The first recorded Mass in Waltham was celebrated on July 4, 1830 in a shed. The offertory collection was $90. Soon after, a lot was bought for $65.18 on the present site of McDevitt School near the corner of Church and School Streets. A small wooden church (50 x 35 feet) and cemetery were established. The parish was formally established in 1835 and incorporated in 1839. December 8 is our patronal feast day, the celebration of Mary's Immaculate Conception.
The small Catholic community had difficulties at first, and dissension caused the bishop to close the church in 1845. With the replacement of the former pastor in 1847, the parish re-opened and thrived under its new pastor, Father Flood, until the building was torched in 1848. Speculation as to the cause of the fire includes the anti-Catholic prejudice of the time or the act of a disgruntled parishioner but the cause of the fire was never determined. This setback led to the change of location and the construction of the present church on School Street.
The construction of Saint Mary Church in its present location began in 1858. Built in a simple Romanesque Revival style, the original church had no spire and no ornamentation on the outside. During the pastorate of Father Brosnahan (1876 - 1919), the steeple and bell were added, along with the marble altar, stained glass windows, and ceiling murals.
The capacity at that time was 1400 people. Today the church still holds 1000 people without the use of the distinctive balconies. The cemetery was relocated to a much larger site at the edge of town on High Street in the mid-1940s. In 1877 Father Timothy Brosnahan was appointed pastor and held that post for 42 years. It was during his tenure that most of the present buildings were built, the two schools established and the present church completed.
St. Mary's Parish had a grammar school and a high school. The grammar school moved to the high school building in 1971 and closed with the high school in 1973. The grammar school was razed in 1973 and the high school, with a new building connected to it, was converted in the year 2000 into 70 one-bedroom apartments for low-income senior citizens.
St. Mary's saw several daughter parishes begin. St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude and Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted were all taken from St. Mary's territory. Sacred Heart (Italian) and St. Joseph (French) were also established in the downtown area. In August 2018, St. Charles Borromeo merged back to its roots in St. Mary Parish.
Today, St. Mary's is home to a multitude of nationalities and ethnic origins. Our tradition of diversity continues; our gratitude to those who went before us lasts forever.