The first Mass at St. Mary was conducted on the same plot of land the parish calls home today, but in a different building than the current church.
In 1865, Fr. Eugene McGinnity saw the need for Catholics in the Clarks Mills area to organize their own parish. So on Oct. 6, 1865, Fr. McGinnity, in the name of Bishop John Martin Henni of Milwaukee, bought for them Lot No. 1 of the Ira Clark Village Plat. The next day, blacksmith Francis Marlborough and his wife, Anna, purchased Lot No. 2 of the Clark plat. The following week, they gave a warranty deed as a gift to the parish for the new church.
On the lot stood a building used as a store and a hall, but the parish converted it into its first church. A choir loft was built, as were partitions to separate a sacristy. Homemade benches and an altar also were installed.
By 1873, the growing parish couldn’t crowd into the small building so plans for a new church were drawn up at a cost of $50. The old church was converted into a school and eventually torn down. Materials and labor for the new church totaled $3,176.42.
Fr. Richard Klingeisen, who serves both St. Mary in Clarks Mills and St. Michael in Whitelaw, began attending as a 15-year-old after his father purchased a farm in Clarks Mills.
“There’s so much history and there are so many wonderful people here,” Fr. Klingeisen said. “The older members have some great memories of their own reception into the church by way of sacraments, reconciliation, first Communion, marriages. It’s like they want to hand that on to their children and their grandchildren. There’s a pride in the church and seeing their younger relatives have an opportunity to be part of the church that means so much to them.”
Fr. Klingeisen, who joined the Salvatorian Seminary before his family moved to Clarks Mills, is the fourth son of the parish to have been ordained as a priest. The others were Gustave Salutz, Walter Tuschel and Andrew Linsmeyer. However, Fr. Klingeisen is the only one whose ordination ceremony (on June 10, 1972) was held at St. Mary. He was ordained by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo.
Since Fr. Klingeisen’s ordination, the church has undergone some renovations, most notably in 1973, when a new entrance was added outside the front of the building. Eight years later, the top of the tower was rebuilt and a new cross was placed atop the steeple. In 1991, major renovations took place inside the church.