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.
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The history of the parish continues on the following timeline: