’s School when the house was used as the parish convent) and also features a parish library in an adjacent room.  

 

Through the years, like Roman Catholics in parishes around the world, we have adapted to new ideas and approaches brought to us by the men assigned as our pastors.  Like all of us, they have brought their own personal strengths and weaknesses to our journey in faith.  As we face the future today, we entrust our care to Almighty God with confidence that the way He uses us will help to build the kingdom for all.

              Compiled over time by

J.D. Moritz

Lucille Neff

Helen Ullrich     

 & Jim Waldon

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