The first church, Our Lady Help of Christians, dedicated by Bishop Alphonse J. Glorieux on November 12, 1893, was built in 1892. Fr. William Kroeger cared for Cottonwood from his Keuterville parish until his death in November of 1897. During his pastorate a rectory was built. Fr. Louis Mueller took charge and made Cottonwood an independent parish. He died in 1901. Several priests covered over the next few years until Fr. Berthold Jaeggle, O.S.B. arrived November 1904. He immediately started plans for a new church. It was built during 1905 and dedicated on November 12. This church served the Catholics of Cottonwood until March of 1972.
In 1905 three Benedictine Sisters came from Colton WA to take over the parochial school which had been established with lay teachers some six years before. They had 56 pupils. The first church was used for the school. In 1910 a larger school was built.
Fr. Odilo Schieber, O.S.B., became pastor in July 1909 until Fr. Willibrord Beck, O.S.B., was assigned to the parish on January 14, 19l5. He served until 1933. He personally had 411 of 435 baptisms recorded during those 18 ½ years.
Fr. Joseph M. Verhoeven became pastor July 1, 1933 and led the parish for the next 35 years. In 1947 he was made a Monsignor. In 1947 a new rectory was built. In 1956 a new brick school and convent were constructed. During the school year, Monsignor visited the students at St. Joseph’s Grade School every Friday. In 1963 the name of the parish was changed from Our Lady Help of Christians to St. Mary’s. Fr. Urban Schmidt was appointed to replace Monsignor Verhoeven.
In 1969, Fr. Nicholas Walsh came to the parish. Planning for a new church began immediately. Ground was broken on September 7, 1970. Mass was first celebrated in the new church on March 12, 1972, and dedicated on April 4 by Bishop Sylvester W. Treinen.
In 1970 a Release Time Program was started to take care of the religious instruction of the children since the parochial school and the academy had closed that spring. A mobile unit was set up for the classrooms for the Middle School students. The elementary students came to St. Mary’s Church for their classes.
Fr. Robert L. Smith came June 23, 1972, and planned the landscaping of the grounds around the church. A double garage with a workshop was constructed. Fr. George L. King was the next pastor coming January 8, 1976. In 1977 a building with two classrooms and a small office was constructed on land lease from the Monastery of St. Gertrude near Prairie High School. Fr. Michael Kuiper as assigned to St. Mary’s from 1982 to 1987.
Fr. Joseph Muha was appointed in 1987, as the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish/Holy Cross at Cottonwood until June 30, 1998. In 1992 Holy Cross was designated a chapel attached to St. Mary’s. Fr. Andrew J. Schumacher came to the Prairie and moved in the Rectory at Cottonwood. His parishioners were from St. Mary’s and Holy Cross. There are about 300 families now belonging to St. Mary’s.
A new roof was installed on St. Mary’s Church building in the fall of 1993. Stained glass windows were placed in the church in 2001 and 2002, entirely by donation. A Memory book is on the back wall listing the donors. A large (huge) rock with a flat side was placed on the south lawn. It was engraved with: Jesus said to Peter “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church”. Mt 16:18. New lights were installed in 2002. A new sound system was installed 2005.
On October 6, 2000, Fr. Canisius Hayes passed away. He shepherded the parishes of St. Anthony, Greencreek, and Assumption, Ferdinand. So Fr. Schumacher was given the two parishes to care for along with St. Mary’s. In June 2004, he retired at age 70. On July 1, Fr. Camillus Temba, ALCP, started his assignment to the three parishes. Fr. Camillus’ home is at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the country of Tanzania. On September 1, 2006, the parishes purchased a 2-bedroom house for the rectory. The former Rectory was converted to offices for the pastor, secretary, Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education.
Benjamin Raymond Uhlenkott was ordained to Transitional Diaconate on June 11, 2005, and ordained to the priesthood June 8, 2006 at St. John’s Cathedral, Boise. His Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated June 18, 2006, at St. Mary’s Church. Fr. Ben’s parents are William & Eileen Uhlenkott.
On July 1, 2007, Fr. Richard S. Haldane was arrived to the parishes. To make easier planning, the councils were combined from the parishes – pastoral, finance, and liturgy. Individual parish programs were also combined – youth ministry, adult faith formation, and religious education for students. Construction started in the fall of 2011 for a four-classroom building located across from Prairie Elementary School, for religious education and meetings/social gatherings.
Father Richard Haldane retired in July 2012. Father Paul H. Wander moved to the Camas Prairie to pastor the Tri-Parishes, he moved here from St. Charles Parish, Salmon, Idaho.