History of St. Agnes Catholic Church
As early as 1895, Polk County Catholic Church activities were attended to by missionary priests who traveled by stagecoach from Darndenelle, Arkansas. In 1896, the Kansas City Southern railroad brought more settlers to the area.
When Mena was less than a month old, the Catholic Church saw a need for religious guidance. Bishop Fitzgerald of Little Rock and the Rev. Father Enright of Fayetteville took the new Town Site Company at its word and proceeded to select a site for the church. Father McCormick, a hard working missionary, came to Mena and proceeded to construct a small frame building 26 feet by 40 feet and a small parsonage. The first St. Agnes Church was a plain box structure made of 12-inch boards. Split bottom chairs served as seats, and people knelt on the floor. The first service was held on All Saints Day, November 1, 1896.
The Bishop soon realized that Mena needed a young pastor with vitality to meet the demands of clerical life in Mena. The young pastor sent was Father A. P Gallagher, who had been ordained in June of 1897. When Father Gallagher arrived in Mena he found ten families, a very small church and parish house, and he was faced with a $1,400 debt. His mission work extended from Ft. Smith to Texarkana, covering 10,000 square miles. He traveled by train, handcars, mules, or walking.
Due to flooding, Father Gallagher decided the church should be moved to a different location. He wrote to the Bishop asking permission to do this. The Bishop finally gave permission by writing a card saying, "Go ahead. - God Help You." The site chosen is where the present St. Agnes Church is located. The old church was moved first, then the rectory. An addition to the church was made in 1912.
By the time the old church was paid for it was in ruins, so Father Gallagher decided to build a new one, which is still in use today. He drew up building plans in the form of a cross, with a Spanish style arch-ribbed roof of green clay tiles to set off the beauty of the native stone used for the walls. There are two massive towers of unequal height above the entrance, each topped with a cross. The body of the church is 85 feet by 50 feet, having a 50 foot nave. The basement served as the Parish Hall.
The beautiful stained glass windows, shipped from Germany, were paid for by donations. The new church was paid for by various church members and church organizations contributing their hard labor, time and money. Father Gallagher stated that the success of erecting the building was prayer. Three Hail Mary's were said daily by every man, woman and child of the congregation. The dedication of the church and Father Gallagher's Silver Jubilee were both in 1922. The church was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1991.
Father Gallagher set an unequaled record at his celebration of a Golden Jubilee on October 16, 1947 (click here to read his Golden Jubilee booklet). He had been pastor of St. Agnes Church for 50 years, and lived in the same house for 50 years. There has been a succession of pastors since Fr. Gallagher, each adding their own special touch. They include Fr. Jessie Chaney, Fr. Charles Diamond, Fr. Rainer DeClerk, Fr. Fredrick Zarrilli, Fr. Thomas Keller, Fr. Richard Strock, Fr. Jeremiah Murphy, Fr. Joseph Corenti, Fr. John Hlavacek, Fr. Ernest Hardesty, Fr. Dan Eakin, Fr. Jim Fanrack, Fr. Kevin Lee, Fr. Emmanuel Iheaka, Fr. Clayton Gould, Fr. Norbert Rappold, who was our pastor for 11 years, Father Joshua Stengel, Fr. John Tuyen Tran and our present priest, Fr. Joseph Shantiraj.