Old St. Mary's Church
The Old Church, located on the corner of College and University in Tempe, is the oldest church in the valley. Built in 1903, it's a National Historical Landmark and the site where a group of Catholic students gathered to form the Newman Club in 1932. The Old Church is used throughout the year for weekly Masses, concerts, weddings, exhibits and tours.
The Old Church: A Look at 100 Years of History
The history of the "Old Church" is anchored in the history of the Valley and of Arizona. The present structure, with its single tall steeple, seems to represent the indomitable spirit of those who settled in a seemingly worthless desert to build their homes and villages, raise their families, and gather together to worship. The simple, beautiful "Old Church" ‐ the oldest in the Valley ‐ makes us think of old times, dirt roads, missionary priests, and humble beginnings. But it lives today, still serving, still gathering us together in worship.
Prior to 1903…
Arizona was a recently created U.S. territory. Indian resistance was still "today's" news. Statehood would not occur for nine years after the present "Old Church" was built, but the community in Tempe already had a history. The San Pablo Hispanic community had built itself an adobe church at the foot of the small butte that helps to frame Sun Devil Stadium today. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and named St. Mary's. As the new century dawned, the community outgrew the little chapel and began construction of a brick church at what is now University and College.
The Early Years
The Hispanic community, with the help of professional bricklayers, built the new church, which was begun in 1902 and completed in 1903. It was dedicated as St. Mary's Church in January of 1904. The parish continued to be served by the Franciscan priests of St. Mary's, Phoenix, until 1925, when Spanish priests from Immaculate Heart Church took over, visiting Tempe once or twice a month.
1932 to the 1960s
In 1932 the Bishop of Tucson, Daniel J. Gercke announced a decree to erect a new movable parish to serve Tempe that would be named Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Church became the home of this parish, and Fr. James Davis was the first resident pastor. Between 1927‐1941, the church was remodeled and a parish house built. Thereafter, a Catholic school and convent were also established. It was in the mid 1950s that a new school and rectory were built on Rural Road, and in 1968 a new church, which carried with it the name of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was constructed at the Rural Road site. The "Old Church" passed into the care of the Newman Catholic Student Center.
From the 1960s to the Early 1990s
The 1960s saw considerable growth at Arizona State University. The ASU Newman Center was no exception. In 1960 construction began on a two‐story facility adjacent to Old St. Mary's Church. It was dedicated in 1962 and serves as the present‐day hub of the ASU All Saints Newman Center community. Because the Old Church lacked proper heating and cooling, as well as access for persons with disabilities, regular celebration of Mass was moved from the Old Church across the courtyard to the Newman Center main chapel.
Our Dominican Heritage
In 1968, the Bishop of Tucson asked the Western Dominicans to take on service to the "new" Newman Center at ASU.Â The good Dominicans soon found themselves part of a "new" diocese, too!Â The ensuing 40+ years would see some of the most exciting and dramatic change to ASU, Tempe, and, of course, our Newman Center.Â It's the vision and loving service of the Dominican priests and laity that have made possible our new building project and charted the course for future leadership.
The Old Church Now and Beyond
The Old Church is once again in use for prayer services, candlelight Masses, Baptisms, weddings, concerts, recitals, and other events which benefit the community. The Old Church completed a process of restoration after being condemned by the City of Tempe in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1980s, through a matching grant from the Arizona Heritage Fund and under sponsorship of the City of Tempe, the stained glass windows, which had been damaged through years of exposure and many times patched, were cleaned and restored to their original beauty. In 1995, a downtown beautification project by the City of Tempe in preparation for the Super Bowl added palm trees, new brick, and other items to the area immediately in front of the Old Church and Newman Center property. A climate control system was installed, and in early 2001 the Old Church was made accessible to people with disabilities. Plans for future work include stabilization and repair of the deteriorating bell tower. In 2003 The Old Church celebrated her centennial year. Today, this National Historic Landmark and a Tempe Historic Property remains a historic jewel and modern day hub at the gateway between Arizona State University and the City of Tempe.