St. Mary School

History of Saint Mary School

St. Mary School

History of Saint Mary School

From the beginning of his pastorate, Father Young began to voice his desire to start up a parochial school. Anna McAllister in her book Flame in the Wilderness recalls: “each day, [Young] made his spiritual rounds, he realized more forcibly the need of a Catholic school where the children would be instructed in religion, as well as the secular subjects.”


In the Summer of 1847, Father Young approached parishioner Eliza Gillespie to serve as the first teacher for the parish school. The basement of the church was a more than adequate space with heat, lighting, and plenty of desks to begin. People of the parish were eager to assist in the school’s success and donated discarded readers and spellers. They also enrolled their children in the school; the response was so overwhelming, that a second teacher, Neal Gillespie, was brought in to educate the younger students.


After several temporary pastors, stability returned when French-born Father Louis DeCailly was assigned pastor of Saint Mary in 1868. During Father DeCailly’s pastorate, the parish saw continued growth, the construction of a new parish house on Chestnut St., and improvements to the school building to make more efficient use of the facility for the growing student body.


Father Louis DeCailly invited the Dominican Sisters to Saint Mary to teach in the school, and he built a convent for them. When the last of the Dominican Sisters retired from Saint Mary in 2009, some 314 consecrated religious can be identified by name who served here.


In 1891 a three-year high school program was begun – in 1894 the first graduation took place with a class of ten students. St. Mary High School continues to this day, now called Wm. V. Fisher Catholic High School.


In 1907, a new school was built to replace the inadequate building that was formerly the second church. The new school was comprised of eight classrooms and cloakrooms, an office, a library and spacious halls, and a basement. To continue to support the growing number of Dominican Sisters, a new convent was built in 1808 to house the ten sisters and was furnished by private individuals and church organizations.


When Fr. J.B. Mattingly retired in 1923, Monsignor David P. Quailey, a noted scholar, was appointed the next pastor and served until 1948. It was made clear quickly, the emphasis he would place on Catholic education when in 1924 he changed the three-year high school format to a four-year college preparatory course of study. In 1928-1929 he spearheaded the building of a new Saint Mary High School building, complete with an auditorium and gymnasium.


Monsignor Quailey saw Saint Mary through the period of the Great Depression and the Second World War, under which many parishes, and schools specifically, strained greatly. Quailey was able to not only maintain the school but continue to add programs, even despite thinning resources. On 22 December 1947, an article in The Lancaster Eagle-Gazette described him as a man who was precise in his demands for high levels of education that boosted the school to one of the top in the state.


In June 1969, Bishop Clarence E. Elwell named Monsignor John V. Wolf pastor of Saint Mary. Bishop Elwell asked Wolf and the Catholics of Fairfield County to conduct a drive to raise $400,000, which would be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Diocese of Columbus, for the new high school. In January of 1970, Saint Mary kicked off the fund drive and local Catholics raised $471,500. Additionally, Mrs. William V. Fisher gave an additional $400,000 toward the cause in memorial of her late husband who was a neophyte to the faith and a pioneer in the local business community. Saint Mary and area Catholics were going to build their new high school. Twenty acres of land was purchased by the diocese with the funds raised and the ground was broken on 20 September 1970. The new building was opened in 1971 and the school was renamed, William V. Fisher Catholic High School.


Father William A. Dunn was named pastor in March 1981. Dunn, like those before him, was deeply invested in parochial education. During Dunn’s pastorate, a kindergarten program was begun in the school and Dunn spent two years teaching at the high school.


In August 2011, Father Craig R. Eilerman was made pastor. Eilerman had served at Saint Mary previously, from 1996-1997, and came to Saint Mary with fond memories of deep faith life, multiple generations at Mass together, and being very supportive of priests. In Father Eilerman’s time, a preschool program was added to the school.