St. Peter Catholic Church – Since 1870
Celebrating 150 Years
The present-day St. Peter’s Parish is the result of the evolution and merging of several congregations in Saline County beginning with Irish Catholics from Cork, Donegal and Tipperary Counties who immigrated to Missouri at the time of the great Irish potato famine in the 1840s. Immigrant’s figure significantly in the history of Missouri. Most of Missouri’s immigrants came for economic reasons, pushed from their homes by land shortages, crop failures, poor wages or faltering economies and were pulled to Missouri because of opportunities here – for jobs, land or a new beginning. By 1860, more than 43,000 Irish had immigrated to Missouri. While most took up residence in St. Louis, a number set up small Irish enclaves in rural Missouri. It is here that St. Peter’s story begins.
These families settled north of present-day Shackelford, in what became known as the Irish Settlement. The l l
leading families of this community were the Fitzsimmons, Loftus, Prior, Caffery and Clarkin families. Missionary
priests visited the area occasionally, and on July 12, 1845, Father Francis DeMaria, SJ. (Society of Jesus) gave a
Mission at the home of William Prior. At that visit, Fr. DeMaria baptized many children, gave First Communion, and
officially witnessed and blessed the marriages that had taken place.
Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis sent Jesuit priests to minister to the spiritual needs of the Catholics in
the western part of Missouri and act as missionary pastors. These priests worked a large territory and could only
visit a few times a year, remaining for a few days or weeks. The book Past and Present of Saline County, Missouri
(1910) by Hon.Wm. Barclay Napton, lists among those visiting priests the Rev. James Kinney, S.J., Rev. James
Murphy, Rev. Thomas Cusack, Rev. Bernard Donnelly, and Rev. Joseph Meister. In 1850, Father Cusack oversaw the
construction of the first Catholic church building erected on the site of the present-day Mount St. Mary's Cemetery
in Shackelford. Annunciation Church was completed in 1851 but the parish remained in missionary status until
In 1867 the Very Rev. Edward Hamill, known as the “pioneer priest of Missouri”, was appointed the first resident
pastor. He previously was pastor in Lexington, Missouri. He built a four-room rectory near Annunciation Church and
in 1878 a new stone church was built to accommodate the growing Catholic population. That church remained until
1893. Father Hamill continued as pastor at the settlement until his death in 1889 and is buried at St. Mary's
Cemetery among those he served so well. His obituary in the Kansas City Times states that Fr. Hamill “has established more churches than any man in the state.” It also states that in “the Irish settlement at Shackelford, where he has been stationed for a number of years, there is no distinction between Catholic and Protestant and he was universally beloved by all.”
Father James Mulvey succeeded Father Hamill at the Annunciation Parish in 1889. At his death in 1893 he was buried with his predecessor at Mount St. Mary's Cemetery. Father John J. Hogan came to Shackelford in 1893 and moved the church into Shackelford. The stones used to build the little Annunciation Church were used in a fitting act of symbolism as the foundation stones for a new church, named Immaculate Conception Church, that was dedicated by Bishop John J. Hogan, first bishop of Kansas City, later that same year.
St. Peter’s evolves…
In 1868, Father Hamill organized St. Peter's Parish in Marshall, a community to the east of Shackelford and the county seat, which was named after Chief Justice John Marshall. Marshall had been growing as a community and numbered about 300 Catholics by this time. Their first church was built in 1870 at 367 West Arrow, and Father John T.D. Murphy was the
first resident pastor. That church was rebuilt in1897.
Father Michael J. O'Dwyer, an enterprising and energetic immigrant from County Limerick,
Ireland, became pastor of St. Peter's Parish in Marshall in 1882. He built the first school
building in 1883, and brought the Sisters of Loretto to begin teaching in what was called
St. Xavier's Academy in 1884. The parish continued growing and the Sisters added an
auditorium to the building in 1893. This was used as the Church while the original church
building was rebuilt in 1897.
Fr. Francis O’Neill followed as pastor In August 1917, the Loretto Sisters left Marshall and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion (the "French Sisters") purchased the school. Twenty-five sisters moved to Marshall and operated the school as the Academy of Our Lady of Sion, a
school for girls. Not only did the sisters teach classes, but they also cared for the
school as well, washing and waxing the floors, cooking, laundry, etc. They also
cared for the needs of the children and parishioners during the flu pandemic of
1918-1919. Four of the original sisters died during the pandemic and are interred
in Ridge Park Cemetery. The Sisters of Notre Dame sold the school building back
to the parish in 1925, and the Sisters of Mercy from Independence, Missouri,
came to staff the school which they renamed Mercy Academy.
Mercy Academy was the first co-educational high school in the Kansas City Diocese. The Music Department and Secretarial and Commercial courses were well regarded for the education they provided and gained widespread recognition. In 1949, St. Peter's Grade School was built and a new gymnasium for both the grade school 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.
Changes in the Church and in society in the mid-1960s led to a decline in
enrollment. As costs increased, and despite the best efforts of then pastor
Monsignor John Kenny and the parishioners, Mercy High School had to be closed
in 1968. By 1971, the Sisters of Mercy felt it necessary to recall personnel from the
smaller schools they were serving and no longer sent sisters to the parish.
Monsignor Kenny was followed by Fr. James O’Sullivan who invited the Presentation Brothers,
whose headquarters is in Cork, Ireland, to assume teaching responsibilities in St. Peter's Parish.
With the encouragement of Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, the Superior General decided to send
twelve members of the order from the Canadian Province to Marshall. In 1972 these brothers
formed the first house of Presentation Brothers in the United States. Their numbers unfortunately
declined until there were only two Brothers still teaching at St. Peter's School in 1988. The 1988-89
term began with an all-lay staff who pledged to continue the tradition of a fine Catholic education.
The City of Marshall grew during this period and so did the number of
parishioners at St. Peter’s. As a result, the original St. Peter’s Church on Arrow
Street was deemed to be too small and unsafe for the congregation. Under
the leadership of Fr. O’Sullivan, the parish building committee purchased 23
acres of farmland in the southwest corner of Marshall where a new St. Peter’s
could be constructed.
Bishop Michael McAuliffe officiated at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new church om September 28, 1975, and the building was consecrated to the worship of God on May 1, 1977. The octagon-shaped church seats 550 people, and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel seats 40. The church campus includes a rectory and Parish Hall.
From many, one…
Immaculate Conception Parish in Shackelford continued to exist thanks to the leadership of dedicated pastors. 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 of parish families with it. With the decline in the number of priests in the Jefferson City Diocese, the decision to close the Shackelford Parish was made in 1977. Bishop McAuliffe asked the people to become part of St. Peter's Parish in Marshall and the property was sold, and the church building was razed.
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 of Shackelford, the parish was also served by the priests in Marshall. It was then returned to the care of the Shackelford Parish until 1972 when it was closed due to the low number of parishioners at that time. The number of Catholic families increased again, and the church was reopened, this time under the care of St. Peter's Parish. In 1981, the Church and its grounds were sold to Berg Mortuaries in exchange for a newer building that had been a funeral chapel and residence. The building was remodeled in 1982 and today serves as a fitting place of worship dedicated to the Holy Family.
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. He was assisted by Sister Isabelle Schlereth who served as pastoral minister from 1991 to 1999.
Father Louis Dorn, who was an assistant pastor from 1974 to 1978, was appointed pastor of St. Peter's Parish in July
of 1994. He served the parish in that capacity until July of 2000 when Father Kevin Gormley became pastor. Fr. Dorn
was assisted by Sister Ellen Orf, C.P.P.S., who served as religious education coordinator and pastoral minister.
Fr. Gormley served from July 2000 until his retirement in 2015. Fr. Gormley was followed by Fr. Robert
Duesdiecker. Fr. Tom Alber served as associate pastor from 2007 until 2021. Fr. Mark Smith served as pastor
from 2017 until 2021. Our present pastor is Fr. Frances Doyle who is assisted by Associate Pastor Fr.
In 2021 we welcomed St. Joseph Church in Slater to our extended parish family. The pastor and associate
pastor at St. Peter’s now also say Mass at St. Joseph’s and Holy Family Churches.
In recent years we have seen a large influx of Hispanic immigrants to the Marshall community and our parish. Our Hispanic parishioners come from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela and make up a third of our total parishioners. Additionally, we have parishioners from the Philippines and Micronesia. These diverse groups have made themselves a very active part of our parish family.
St. Peter's Parish continues today as a vital growing Faith Community. St. Peter's, Holy Family and St. Joseph parishes have Parish Councils, RCIA programs and religious education groups. The larger parish is also 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.
Fr. Mark Smith Fr. Francis Doyle Fr. Christopher Aubuchon