Father John Fogarty, the missionary priest based in Solomon, celebrated Mass here in 1869. The first church was built in 1873, and a rectory purchased in 1882. The present church and a rectory were built on a new site in 1911.
Sometime before that new church was built, Father Francis Kelley of Michigan traveled to Ellsworth to lecture about his experiences in the Spanish-American War and raise funds for his poor parish.
After traveling to Ellsworth and seeing the destitute state of the parish, he was
convinced that unless the affluent areas of the big cities helped the rural parishes, the South and West might lose all vestiges of the Catholic faith.
And so it was Father Kelley who would go on to found the Catholic Church Extension Society.
In a history of the founding of the Extension Society that he wrote in 1922, by now Bishop Kelley described meeting Father Arthur Luckey. The Ellsworth priest immediately explained that he had rented a hotel room for his stay rather than have him lodge at his rectory.
“I want you to take a meal with me tonight. Then you will understand why I could not very well invite you to stay with me,” Bishop Kelley quoted Father Luckey as saying.
The rectory was but a shanty, he found. The church’s steps shook when he walked on them, and the interior suffered from neglect.
On the train ride home, Father Kelley wrote a magazine article, “I know a little ‘shanty’ in the West,” which caused a sensation when it was published. Urban Catholics wanted to help, prompting Father Kelley to form the Catholic Church Extension Society.
In 1910, Catholic Extension donated $2,000 to St. Bernard’s Parish to help build a new church.
Times improved. A parish hall was built in 1955, and an 87-bell carillon to honor Father Eugene Teahan, pastor from 1927 to 1950, was dedicated in 1960.
A new rectory was built in 1970, and a the church and parish hall were connected by an addition in 1991.
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