The story of St. Mary’s Church begins on 15th August 1836, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, when Fr. Edward O’Hagan P.P., laid the foundation stone. The new church was to replace the old Roe Mill Chapel, which had been in use since 1783. The site of the new church was donated by the Alexander family and it is believed the architect was George Given. It is said that the stone for the church originated in a quarry in Edenmore belonging to Daniel Mullan. Construction was slow but the people still came to Mass in the unfinished church and gathered inside the walls under the canopy.
In 1844 the new Parish Priest, Fr. Bernard O’Neill had the church roofed and completed. Fr. Philip Devlin, who was Parish Priest from 1856 to 1863, had a ceiling installed in St. Mary’s as well as improving the sanctuary, building a gallery and supplying gas to the church thus removing the need for oil lamps.
The Parish Baptismal register notes that the new Baptismal Font was solemnly blessed on Saturday 7th April 1860. The first organ for the church was also purchased in the same year. It was bought second-hand in Dublin for the princely sum of £80. This organ fell into disuse by the 1890’s and was replaced in August 1913. Fr. Devlin also provided six tall candlesticks and a tabernacle. A chalice was presented to Fr. Devlin by the people of the parish to mark his leaving in 1862. This chalice was used at the ceremony.
During the time of Fr. Edward Mc Kenna (1871 to 90), great attention was devoted to St. Mary’s Church. In 1872 he had six star globes installed. He had the church solemnly consecrated in 1873. In 1889, his last year in Limavady, a new and larger sacristy with two storeys was built, and he also installed 14 Stations of the Cross (not the set which was renovated), a new high altar, St. Joseph’s altar and statues of St. Patrick and St. Canice.
In 1890 a native of the parish from Ballykelly, Dr. Edward O ‘Brien, was appointed Parish Priest. He was also Vicar General of the Derry Diocese. It was in Dr. O’Brien’s time that the present day bell tower was added to the Church in 1896. A bell christened ‘St. Michael’ was also installed. He also added a statue of St. Anthony in the west transept where the baptistery was.
On his arrival in 1908, the new Parish Priest, Fr. James McGlade decided that it needed improvement. Two side altars were added. In fact, these side altars were incorporated onto the new sanctuary furniture in the 1981 renovation. New lamps were obtained in 1912. A wooden floor was also laid in 1912, replaced by a concrete one in 1981. It was during this time that the present day stained glass windows were installed over a period beginning in 1914. Fr. McGlade was Parish Priest for 39 years.
His successor was Fr. Anthony O’ Doherty (1947 t0 1960). He had a new floor installed in the tower of St. Mary’s Church and steel beams to support the bell. The church gallery was extended forward by several feet. Fr. O’Doherty, who died on 9th February 1960, was the first Parish Priest to be buried in St. Mary’s graveyard which was opened in 1941.
Fr. John McGarvey came to the parish in the spring of 1960. He renovated St. Mary’s in 1961 placing above the altar a Mahogany cross and the corpus taken from the previous crucifix. This was transferred to the present brass cross.
In 1965 sound amplification was installed in the church. In 1968 Fr. McGarvey recorded the ordination of Fr. Anthony Mailey. He modernised the sanctuary in 1970 following the Liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The last renovation and renewal took place in 1981 during Fr. Philip Donnelly’s tenure as Parish Priest. He retired in 1995.
(This article appeared in local newspapers on the occasion of the Dedication of the new Altar and Solemn re-opening of St. Mary’s in April, 2009)