The history of St. Mary Parish has traditionally been dated from 1880. It was during that year that the idea of constructing a church near Fillmore (Mt, Angel) was first conceived by Mathias Butsch and the other Catholic families who had settled in the local area. The first church building was erected in 1881. During that year, Archbishop Charles Seaghers composed a letter to Fr. Adelheim Odermatt, O.S.B., later founder of Mt. Angel Abbey and first Benedictine pastor of St. Mary Parish.
In 1881, Fr. Adelheim and a group of Benedictine monks from Engelberg Abbey in Switzerland left St. Louis, Missouri to come west in search of a site for a future monastery. They explored the Santa Ynez valley in California (near Santa Barbara), and later the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon. But the place they decided upon was a small butte near Fillmore (Mt. Angel). Archbishop Seagher’s letter had been effective. In 1882, Mt. Angel Abbey was founded at the foot of present Abbey Hill. On November 16, 1881, Fr. Adelheim was appointed pastor of Fillmore (Mt. Angel), Gervais and Sublimity. The name of Fillmore was later changed to Mt. Angel, the anglicized version of “Engelberg”, the mother abbey in Switzerland. From that day forward, the Benedictine monks of Mt. Angel Abbey have continued to staff St. Mary Parish.
Note: In an almost humorous letter written home, Fr. Adelheim describes the Willamette Valley as a ‘gigantic frog pond’. This is no doubt a not-so-subtle reference to the local climate. Many a native Oregonian might be tempted to agree with this. But the rich and fertile valley remains to this day “the Eden at the end of the Oregon Trail”.