A few years ago, we started to develop a Parish Pastoral Plan. We had small group meetings, discussions at the Parish Council, and polled the parish through online and in pew surveys. Our plan is part of a larger process by which we will articulate plans for the deanery and diocese. As we journey into the future as a parish, the items in our pastoral plan will direct how we utilize the resources of time, talent, and treasure.
The founding and initial growth of our Parish coincides with the exodus of Catholics from Ireland during the 1840s and 1850¹s. The first Irish Catholic in Fort Smith was Michael Manning, who came here to work on the construction of the fort in 1840. He arrived from New Orleans. The first known Mass to be celebrated in Fort Smith took place in his home.
As others arrived in Fort Smith, Manning donated the land for the first church and caught the attention of the Bishop of Little Rock, the Reverend Andrew Byrne. Soon they completed the little log church of Saint Patrick at the corner of what is now 3rd and North "D" Streets. Total cost for the structure was $258.50. The Catholic burial ground was immediately north of the Church.
Fr. John Corry was the first pastor of the Parish. Fr. Peter W. Walsh succeeded him in 1847. Fr. John O¹Reilly and Fr. Philip Shanahan followed. Fr. Lawrence Smyth was pastor from 1861 until 1908. Assisted by his brother, Michael, Fr. Lawrence oversaw dramatic growth in the Parish. Swelled by the waves of immigrants fleeing the Irish famines of the 1840's, the Catholic Community in Fort Smith continued to grow. During his pastorate, the Parish acquired nearly a square mile of property on the site of old Fort Belknap. It was bounded by Dodson, Greenwood, Grand and Towson Avenue. There was room for a school, convent, church, cemetery and a hospital.
The Sisters of Mercy had a close relationship with the Parish. They arrived in 1853 and, through the years, started schools, tended to the wounded of the Civil War, built hospitals and attended to the spiritual needs of the community.
St. Anne's Academy and St. Edward Mercy Medical Center were testimony to their spirit and courage. When the little log church was no longer usable, the Parish moved into the old officers' quarters until a new church building could be erected in 1867. This building served the needs of the Parish until 1898 when it was demolished by a cyclone. Sometime during the period after the Civil War and the turn of the Century, the Parish was renamed "Immaculate Conception" but nobody knows exactly when.
The new church, which is still in use today, was completed in less than 18 months and was dedicated on June 1, 1899. Adolphus Druiding of Chicago was the principal architect. Rudolph Metzger, an Immaculate Conception parishioner was the general contractor and furnished the woodwork. Thomas Long was the contractor for the brickwork. The stained glass was produced by the F.X. Zettler Royal Bavarian Art Institute of Munich, Germany.
The Parish extensively refurbished the church in 1965 when a parishioner noticed serious structural deterioration. Today, Immaculate Conception Parish is much more than a heritage of brave clergy on the frontier and a collection of impressive structures and grounds.
It is a faith community of diverse ethnic cultures, combined to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the community and each other.
Two years ago, our parish initiated the “Restoring to Glory” Capital Campaign effort to raise the funds required to satisfy the needs of our fast growing community and preserve our heritage. The Capital Campaign project list includes works in our church, school, St. Anne’s Convent, the creation of a youth building, the gym, improving the overall security system on our campus and repairing the parking lots. The goal is to raise $3,200,000 to complete all the projects.
To this day, we have raised over $ 3,100,000 in pledges and we have completed the following projects: 1) Replace Preschool playground, 2) Remodel youth building, 3) Repair entrance to school computer lab, 4) Repair school sidewalks, 5) Repair school retaining walls, 6) Replace Preschool roof and 7) Repair Preschool parking lot, 8) St. Anne's Convent Renovation and 9) Replace Plexiglass over Stained Glass at Church with vented protective glazing system.
All this is possible because, like St. Paul said, “God’s grace has not been in vain in us.”
May everything we do redound to the greater glory of God, and the salvation of souls.
We really appreciate your support and ask you to continue fulfilling your campaign pledges so we can keep renovating and improving our facilities.
On March 17, the Feast of St. Patrick, craftsmen replaced the final piece of protective glass on our precious church windows. Do you know which window was last? The
window featuring St. Patrick himself, of course! Some may see coincidence; I see the Hand of Providence. And that divine Hand stretches over our church farther back in history than most suppose. Indeed, the original name of our church was "St. Patrick," and I believe Patrick's powerful protection has never left us for 173 years! Today his protection is symbolized in the
state-of-the-art laminated glass that shields the stained glass windows from sun and snow, heat and humidity, rain and ice.
How eminently fitting - almost as if Someone had planned it - that the last piece of protective glass should be placed on the window in honor of the Saint of the Emerald Isle, on his own feast day. Humbly we thank God for our remarkable roots; confidently we bless God for the bright future shining through our windows. Praised be Jesus Christ!
If you would like to contribute to the Capital Campaign, you can use the envelope provided in the monthly envelope package or call Ana Garcia at 479-785-7982.
Every dollar counts!