Although little is known of the history of Catholicism in our area previous to 1847, there were Catholics here in the early part of the century. There are no records of their names or the numbers, but the few who were here were obliged to go to Syracuse to attend Mass, until Rev. Joseph Guerdet, Pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Salina, came to Baldwinsville in 1848. He said the first Mass in the McCabe home, located on the corner of Syracuse and Water Streets. There were twenty people in attendance at that first Sunday Mass. These monthly visits continued for two years and during this time the number attending increased sufficiently enough to warrant the renting of a building on the corner of Canton and Water Streets.
Rev. William McCallion purchased the corner lot of McHarrie and Tappan Streets in 1850. Shortly after the purchase, the duties of the Baldwinsville Parish were turned over to Father James Smith, who added this parish to his other mission churches in Fulton and Phoenix. The parish was growing and the need for a permanent home was on the minds of the parishioners. Dr. Smith put into action a plan to erect a modest frame church on the property that Father McCullion had acquired. The Pendergast family in Phoenix donated lumber for the church and the small group of Catholics residing in the area built most of the structure. They dug the foundation and hauled the stones by horse and wagon. The walls were erected and Fr. Smith saw the completion and dedication of the modest frame church on June 29, 1852.
Nearly 100 Catholics gathered together for the dedication of the first Catholic Church in Baldwinsville by Bishop McClosky of Albany. The Church was dedicated to the glory and service of God and in honor of the Blessed Mother.
St. Mary's remained a mission church until after the Civil War. In March 1867, Rev. P.F. Smith from Utica was appointed the first resident pastor. Now that St. Mary's had their own resident priest, there was need for a parochial residence and Fr. Smith commenced this undertaking. It was erected at the rear of the Church on McHarrie Street.
In 1886, Rev. Patrick Beecham became the new pastor and found the parish encumbered with debt, the buildings in need of repairs and the cemetery lot unpaid. In a few short years, he systemized the financial affairs of the Church and within ten years had paid off the indebtedness. With this task accomplished, he began to make improvements to the church. After enlarging and redecorating the interior of St. Mary's, erecting new altars and stations, he installed the first pipe organ. Statues of St. Anthony and St. Patrick were placed in the church.
Fr. Beecham passed away after serving St. Mary's for nineteen years. Father John McGraw was appointed pastor four months after Fr. Beecham's passing. He was a very religious man and was strict in the observance of church laws and the religious training of the children, but he was kind, witty and understanding. During his twenty-one years of capable administration, the parish prospered and was beautified. After Fr. McGraw left to take up the pastorate of St. Anthony of Padua in Syracuse, Rev. Hippolyte Kirchen assumed the duties as pator of St. Mary's Church.
During Fr. Kirchen's thrity-two years at St. Mary's, he led his parishioners in a preparation campaign for the building of the new church and also the sale of the old St. Mary's Church property on Tappan Street. The new Church was a dream that had come true, a necessity for the growing Catholic population. Plans to start building the present St. Mary's Church began in 1929, but because of the general economic conditions and the decreased earning power of many of the parishioners it was put on hold.
Members of St. Mary's Church has been saving with a building fund for many years to build a new church. Fr. Beecham had left $5,000 in his will to St. Mary's to start a new building fund. During Fr. McGraw's Pastorate, the fund continued to grow and during Fr. Kirchen's service to St. Mary's, the building fund had accumulated the sum of $120,000. Parishioners and their pastor coud see the time for building was at hand.
Various locations were considered before the Wells property on Syracuse Street was purchased for the new church site in 1938. The purchase included a large brick house built in 1869, an old tobacco shed and about four acres of local land. An oil well was located on the property and for several years it was used to heat the rectory.
Fr. Kirchen erected a six-foot cross on the site where the Church altar was the be, and the ground was broken for the new church on June 12, 1939. The cornerstone was blessed and laid on September 19, 1939. One of the features of interest in laying the cornerstone was a little copper box in which was placed a short updated history of the parish, a contemporary newspaper, a few coins, the name of the President of the United States of America, the name of the Pope, the name of the mayor of Baldwinsville, the name of the governor of New York State and the present pastor of St. Mary's Church. This was cemented into the cavity of the cornerstone.
The main altar was made of Botticino Marble, measuring ten feet in length and was a gift of Fr. Kirchen in memory of his sister, Amy. The altar railing was made of Italian Marble and was inlaid with mosaics. It had carved symbols mounted in its panels, a gift from Carl Lager in memory of his wife Theresa. The altar and railing were designed, manufactured and erected under the supervision of the Daprato Studios of New York, Montreal and Italy. They were shipped from Italy to America by freighter. The arched window sashes were built at the Paoline yard on Hiawatha Boulevard in Syracuse and brought to Baldwinsville by track.
The eight windows along the nave of the church depict the life of the Virgin Mary and were gifts of parishioners and friends as memorials to their loved ones. Some of these windows were from the old church. The front entrance to St. Mary's is composed of a central arch with a large Rose Window as the paramount feature. The window portrays a priest, Fr. Kirchen offering a replica of the Church to the Blessed Mother. With Fr. Kirchen are Dr. William Long, a Layman and James Weeks, a soldier in uniform. This was to tell the story of the period in which the church was built. The petals of the window honor the Blessed Virgin under various titles given to her. It was a gift of the men of the Church.
The north nave window at the end of the transept shows the original thirteen colonies of the United States. It was a gift of the women of the church. The sound window shows the twelve counties of Luxembourg and was a gift from Fr. Kirchen. At the sides of the sanctuary are two small semi-circular apses for the side altars. The two side altars were removed from the old St. Mary's church and remounted. The organ from the old church was rebuilt by the Boyle Organ Company of Syracuse and re-installed in the new Church. It was replaced in 1964 by Verdin Alpha Electronic Carillon Chimes.
Above the front center door, a small cross hangs, engraved in the marble is the Latin inscription "Pax Intrantebus" which means "Peace to all who enter". On the arch of the sanctuary is another Latin inscription "Ecce Ego Venio et Habitabo in Medio Tui" which means "Behold I come and shall dwell in your midst". The Stations of the Cross in bas-relief were hand carved by the famous Italian sculptor, Professor Mastrogiovanni. They were placed in small niches around the church. The huge crucifix over the main altar was a gift of Margaret Tuger, a former parishioner, in memory of her family.
The Rev. Daniel Doody, a distinguished son of the parish, blessed the new church at a Pontifical High Mass on August 11, 1940 with 700 people and 20 priests in attendance. In 1951, Fr. Kirchen celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination. The following year the cornerstone for the parish elementary school was laid coinciding with St. Mary's Centennial Celebration. A special Mass was celebrated with Bishop Walter Forey of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse preaching the sermon.