Many of the 185 plus households who make up the present St. Mary’s congregation trace their ancestry to the English Catholics of Maryland who migrated westward to settle claims in Monroe and Shelby Counties. One pioneer mother whose descendants account for nearly one-third of the present membership of the church is Maryland-born Mrs. Susan Beaven Gough McAtee.
Irish Catholics arrived later, including the Riley, Dempsey, Hurley, Kelly, Lillis, Ford and Power families. Most Catholics lived in the country around Shelbina, and they had been used to attending Mass at Old Clinton (North Fork) and Indian Creek in Monroe County.
The first priest to visit the new town of Shelbina was Rev. Fr. John J. Hogan, the famed Irish pioneer missionary priest of western Missouri, who would stop here on his way to Macon and Chillicothe.
During the Civil War, Rev. Fr. Phelan and Rev. J. M. Cummings tended the flock. Mass was sometimes said in a room of Mrs. James Combs’ hotel, in Concert Hall on West Chestnut, in Liberty Hall on the east side of Center Street, and Miller’s Hall.
In 1878, Fr. James O’Reilly, a young priest, was made pastor and plans were made for a church building. Parishioners who helped finance the building of the first church, completed in 1879, were J. William Towson, John Thomas, William Ridge, John McAtee, James H. Gough, George B. Gough, Clement Hamilton, James Worland, Edwin Worland, John Worland, James Hardy, Joseph Jarboe, Jack Melton, Al Bowling, George W. Greenwell, Robert t Bell, Ben Gough, Louis Hale, Mrs. Lewis Saunders, Mrs. Sydney Taylor, and Mrs. Gabie Combs. The church was named St. Mary’s in honor of the Mother of Christ.
When Fr. Edmund Casey was pastor, (1884-1889), a rectory was purchased and five acres of land in the southeast part of the city was acquired for a cemetery.
By 1923, the congregation had outgrown its first home and a new church was planned. Building and finance committee members included George Hardy, Alfred Buckman, Will Gough, Martin Buckman, James Allgaier, Frank Broughton, Omer Buckman, Guy Gough, and Julius Buckman. The present church building was dedicated October 13, 1924.
In 1969, a large church hall was built on property east of the church and named the Father Buhman Center, in honor of the pastor, Fr. Leo T Buhman, who worked to see it completed. The hall was enlarged during the pastorate of Fr. Chris Cordes.
One of the longest serving priests of the parish was Monsignor Joseph Buglar who came in 1969 and retired in 1988.