Under the Rev. William A. Fallon’s leadership, funds were raised and construction was begun of a new stone church, using stones brought from Europe as ballast in ships. The new church was estimated to cost $15,000, and each contributor to the building fund was acknowledged in the “Fair Journal”. The new church building was dedicated on June 9, 1903. The interior of the building has seen many changes over the years, but the exterior appearance remains the same, with the exception of its original cathedral-like spires that were removed in 1966 due to the problem of water leakage.
This picture was taken around 1912, showing Mr. Jim Boyhan’s Ford. He was a well-known character around the church; he used to train, pick up and return the altar boys, as well as the Sisters and others needing a ride. Note the closeness of the water to the church grounds at this time. The pastor was the Rev. Thomas J. Wilson, a priest from Mullahoran and Loughduff in County Cavan, Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Ireland. He saw the need for a parochial school and began raising funds during his pastorate. At the time of his death Father Wilson had paid the church debt and established a large fund for a parochial school.
The Catholic school on Mill Creek was realized under Msgr. William A. Gill in 1923. The school building had been used as a hospital during the Civil War and later became a deluxe hostess house known as Brightview Manor and was used for officers’ wives and families visiting Fort Monroe. To serve the school Msgr. Gill secured the services of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, Nashville, Tennessee. These sisters still serve the school, now a regional school for four parishes. A famous walker and swimmer, Msgr. Gill took an early morning swim in the Bay every day - all year round.
On January 14, 1933 Rev. Richard B. Washington became the pastor at St. Mary’s. Born in Charles Town, West Virginia, he was a descendant of President George Washington and a convert to the Catholic faith. He was very patriotic and gave many lectures on the patriotism of Catholics in this country.
The Rev. Julius O. Schmidhauser made arrangements for the construction of a new St. Mary Star of the Sea School and convent additions. He also oversaw the building of the Buckroe Beach St. Joseph Chapel that became a mission of St. Mary’s. St. Mary Star of the Sea School was designated as the central parochial school for the parishes of the Lower Peninsula.
The Rev. Walter F. Sullivan was Associate Pastor at St. Mary’s from 1956- 1958. He later became the 11th Bishop of Richmond. He has expressed fond memories of his days here.
Sadly, in 1966 the beautiful spires on the two towers had to be removed. Over the years water had leaked in and caused major structural damage to the roof.
In 1968 the Buckroe chapel became St. Joseph Catholic Church under the direction of the Redemptorist Fathers. On July 26, 1971, St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s parishes merged, with the Rev. Raymond E. Schantz, C.Ss.R. as pastor.
On February 15, 1975 the Rev. Leonard Cordier, C.Ss.R. became pastor of St. Joseph-St. Mary’s Church. The parish hall at St. Joseph’s would later be named for him.
On July 1, 1977, St. Mary’s again became an independent parish with the Rev. Daigle as pastor. Two years later the Rev. Charles Brickner raised funds to refurbish the neglected church buildings and remodel the altar to conform to changes in the liturgy under Vatican II. The stained glass windows were renewed and sealed on the outside. The organ was moved so as to better view the large central stained glass window in the choir loft. Roof repairs were made, the interior plastered and painted, and the new blue carpet laid throughout the church. A new altar was installed, after the original altar against the wall was removed.
During Rev. Charles Brickner’s pastorate the parish celebrated its 125th anniversary on September 9, 1985. This culminated several years of reconstruction to the exterior and interior of the church.
A new 1300 square foot Parish Hall, attached to the original historic rectory, was completed under the leadership of Rev. Charles W. Brickner. Because the rectory is considered an historic building, the project needed approval from the National Register of Historic Places.
During the pastorate of Rev. Joseph L. Clark, our longest serving pastor, new light-colored wainscoting was added behind the altar and along the sides to replace the dark wood. The reconciliation room was refurbished and the new entrance doors with stained glass panels were installed. He oversaw the installation of a new roof, windows, and central air and heating to the rectory. He built up a substantial reserve fund for future church renovations.
September 11, 2001 changed our lives forever. That first weekend we held mass in the school chapel, because no one was allowed entrance to the base unless they lived or worked there. Screening procedures were initiated and soon we were able to have mass as usual in the church.
Rev. Joseph L. Clark retired and Rev. Peter M. Creed became our new pastor in 2003. A reception and historical display marked the 100th anniversary of the current stone church building. Hurricane Isabel struck on September 18, 2003 and caused major flooding in the church, rectory, and parish hall – as well as the fort and city of Hampton. Repairs were made and on December 6, 2003, at the beginning of Advent, Bishop Emeritus Walter Sullivan installed Father Creed as our pastor. Fr. Creed strengthened lay participation in parish life.
In the summer of 2006 Rev. Anthony W. Morris, C.Ss.R. became pastor of St. Mary’s, while continuing as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Buckroe. He oversaw numerous renovations of the church buildings and grounds, including a new stone and concrete ramp to allow easy access to the church.
Rev. Peter E. Sousa, C.Ss.R. became pastor of St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s in August 2008. Father Sousa serves as the Reserve TRADOC Chaplain at Fort Monroe, and is also the Vicar of the Redemptorist Vice Province of Richmond.
This year marked our Sesquicentennial Anniversary. We installed a beautiful Casavant organ console and digital pipes to add to the original pipe work, thus making the organ better suited to accompany music for mass, from the quiet sounds needed for the psalm, the larger sounds for congregational hymns, and the grand sounds for wedding recessionals and postludes. The Lucite coverings on the southern stained glass windows were replaced. The bells were repaired and call the faithful to worship before each mass, toll the hours and the Angelus daily, making our presence known throughout the surrounding area. We commissioned a unique hand-made anniversary rosary. For the first time in many years we produced a parish photo directory. An anniversary logo was designed and a comprehensive history was written. A year of celebrations, it began with a Parish Picnic in the fall, followed by the revival of an old tradition of sharing a Parish Thanksgiving Dinner the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Then we held special weekend masses to celebrate anniversaries of weddings and sacraments that had occurred at St. Mary's, and to honor the military. It culminated with an Anniversary Mass, with several of our former pastors and our Bishop Emeritus, Walter Sullivan who had been associate pastor here, each wearing handmade vestments featuring the anniversary logo.
This year marked the decommissioning of Fort Monroe and saw our merger with St. Joseph's and St. Vincent de Paul to form the Peninsula Cluster. As we continue on after the Sesquicentennial celebrations and the formation of the cluster parish, we stand with those who have gone before, seeking unity and following our faith. We pray it forward to the future generations who will worship in the beautiful and sacred space within this stone church by the sea.