When St. Mary's first opened in 1867, many considered it to be one of the finest Gothic churches in the country. The church was designed by architect Ludwick Reidinger of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, in 1866. With a continuous flow of German immigrants settling in the Evansville area, Bishop St. Palais acknowledged a need for a new church to service the needs of the community. At the time there were only two Catholic churches in the area and one of them, Holy Trinity, (the German speaking church), was very overcrowded; therefore, St. Mary's was built to provide the German immigrants with a place to worship. St. Mary's would become the third Catholic church in Evansville. Mass was conducted in both English and German.
St. Mary's Catholic church sits at 609 Cherry street between SE Sixth street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. It is a fairly large complex consisting of the church, rectory, and what was once used as a school, which closed in 1970. All of which follow the same Gothic architecture style as the church. At first glance, when standing outside the church, it seems to be somewhat plain when comparing it to well known Gothic churches like those in Europe. The exterior is not as decorative as many of those commonly associated with Gothic architecture. However, the facade of St. Mary's clearly demonstrates Gothic characteristics. Three large Gothic style stained glass windows are the major focal points of the exterior of the church. Underneath the windows are three Gothic arched doorways. The glassworks around these entrances are obvious modern replacements. At the top of the church stands one large tower. This reinforces the Gothic tradition that the elements of a Gothic church move upward toward heaven. The entire facade clearly points up rather than out.
Although the exterior of St. Mary's is impressive, it in no way prepares the viewer for the spectacular architectural features of the interior. The floor plan is set up in a similar fashion as the basilica. It contains a nave, an apse, and arcades separating the nave from the side aisles. The interior of St. Mary's is decorated with many bright colors that are calming and soothing to the eye. One main attraction on the inside of the church are the nave arcades. These Gothic style arches are painted white and adorned with gold leafed edges. There are thirty-nine different statues of saints placed throughout the church. Many of these are grouped together at the apse. A statue of the virgin Mary stands in the center of sculptures and replaces the traditional crucifix that most Catholic churches have above the altar.
The stained glass windows in St. Mary's are another highlight of the interior which add to the aesthetic beauty of the church. These stained glass windows were installed in 1941 by Emil Frei studios in St. Louis. There are sixteen windows in all that tell the story of the life and death of Christ through the mystery of the rosary. Throughout the years St. Mary's has seen many changes to its interior and exterior although the church has maintained much of it original elements. In 1910 the entire facade of the church was covered with concrete-simulated stone or "sham-rock". In 1936 fire damaged much of the church and it was painted and re-frescoed. At this time the sanctuary was made larger and the choir loft was made smaller. Other changes were made in 1941 when the stained glass windows were installed. Finally, in 1989 the church was once again restored to it original beauty.