The first St. Mary's church and school pictured here in 1869
We covered the origins of St. Mary’s in the Menasha book but to reiterate, in 1867, the German-speaking Catholics of Menasha separated from St. Patrick's (then known as St. Charles Borromeo) and organized a parish of their own, known as St. Mary’s. On Ash Wednesday, February 7, 1883, a fire destroyed this St. Mary church, devastating the parish. As the St. Mary 1967 Centennial Celebration booklet states:
As the congregation was beginning to leave after morning services shortly after 10 a.m., it was discovered that the vestry room in the rear of the church was ablaze. Monsignor Andrew Schubert, the pastor at the time, noticed the votary lamp at the altar fall and knew the string which held it had burned. At the same time he noticed an odor of burning pine and saw slight smoke oozing through the cracked floor in front of the altar. Realizing the church was on fire, he asked the people to go quietly out but to avoid a panic. Then the old bell rang out its shrill fire alarm and hundreds of willing hands fought the fire but it was evident the wooden structure was doomed. At first the flames spread into the belfry and the bell, loosened from its support, fell from timber to timber until it rested on the entry floor. The raging flames ravished the wooden structure and ate up the floor. The old bell caved into the basement.
Somehow, within three days, their pastor, Monsignor Schubert, rallied his parishioners to pledge $14,000 towards a new church! (That's approximately $330,000 in today's money.) In November of that same year, the new church, the one that we know today, was dedicated.
And as for that bell, it was hauled away and was mounted on a platform to be used to call in the parish school children for many years. It lasted until 1890 when the continued hammering of the bell in one place finally cracked it.