About St. Mary's

In October 1864 the cornerstone for St. Marys German Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was laid; on October 30, 1870, the church was dedicated. Construction began in August 2002 on major renovations. As Memphis lies in the heart of the New Madrid fault, modifications were needed for earthquake resistance, as well as protection from wind damage.

St. Marys Soup Kitchen began when the Franciscans took charge in 1870. St. Marys opened the first parochial high school in Tennessee in 1887 and in 1889 started a night school providing an opportunity for those who worked to further their education. In 1912, St. Marys was first again with a kindergarten for children four to six years of age. Before World War II, St. Marys always participated in the Cotton Carnival parade, its float won first place nine out of ten years.

The altars are handmade of wood shipped from Germany. The carved pews, the ornate confessional, and the frames of the Stations of the Cross were mostly made by Franciscan brothers who traveled from place to place wherever the Franciscans settled to build church furnishings on site.

Following World War II, major shifts in Memphis' population caused St. Marys to lose most of her territorial parishioners. Urban renewal completely changed downtown Memphis and made St. Marys future look bleak indeed.

However, by the turn of the 20th century, descendants of the original parishioners began to return from all over the city to worship. Today, the parish is made up of people from all areas of Greater Memphis, including Mississippi and Arkansas. As a result of the emphasis of rebuilding downtown Memphis, and an increased number of tourists to the area, the future of St. Marys is very bright.

The Sanctuary

The original main altar was erected about 1898; the side altars were installed along with a beautiful hand-carved matching altar rail in 1907. The present sections of the wrought iron altar rail in front of the side altars were installed in 1935. The present main altar was installed in the 1960s during Vatican II. The tile floor in the sanctuary was installed in 1918.

The Stained Glass Windows

The original windows in the church were all-over geometric patterns as in the two side windows nearest the main entrance. These original windows were made in Munich, Germany, and the picture portions were designed and installed in 1904 by Emil Frei of St. Louis, Missouri. The pictures in the windows illustrate events in the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the parishs patron saint.

The Statues

The statues throughout the sanctuary date from 1908. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is flanked by Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph with the infant Jesus on the main altar. On the south (left) side altar of the church stand St. Rose of Lima; St. Clare, and St. Theresa. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Louis of France are on the north (right) altar. Most of the indoor statues are cast plaster, painted and gold leafed.

In the grotto, St. Bernadette kneels before the Blessed Mother, and on brackets on either side of the doorway stand St. Anne with child Mary and St. Jude. On the floor is another statue of St. Anthony de Padua. The outdoor statues are metal as is the large figure of Mary in the grotto.

The Stations of the Cross

The present Stations of the Cross were canonically erected in 1905. Brother Leonard Darcheid made the frames, which match the design of the altars. The bas-relief figures are polychrome cast metal and tremendously heavy.

Our Secret Jewel: The Grotto of Lourdes

One of the greatest blessings in St Mary Catholic Church is hidden in an alcove beneath the crucifix of Jesus of Nazareth hanging on the south side of the church’s interior. Within that secret space is a tribute to the miracle that occurred at the Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, France, in 1858 when the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen year old peasant girl, and announced, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Mrs. Kate Hamilton, a devoted parishioner, donated funds to attach a Lourdes memorial chapel, which was dedicated on December 8, 1875. Its centerpiece is an enduring scene of the reverent Bernadette kneeling in a simulated stone grotto before Our Lady of Lourdes. On the plaster walls of the dome shaped room, painted scenes depict the story of Bernadette’s life and her rise to sainthood.

The Grotto of Lourdes in St Marys is the only privileged shrine in Tennessee.

Contact Information

Father John Hourican

Phone: 901-522-9420

Nancy Thielemier


Email: nthielemier@stmary-memphis.com