Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church History
Kingman was established in the Arizona territory in 1882 as a railroad and mining town. In the earliest days of Kingman’s history, a Jesuit priest would travel from Peach Springs by mule or horse to say Mass in homes, and so the parish of St. Mary was born. When the community became too large to host Mass inside homes, parishioners would rent the Little Red Schoolhouse for the Sundays that the priest would visit town.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the Catholic families of Kingman were served by various missionaries who came through town, but were still left with no permanent home of worship. One of these missionaries, Father Cypriano Vabre, wrote a letter in 1901 to the second bishop of Tucson, Bishop Henry Granjon, expressing the need for a church in Kingman. The Diocese of Tucson had only been established less than four years earlier, on May 8, 1897, and provided Arizona parishes with more local governance. After years of being overlooked, Fr. Cypriano Vabre received permission to build a church in this rugged desert community.
Construction of the first Catholic church building in Kingman commenced in September of 1906. We can only imagine why so many years passed before construction of the church actually began. Maybe it was because there were only about 15 to 20 Catholic families then. Local artisans brought their skills to the labor necessary for a new church. The church was built by many local artisans, including John Mulligan and Irish stonemason "Pendy" Pendygast ( a longtime resident of Kingman), using locally quarried volcanic tufa stone. When it was completed in May of 1907, the building was considered one of the handsomest buildings in town. It was so well-constructed that it is still in use to this day for weekday Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day. The first recorded baptism wasn’t recorded until October 1913 and was received by the child of Anson H. Smith, who had been elected Justice of the Peace in 1904. The first recorded marriage in the church was celebrated in April 1915 by Miguel Zozoya and Manuelita Trevino. Not long after, this new missionary church had its first resident pastor, Fr. Edward Albouy in 1917. He took on the task of building the parish rectory (or priests' house) east of the church building.
The Diocese of Tucson lost its position to the newly formed Gallup Diocese in 1939. When the most Reverend Bernard T. Espelage, O.F.M. became the first bishop of the Diocese of Gallup, his territory included Kingman.
Eventually a Catholic school became part of the parish life, as it began operating in 1944. Through its 41 year history, various women religious congregations staffed it, such as the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, and then the Society of the Precious Blood (1981-1985), along with lay teachers as well. The first St. Mary School was located on the west side of the original church, in a two-story stone building that had previously been the Greystone Inn, and before that, a hospital. The classes were held on the first floor, and the nuns were housed on the second floor. Because of war-time restrictions, the building was not able to be fully renovated before it opened on September 5, 1944.
In the 1960’s, it became painfully clear that the vibrant Catholic community of Kingman had outgrown their original church. The decision was made to demolish the two-story St. Mary School to make way for a larger, more modern church to better serve the growing parish. Construction began on a new school building across Spring Street, and on September 18th, 1966, the new school was dedicated. After serving the community for over 40 years, the St. Mary School was closed on July 31st, 1985 due to low enrollment, heavy financial stress, and dwindling religious vocations. Many of the active parishioners were disappointed, of course.
The new church was dedicated by Bishop Bernard T. Espelage, O.F.M. in October 1967. When Phoenix became a diocese in its own right in December 1969, its territory covered the whole of Mohave County, including St. Mary Catholic Church in Kingman, as well as St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church (Bullhead City), and Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church (Lake Havasu City). During the passage of time (1917 to 2005) a total of 17 distinct missions or missionary stations gathered the faithful Catholics together for the reception of the sacraments and in particular, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the Mass. The parish and its community continue on today, as we strive to preserve our history, celebrate our past, and work toward our future.