Early Omaha: Gateway to the West
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St. Mary Magdalene’s is one of the oldest parishes in Omaha. It was founded in 1868 by Father Otto Groenebaum and a dozen German families. It was known as “the German Church” or “the Doll Church” because of its small size. St. Mary Magdalene’s was located on a lot 66 x 132 feet on the north side of Douglas between 16th & 17th streets.
The little brick church was dedicated on Christmas Day 1868. The “Doll Church” was destroyed by fire on February 3, 1894. A new church was rebuilt on the same site but sold ten years later. The present St. Mary Magdalene’s at 19th & Dodge streets was begun on March 15, 1902 and dedicated in the Fall of 1903. St. Mary Magdalene’s is locally famous due to its being the only church built “down”. The city of Omaha decided to lower the very steep Dodge street hill in 1919. The street level of the church became its mezzanine and a whole new substructure had to be constructed. The work was completed by Christmas 1920.
Text written by Lynn Sullivan, November 2003