Immaculate Conception Church in Ft. Smith

The founding and initial growth of the Parish coincides with the exodus of Catholics from Ireland during the 1840s and 1850šs. The first Irish Catholic in Fort Smith was Michael Manning, who came to work on the construction of the fort in 1840. He arrived from New Orleans. The first known Mass to be celebrated in Fort Smith took place in his home.

As others arrived in Fort Smith, Manning donated the land for the first church and caught the attention of the Bishop of Little Rock, the Reverend Andrew Byrne. Soon they completed the little log church of Saint Patrick at the corner of what is now 3rd and North "D" Streets. Total cost for the structure was $258.50. The Catholic burial ground was immediately north of the Church.

Fr. John Corry was the first pastor of the Parish. Fr. Peter W. Walsh succeeded him in 1847. Fr. John O'Reilly and Fr. Philip Shanahan followed. Fr. Lawrence Smyth was pastor from 1861 until 1908. Assisted by his brother, Michael, Fr. Lawrence oversaw dramatic growth in the Parish. Swelled by the waves of immigrants fleeing the Irish famines of the 1840šs, the Catholic Community in Fort Smith continued to grow. During his pastorate, the Parish acquired nearly a square mile of property on the site of old Fort Belknap. It was bounded by Dodson, Greenwood, Grand and Towson Avenue. There was room for a school, convent, church, cemetery and a hospital. The Sisters of Mercy had a close relationship with the Parish. They arrived in 1853 and, through the years, started schools, tended to the wounded of the Civil War, built hospitals and attended to the spiritual needs of the community.

When the little log church was no longer usable, the Parish moved into the old officers' quarters until a new church building could be erected in 1867.

Submitted by Deborah Brown Musgrove

The Daily Gazette.
Official Journal of the City
Little Rock.
Sunday Morning,.....May 19, 1867

State Items.

Sebastian - From the Fort Smith Herald of the 14th inst., we take the following:

The New Catholic Church. - At the upper end of Garrison avenue a new Catholic Church is now being built.  The situation is the most prominent and commanding in the city.  The building will set on the side of the hill facing Garrison avenue.  That persons abroad may understand the situation, we will state that the avenue is one hundred feet wide, and runs south-east from the river, and at the upper end of this broad street will stand the new Catholic church, looking down the street to the river, so that passengers landing from a boat, and coming up the street, will see the church in full view fronting the avenue.  The dimensions of the church now building is 35 by 80, 22 feet high.  There will be a cupalo erected on the front part of the building, surmounted with a cross.  The building will be frame, the foundation of stone, which is now ready for the timbers.

Bishop Fitzgerald consecrated the ground a few weeks ago, when he was here, ion account of which was given in the Herald at the time.  In a few weeks the church will be finished.

This building served the needs of the Parish until 1898 when it was demolished by a cyclone. Sometime during the period after the Civil War and the turn of the Century, the Parish was renamed "Immaculate Conception" but nobody knows exactly when.

The new church, which is still in use today, was completed in less than 18 months and was dedicated on June 1, 1899.

Adolphus Druiding of Chicago was the principal architect. Rudolph Metzger, an Immaculate Conception parishoner was the general contractor and furnished the woodwork. Thomas Long was the contractor for the brickwork. The stained glass was produced by the F.X. Zettler Royal Bavarian Art Institute of Munich, Germany.