Fr. Anthony Mazeaud, the first pastor at Peshtigo, arrived in 1865. The second pastor was Fr. Peter Pernin who arrived in 1868. With help from his parishioners, the first church was built and nearly completed in the fall of 1871. It burned in the Great Peshtigo Fire that very fall. This terrible fire destroyed the entire town and much of the surrounding areas.
Although the first church went up in flames like the rest of the booming town of Peshtigo (population 1700 and growing quickly) on that fateful night of October 8, 1871, Fr. Perrin did save the church tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament that evening by placing it on a cart and hauling it to the Peshtigo River. Finally, he had to push the wagon into the Peshtigo River and abandon it to save his own life. The next day a survivor who was a St. Mary parishioner asked Fr. Pernin if he had seen the ‘great miracle!’. The priest hurried to the part of river where he had left the tabernacle. There it sat on logs floating on the water, its snowy whiteness a beautiful contrast to the grimy, charred blackness of everything around it. Fr. Perrin left the tabernacle where it was found for two days, “so as to give all the opportunity of seeing it”. The Catholics generally regarded this as a miracle and it was spoken of near and far, attracting great attention. After at least three moves by area priests within upper Wisconsin (approx. 1900-1978) the tabernacle was finally returned to St. Mary Peshtigo largely through the efforts of Fr. Michael Clifford. It can be seen in the church during the winter months and is on loan to the Peshtigo Fire Museum from May through October.
On March 19, 1927 (Feast of St. Joseph) tragedy in the form of fire again struck the parish. It was on this date that the rebuilt church from Fr. Pernin’s era in the 1870s was completely destroyed. Arrangements were made to conduct services at the Congregational Church which at that time was unoccupied on the east side of Peshtigo River. This building was subsequently purchased the latter part of 1927 and parishioner Edmund Dupris was in charge of moving the church utilizing teams of horses. The church moved slowly across the main street bridge to the site of the destroyed church utilizing the same foundation and basement where it still stands today (now the Peshtigo Fire Museum).
In 1952 when Fr. Ed Bujarski was pastor, a five-acre site was purchased for a new church at the corner of South Wood Avenue and Thompson Street. This, our present church, opened in 1956. The adjoining parish school was also built on this site. The present rectory and convent (now utilized as the parish office) were completed in 1957. By the end of 1962, the parish had accumulated a building fund balance of $100,000. They were now prepared to construct a parish hall, meeting room and four additional classrooms. Work progressed and this final phase of building within the parish was completed in 1965, our 100-year anniversary.
In 2001, St. Mary Parish was linked to SS. Joseph and Edward Parish in Walsh although both are still separate parishes. In 2002, Fr. Jim Massert hired Sr. Helen Plum, SSND, to assist him with the two parishes. Sr. Helen became the pastoral leader in 2005 and remains with St. Mary and SS. Joseph & Edward to the present time. St. Mary Parish formally celebrated its 150-Year Anniversary at the 10am Mass with Bishop David Ricken on October 25, 2015.