In the 1830′s settlers came to the Springfield area to escape crowded cities, lured by plentiful natural resources and cheap land. Among the settlers were Catholics, who soon requested a priest. Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of Saint Louis sent Father Francis W. Graham in 1866. Father Graham celebrated Springfield’s first Mass on March 9, 1866, in the home of William Dailey. He built Springfield’s first Catholic church and established Immaculate Conception Parish.
The coming of the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad in 1870 brought German and Irish workers and a larger Catholic population. The railroad tracks along Mill Street, in what was then South Springfield, created a major division in the Immaculate Conception Parish. The railroad tracks were seen as a “menace to life and limb” to the members of Immaculate Conception Parish who had to cross them to attend Mass and other parish functions. The railroad tracks divided South and Central Springfield.
At that time, more than 20 passenger trains traveled those tracks daily. Fearing danger to their school children crossing the tracks, parishioners to the south established a school at South and Elm Streets. In 1906, H.A. and L.S. Meyer purchased a house to be used as a school, which would become the original St. Agnes Elementary School (originally known as St. Ann’s School of Loretto). The students called the school the “Stable of Bethlehem” because of its rundown and depleted condition. In its opening year, the grade school had 35 students with two Sisters of Loretto as their teachers.
Many families moved to homes in South Springfield following the turn of the century. Nearly 100 families of Immaculate Conception parish lived south of the railroad tracks, and approximately 80 families lived north of the tracks. Because of the existence of St. Agnes School and the number of families living south of the railroad tracks, lay leaders of the South Springfield families petitioned Bishop John J. Hogan to establish a parish for them. Bishop Hogan reacted favorably to the request and established a new parish called St. Agnes in 1908.
Since there was no church building, the members of the new parish leased the vacant Central Congregational Church, located on the southeast corner of Walnut and Market, for two years.
The history of the parish continues on the following timeline:
|1908||Rev. Denis J. O’Driscoll became the first pastor in September. He celebrated the first Mass on September 27. Rev. John M. Sheridan became pastor in December.|
|1909||The school was moved to its new location on parish property from its previous location at 515 South Avenue.|
|1910||On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, Bishop Thomas F. Lillis, coadjutor bishop of the Kansas City Diocese, dedicated the new church.|
|1913||A new two-story school was built on parish property.|
|1914||The school enrolled 175 pupils and had five Sisters of Loretto teaching, and the number of Catholic families rose to 200.|
|1916||The success of the elementary school brought about the establishment of St. Agnes High School.|
|1921||Rev. Patrick J. Downey became pastor in June.|
|1922||Rev. L. Curtis Tiernan became pastor in August.|
|1928||Rev. Robert F. Hayes became pastor in March.|
|1929||Rev. Frank D. McCardle became pastor in January. During the summer, Stanley Uthwatt, assisted by Bernard Schahuber, created and placed the stained-glass windows “Our Lady of the Lilies” and “Saint Agnes” in the apse.|
|1931||In April, Rev. Charles A. Dibbins became pastor.|
|1935||In May, Rev. James J. Hally became pastor.|
|1936||A fire in the basement damaged the wooden floor of the sanctuary on February 14. It was replaced with a concrete floor. In June, a large residence just north of the rectory was purchased and renovated to become a high school.|
|1937||Following the tragic death of Father Hally in a car-train accident on August 21, Rev. Paul A. Dunn was immediately assigned pastor of St. Agnes. The high school building was then named Hally Hall in Father Hally’s memory.|
|1941||Groundbreaking for a new St. Agnes High School took place on March 2. The completed school was dedicated August 10. During World War II, the old high school building, Hally Hall, was used as the Springfield USO Club. Following the war, it was used as a parish recreation center.|
|1944||In February, Rev. Valentine A. Schroeger became pastor.|
|1954||Christmas Solemn High Mass from Saint Agnes became the first televised religious service from a church in Springfield. Previous broadcasts were only done in television studios.|
|1955||Rev. Schroeger became a monsignor in May and continued to serve as pastor of St. Agnes.|
|1956||On August 24, the new Diocese of Springfield – Cape Girardeau was established. St. Agnes Church was designated as St. Agnes Cathedral. St. Mary’s Church in Cape Girardeau was named co-cathedral of the diocese. Bishop Charles H. Helmsing, former auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, was installed as first bishop of the new diocese in St. Agnes Cathedral on November 28.|
|1957||Hally Hall was demolished during the summer. Construction on the present St. Agnes Elementary School began in September.|
|1965||Msgr. John H. Westhues became pastor of St. Agnes in July.|
|1977||Msgr. Sylvester H. Bauer became pastor in August.|
|1981||In July, Rev. Thomas E. Reidy became pastor.|
|1984||On April 30, Rev. Reidy became Msgr. Reidy and continued to serve St. Agnes. St. Agnes Chapel was built during a renovation of the cathedral.|
|1988||The old grade school building was razed in late 1988-early 1989.|
|1992||In August, Rev. Thomas P. Kiefer became pastor.|
|2003||Rev. Michael V. McDevitt became pastor in August.|
|2011||In the fall, the parish began a capital campaign to raise funds to repair major structural damage in both the cathedral attic and the school foundation. The repairs were completed by the end of the year.|