Huntsville, site of the
convention that drew up the first constitutions of
Alabama in 1819, has a long Catholic history and a
succession of thirty-three pastors in the oldest
parish, St. Mary of the Visitation, that stretches
from 1860 to the present date. In 1820, the
population of Alabama was 127,901; the population of
Madison County was more than 5,000. There were
estimated to be 200 Catholics in North Alabama.
In 1824, Father Robert Abel of Bardstown, Kentucky
came to North Alabama and visited Catholic families.
Bishop John England of Charleston, South Carolina
was petitioned for a priest to work in the
Huntsville area. In 1830, Father Mathias Loras,
Vicar General of the diocese of Mobile (a French
priest who spoke no English) and Father Gabreil
Chalon toured North Alabama and visited Huntsville
Catholics in their home and preached to the public
in the town hall.
Huntsville is listed in the
Catholic Directory by Sadlier as one of the missions
of North Alabama being attended by priests from the
Nashville Diocese from 1845 to 1851.
On October 10, 1860, Father
Jeremiah F. Trecy came to serve in the Diocese of
Mobile. Father Trecy, born in Ireland, had
been ordained a priest in Dubuque, Iowa in 1851.
He served outpost in Iowa, gathering congregations
and building churches. He requested a transfer
in 1860 to the South because of health problems.
He assisted Bishop John Quinlan and was sent to
establish a parish in Huntsville. The
cornerstone of the church was laid in 1861. An
article in the Huntsville Advocate, September 13,
1872, gives a public notice as drawn by J. J.
Donegan, May 1861, requesting the community's
support in raising funds to build a Catholic church.
Since there were such a few Catholics, a list of
supporters and their contributions followed.
The oral history says that the original parish
consisted of eleven Catholic families who worked
very hard to the build the church.
The church was built of
native stone from nearby Monte Sano Mountain hauled
by mule cart and wagon. The Civil War halted
work on the church. Father Trecy and
parishioners were very involved in preparing
hospital facilities and tending the wounded of both
sides during the conflict. Father Trecy later
served as chaplain to General Rosecrans until 1868
and was present on the battlefields of Iuka, Corinth
and Stone River.
Father Anthony Carius was
appointed temporary pastor in 1865; he was replaced
in 1866 by Father Edward P. Lonigan. Father
Trecy upon his return from the war obtained
permission from Bishop Quinlan to solicit funds to
complete the church. He went to Maryland and
Michigan and other states asking for donations,
leaving Father John B. Baasen in charge of the
parish. Father Baasen (later the first
domestic prelate in the Diocese of Mobile) had the
roof installed on the native stone building.
Except for the fresco the church was completed
before 1872. It was dedicated on November 11,
1877, by Bishop Quinlan.