STAFF AT ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Saint Mary's Catholic Church, 5118 St. Mary's Lane, Altus, AR 72821; (479) 468-2585 (office)
Sun: 9 AM
Mon: No Mass
Tues: 7:30 AM
Wed 6:00 PM
Thur.- Fri: 7:30 AM
Sat: 5:00 PM
Sat: 4:30 PM
Sun: 8:30 AM
Sun: 8:30 AM
Sat: 4:30 PM
5118 St. Mary's Ln
Altus, AR 72821
Map & Directions
Fr. Pius Iwu
HISTORY OF ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
|St. Mary’s parish in Altus Arkansas or as it has sometimes been called, “Our
Lady of Perpetual Help” and more properly “Our Lady, Help of Christians”, was
founded in 1879 by the Reverend Beatus Maria Ziswyler of the Congregation of
Precious Blood. This was a time when the railroads were aggressively
recruiting immigrants to the region, since their government grants of alternating
sections on either side of the track had little value unless they could find
buyers. Altus was so named because it was the highest point on the railroad
between Little Rock and Fort Smith. The area attracted large numbers of
immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, especially Germany and
Following Rev. Ziswyler’s death in 1887, the Benedictine monks of New
Subiaco Abbey across the Arkansas River in Subiaco began their continuing
care of St. Mary’s parish. The original wooden church with its distinctive onion-
shaped dome was built in the 1880’s and was followed a few years thereafter
by a handsome rectory and nuns’ house.
Things changed again around the turn of the 20th century when Father
Placidus Oechsle began his tenure as St. Mary’s pastor. The present stone
church and old school were built during that time. The church was built from
sandstone dug from the hillside on which the building sits, with much of the
stonework done by masons from St. Louis, Missouri.
Father Placidus also found time to extravagantly decorate the church along with
immigrant painter Fridolin Fuchs. Donations from parish members also
enabled the acquisition of the four large bells that grace the bell tower and the
purchase of a first class organ to fill the interior with music. His 38-year
pastorate was by far the longest of any priest at St. Mary’s.
Although times changed rather dramatically throughout the twentieth century,
little changed around St Mary’s until the 1960’s. That time of transition just after
Vatican II also saw the reluctant demolition of the old nun’s house and rectory
and their replacement with much more modern buildings. Those projects were
headed by Father Thomas Buergler.
Father Thomas was followed by Father Lawrence Miller, who exhibited great
leadership and foresight in getting a new school built in 1973 and the parish
hall, later to be named Lawrence Hall in his honor, in 1979. As is so often the
way with progress, the old school was torn down to make room for the new
Father John Walbe took over care of St. Mary’s parish in 1980 after the untimely
death of Father Lawrence. He led the way in the restoration project for the
church organ. After having been bought used for $500 from St. Francis de
Sales Oratory of St Louis in 1925, the organ was really showing its age. Thus,
it came to pass in 1986 that through the efforts of Father John and the parish,
the organ was restored to its full glory by Redman Pipe Organs of Forth Worth,
Texas for over $100,000.
Unfortunately, the church itself was also showing its age, especially from roof
leaks and moisture infiltrating through the sandstone. After Father John’s
recall to Subiaco, he was replaced by St Mary’s second-longest tenured pastor,
Father Hilary Filiatreau. Father Hilary led the massive fund-raising and
restoration project that followed in 1999. The work was carried out by Conrad
Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Its current beautiful state serves as a
testament to his efforts. The parish will also remember him leading the effort
culminating in the complete replacement of the 100-year old church roof in the
summer of 2010.
After Father Hilary’s retirement in June 2011, he was replaced temporarily by
Father Aaron Pirerra, who then turned the parish over to Father David
Bellinghausen in August 2012. The parish was shocked and saddened when
our beloved priest died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 31, 2013.
Sadly, this also ended our pastoral coverage from Subiaco Abbey.
The parish was then blessed with the presence of Father Nazarus Maduba of
the Diocese of Little Rock beginning in January 2014. Originally from Nigeria,
"Father Naz" brought a new perspective and sincere faith to the parish. In June,
we lost Father Maduba to another parish, when one of his great friends and
pastor at Cherokee Village passed away. Bishop Anthony Taylor was forced to
move Father Maduba to fill that hole.
At that point, it looked as if St. Mary's would have only a part-time priest for
several years, until the numerous seminarians studying in Little Rock would
increase the priestly supply. However, our prayers were answered when
Father Hugh Assenmacher, OSB of Subiaco volunteered to serve the parish
despite the fact that he is well past retirement age. Father Hugh served
faithfully for almost three years and was set to return to Subiaco on August 1,
2018, but suffered a major brain injury when he fell in the rectory in mid-July.
His passing in late July was a severe blow. He is missed.
However, we take great comfort in his replacement, Father Pius Ajunwa Iwu,
from Nigeria. He is obviously a very holy man. He actually has a long-standing
connection with Altus. He was taught in school back home by Father Raphael,
later Abbot, DeSalvo of Subiaco and knew our former pastor Father Lawrence
Miller when they were in Nigeria in the 1960's. Lord, make us worthy of this gift.
Let us pray for vocations.
For a printable document highlighting the elements of the church, click here.