A HISTORY OF ST. PETER PARISH
The Catholic presence in Saline County began with Irish Catholics from Cork, Donegal and Tipperary who immigrated at the time of the great potato famine in Ireland in 1840. Families named King, Clarkins, Gallagher, Loftus, Moran, Duffy, Fitzimmons, Prior, Mitchell, Flynn, Holmes and Langan settled north of present day Schackelford in what became known as the Irish Settlement. Missionary priests visited the area occasionally, and in 1845, Father Francis DeMaria, SJ. (Society of Jesus) came to give a Mission which was given at the home of William Prior on July 12. The sacramental life of the people was renewed as the priest baptized many children, gave First Communion and officially witnessed and blessed the marriages that had taken place. The community was then served by Jesuit missionary priests sent by Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis. These priests worked a large territory and could only visit once or twice a year. Father Cusack was the first missionary pastor, appointed in 1850. In 1851 the first frame church building was erected at the site of the present day St. Mary's Cemetery. It was named Annunciation Church.
The missionary status of the parish continued until the appointment of Rev. Edward Hamill as resident pastor in 1867. He built a four room rectory near the church. A new stone church was built in 1878 to accommodate the growing population.
In 1868, Father Hamill organized St. Peter's Parish in Marshall which had been growing as a community and numbered about 300 Catholics. The first church was built in 1870 at 367 West Arrow, and Father John T.D. Murphy was the first resident pastor.
Father Hamill continued as pastor at the settlement until his death in 1879. He is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery among those he served so well.
Father James Mulvey succeeded Father Hamill at the Irish Settlement, Annunciation Parish. At his death in 1893 he was buried with his predecessor at St. Mary's Cemetery.
Father John J. Hogan came to Shackelford, and during his nine years there the parish location was changed to Shackelford, and the stone from the little church was used as the foundation of the new Immaculate Conception Church, dedicated by Bishop John J. Hogan in 1893.
Father Michael J. O'Dwyer became pastor of St. Peter's Parish in Marshall in 1882. He started the first school building in 1883, and the Sisters of Loretto began teaching at St. Xavier's Academy in 1884. The Sisters added an auditorium to the building in 1893, and as the parish grew this was used as "Church" while the original building was rebuilt in 1897.
In August 1907, the Loretto Sisters left Marshall and were succeeded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion (the "French Sisters") who operated the school until 1925. They sold the school building back to the parish, and the Sisters of Mercy from Independence, Missouri, came to staff the school.
Mercy Academy was the first co-educational high school in the Kansas City Diocese. The Music Department and Secretarial and Commercial courses were outstanding and gained widespread recognition.
In 1949, a new St. Peter's Grade School was built. A new gymnasium for both grade and high school was built in 1955.
In 1958 a new Mercy High School and Convent was erected. A second floor was added to the grade school, and the gym was enlarged in 1963. This Catholic school complex served all the parishes of Saline County for years. At one time there were some 400 students enrolled.
The changes in the Church and in society in the mid-1960s led to decline of enrollment as costs increased, and in spite of the best efforts of the pastor, Monsignor John Kenny, and the parishioners, Mercy High School had to be closed in 1968. The Mercy Sisters included St. Peter's School in their recall of personnel from smaller schools and in 1971 no longer sent sisters to the parish.
Father James O'Sullivan invited the Presentation Brothers, whose Motherhouse is in Cork, Ireland, to come to work in St. Peter's Parish. With encouragement of Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, the Superior General decided to send 12 Brothers from the Canadian Province to the parish in Marshall. In 1972 these Brothers formed the first house of Presentation Brothers in the United States. Their number steadily declined until there were two Brothers working in the school during their last year of service at St. Peter's School, 1988. The 1988-89 term began with an all-lay staff who are pledged to continue the tradition of a fine Catholic School. Alice Huesgen is the school principal.
As Marshall grew and the parish population with it, the old St. Peter's Church on Arrow was deemed too small for the congregation and unsafe. Father O'Sullivan and the Parish Building Committee decided to relocate to the southwest corner of Marshall where 23 acres of farmland were purchased.
Bishop Michael McAuliffe officiated at groundbreaking ceremonies for the new church September 28, 1975, and the building was dedicated to the worship of God May 1, 1977. The octagon-shaped church seats 550 persons, and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel seats 40. The new complex includes a rectory and Parish Hall. The total cost was $1.2 million, and the debt was reduced to $60,000 in five years. Then the attitude of urgency seemed to die, and school costs have continually risen, so a large debt remains to be paid. But the faithful parishioners are working well at parish support.
Immaculate Conception Parish in Shackelford continued to maintain itself under dedicated pastors through these years. Many youngsters came to the Catholic schools in Marshall. The deep faith life of the families was the source of many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Gradually though, the rural population declined, and the number parish families grew small. This, coupled with the decline in the number of priests in the Jefferson City Diocese, led to the decision to close the Schackelford Parish as of July 30, 1977. The property was sold, and the church building was razed. Bishop McAuliffe asked the people to become part of St. Peter's Parish in Marshall. They have been exemplary parishioners ever since.
Holy Family Parish, in Sweet Springs, Missouri, was established by Bishop Edwin V. O'Hara of Kansas City, Missouri, in the 1940s as a Mission parish served by the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Shackelford. A small frame church served the fluctuating number of Catholic families for years. Due to the ill-heath of Father James Burns at Shackelford, the parish was served by the priests in Marshall. It then was returned to the care of the Shackelford Parish until 1972. The mission was closed for a few years. The number of Catholic families increased again, and the church was reopened under the care of the St. Peter's Parish.
In 1981 an exchange of property was negotiated with Berg Mortuaries of Sweet Springs, and the Church grounds and building were sold to the Bergs in exchange for newer building that had been a funeral chapel and residence. The chapel was remodeled in 1982 and serves today as a fitting place of worship under the patronage of the Holy Family.
St. Peter's Parish continues today as a vital growing Faith Community. Both St. Peter's and Holy Family parishes have Parish Councils, Christian Doctrine programs and adult religious education groups. The larger parish also is supported by the Altar and Rosary Society, the Legion of Mary, St. Peter's School Board, Home and School Association and though officially independent, the Edward Hamill Council 876 of the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of Isabella and the St. Vincent De Paul Society have made themselves very much a part of the life of the parish.
Father Francis Gillgannon, who once served as assistant pastor of St. Peter's from 1954 to 1959, became the 14th pastor of the parish in 1982. He served with the assistance of Sister Rose Maria Birkenfeld, O.S.B., Director of Religious Education.
Father Donald Wallace became pastor in July 1989, and under his direction, the system of parish committees was strengthened. Sister Isabelle Schlereth has served the parish as pastoral minister since January 1991.
Father Louis Dorn, who was an assistant pastor from 1974 to 1978, was appointed pastor of St. Peter's Parish in July 1994. He served the parish in that capacity until July of 2000 when Father Kevin Gormley became pastor.
Sister Ellen Orf C.P.P.S., also joined the parish in July 1994 and serves as religious education director and pastoral minister. Sister has also been appointed Diocesan Coordinator of Hispanic Ministry.
Sister Isabelle Schlereth has served the parish as pastoral minister from January 1991 until her retirement in 1999.
May God continue to bless the people of St. Peter's and Holy Family Parishes with ever increasing gifts of His Holy Spirit.