The Early Years of St. Mary’s

During its history, McHenry has been home to several different churches. One of the most recognizable has been St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Its started with many of the German settlers in the area who wished to go to church services spoken in their native language. At the time, they had to go up to St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg. In 1894, a group of citizens and trustees got together with the intention of building a church on the east side of town. In May of that year, they bought the brick school house in town for $900 with plans of, at least temporarily, using the building as a church. That August, the Church hosted a picnic, with over 3,000 people attending, and were able to raise over $1,600 to help with construction costs. The event featured many different activities including races, music, refreshments and much more. Later that month the church started hosting religious services in the completed building.

By 1898, the Church sought to construct a building that was a more permanent house of worship. Through fundraising events, subscriptions and other donations, St. Mary’s was able to start building and continued with construction as money came in. In the summer of 1898, St. Mary’s hosted a festival which raised a considerable amount of funds. People came from all over McHenry County as well as Buffalo Grove, Elgin and Chicago. Church construction was finished in February 1899. St. Mary’s was viewed as an impressive structure, and the parishioners very much appreciated the implications of the construction as they finally had their Church. To celebrate the Church hosted a large fair soon after opening. Part of the celebration included the McHenry Military Band, singing by the Elgin Quartet, a large lunch, and other entertainment.

Its architecture is of a clean, gothic style. The building is 105×50. The foundation is of Joliet stone, surmounted by very handsome white brick, from Racine, Wis. It will be heated by steam and have a seating capacity of 550 persons. In the interior there are three aisles. The height of the ceiling, which is arched, rangers from 28 to 36 fee. The interior will be frescoed and finished in a style second to no church in the state.

  • Description from the January 11, 1899 McHenry Plaindealer

After two years of working on the Church, the parishioners spent about $20,000 constructing the building. In just a few years, they had about paid off all of the debt. Church leaders had hoped to have a dedication ceremony performed, but had to delay due to various reasons. St. Mary’s is part of the Diocese in Rockford and the dedication would be run through it. In November 1901, the Diocese was finally able to come east and dedicate the churches of St. John’s in Johnsburg and St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s has always an important part of the community of McHenry. A place were people were married, laid to rest, socialized and a myriad of aspects of one’s everyday life. Even today, St. Mary’s remains one of McHenry’s most recognizable structures.


“A New Church.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 24 Jan. 1894: 5.
“Churches Dedicated.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Nov. 1901: 1.
“Grand Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Aug. 1894: 1.
“New German Church” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 11 Jan. 1899: 1.
“The Brick School House.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 May 1894: 5.
“The Fair Closed” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Fair” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Festival” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 17 Aug. 1898: 5.
“The German Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 29 Aug. 1894: 1.
“To Dedicate Churches.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 31 Oct. 1901: 1.