Church History: Catholic


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Excerpt from the Peoria, City and County, Illinois (1912) by James M. Rice, Volume I, pages 147-152, submitted by Janine Crandell

     The year 1843 bears witness to the visit of the first Catholic bishop to Peoria. Bishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis came and celebrated Mass in Stillman's Row and also in the old courthouse. His visit was quite an event bringing Catholics from Galena, La Salle, Black Partridge and Kickapoo. He confirmed twenty-seven and remained for some days delivering addresses for three consecutive evenings to mixed audiences in the courthouse.
     It was this visit which brought about the purchase of the ground which later became the site of old St. Mary's church—so many years the pro-cathedral of the diocese of Peoria. Today the church building has passed but the grounds remain ornamented by a new and up-to-date parochial school which is the property of the parish and retains the name of St. Mary's.
     From Bishop Kenrick's visit to 1851 and 1852 when the first St. Mary's church was built, services were held in various places about the city chiefly in a little brick building on the alley between Madison and Jefferson streets. For many years afterward this same spot was the site of the first parochial school in Peoria. St. Mary's church, whose opening under Father Montuori, July 4, 1852, we are all privileged to chronicle was dedicated some months later, April 17, 1853, by Bishop Van de Velde—the second bishop of Chicago. From the opening of St. Mary's church in 1852 its abandonment May, 1889, in favor of the cathedral which now stands a thing of imposing beauty, sixteen pastors presided over its destinies. Among the best known were Father Abraham J. Ryan, later known as "The Poet Priest of the South" and Fathers M. J. Hurley and Benjamin J. Spalding, whose early death was bemoaned but who left in the new St. Mary's, corner Madison and Green streets, an enduring monument to his memory and an evidence that his ten years of pastorate were busy and fruitful years. more about St. Mary's...

The Diocese of Peoria VI

     The setting apart, into a diocese bearing the name of our county seat, of a certain territory stretching across the entire width of central Illinois gives a new and significant prominence to the Catholic church story of Peoria county.
     The diocese of Peoria was erected by Papal Brief, February 12, 1875, and its first Bishop Rt. Rev. John L. Spalding was consecrated in New York city by Cardinal McClosky, May 1, 1877. Twenty-two days later he came to Peoria and for more than thirty years or to be exact until November, 1908, when his resignation handed in two months previous, was accepted by Rome, he directed the destiny of the Catholic church in Peoria with rare administrative power; with wisdom, catholic in the broadest sense; with universal sympathy and with a gift of eloquence that would have marked him in any age or country; with a pen unfailing and chaste. All this lifted the diocese of Peoria to a place not explained by numbers or distinctive early history, however interesting. Doubtless in last analysis the historian in explanation, finds himself saying as Sir Arthur Helps said of Cardinal Ximines, "He is like a city on the margin of deep waters such as Genoa, where no receding tide reveals anything that is mean, squalid or unbecoming."
     When Bishop Spalding took up his residence in Peoria, May, 1877, there were besides St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and St. Patrick's parishes. The year 1855 bears witness to the erection of St. Joseph's church. It was in every way unpretentious, a frame building fifty by thirty-two. Its first pastor and builder was Father Gipperich—formerly of Black Partridge—who remained until 1857. Among the well known and more prominent pastors of this church are Fathers Boers, Dieters, Baak, Rotter and Greve, who yet remains. The distinction of building the present permanent church dedicated in 1880 belongs to Father Baak, who began his pastorate in 1872.
     St. Patrick's, the largest of the Catholic parishes of the city of Peoria, began its particular history in 1862. Father Coyle, rector of St. Mary's, built a small frame church there for the wants of the growing population in "The Lower End." It was attended from St. Mary's, and became strong enough to stand alone, May 1, 1868, when Father Hurley resigned the pastorate of St. Mary's to become the first and much loved pastor of St. Patrick's. He built the present permanent church, which was tried as by fire, but which arose again and was dedicated November 27, 1881. Father Hurley died December 11, 1892, and was succeeded by its present rector Rt. Rev. Bishop Peter J. O'Reilly. [Note: The church closed in 1976.]

submitted by Larry Hagemann
click on thumbnail for a larger image...


     The parish of the Sacred Heart, whose proximity to the city hall makes the visitor know the church is in town and suggests possibly the balance of civil and religious government—this church was the first of the new parishes which followed in fairly rapid succession under the stimulus of the first bishop of Peoria. Begun in 1880 it was for more than a decade cared for by the Capuchin Fathers, who in 1892 were succeeded by the Sons of St. Francis of Assissi. They have changed all the temporary buildings into permanent structures of approved architectural beauty.
     The year 1881 finds the population of "The Lower End" demanding nearer church accommodations and in this demand arose St. Boniface's parish. Its first rector and organizer was the Rev. F. Von Schwedler, who built a frame church and school and brick parochial residence. He was succeeded, 1892, by the Franciscan Fathers, who later erected the permanent church and school. The parish remains under their charge and shows yearly gains in membership and religious vitality. [Note: St. Boniface and St. John merged in 1994 to become St. Ann at the original St. Boniface's site.]

click on thumbnail for a larger image...

     St. John's parish took birth July, 1890. It found reason for its existence in the growth covered up by that somewhat mystic but comprehensive phrase "The Lower End." It was most fortunate in its first rector, who like the first rector of St. Boniface, came from Gilman, Illinois.
     The Rev. John P. Quinn had youth, vigor, industry, enthusiasm and eloquence. They were assets that counted. January, 1911, he was advanced to the Deanery of Ottawa, Illinois. His twenty years of residence in St. John's left a void in many hearts; they also left four permanent buildings in which to carry on the parochial life. He was succeeded by the Rev. T. E. Madden, of Arlington, Illinois.
     St. Mark's parish made a beginning July, 1891. Its first rector and organizer was Rev. Francis J. O'Reilly, who came from Utica, Illinois, to do the work. He remained in charge until June, 1897, when he was advanced to the rectorship of St. Mary's cathedral and made chancellor of the diocese of Peoria. His six years of living on the West Bluff witnessed—after a year of temporary organization—the completion of the present permanent church and rectory.
     He was succeeded by Rev. James Shannon, who in December, 1910, was succeeded by Rev. John H. Burke, of Bloomington, Illinois. Father Burke, its third rector still cares for the spiritual needs of the growing parish.
     St. Bernard's, the newest of the congregations of the city of Peoria proper, was born of the spiritual needs of the people of the Catholic faith who sought homes in what is locally called the East Bluff. The parish was created and the church built in 1904 by Father F. J. O'Reilly, while rector of the cathedral. Its first resident rector was appointed on the day of dedication, October, 1904. He remains and reigns successfully in the person of Rev. M. P. Sammon, who has since added to the parish equipment a parochial residence and school, both of permanent character and architectural beauty.
     St. Peter's, Averyville, came into existence humbly enough toward the end of December, 1897. In August, 1898, the present church was dedicated and later a parochial residence was acquired. These things were done by Rev. F. J. O'Reilly while rector of St. Mary's Cathedral. The priests of the cathedral answered all its spiritual demands until August, 1911, when its first and present rector came in the person of Rev. Enos Barnes. [Note: The church moved to Alexander and Madison in 1913. The church burned in 1927.]

Extra-Urban Territory

     Brimfield, Dunlap, Princeville, Elmwood, Edelstein, and Chillicothe all have churches and four of them are administered by resident priests.
     Brimfield claimed its first resident priest in 1867 and the honor fell to Rev. J. Murphy who has had twelve successors—among them Rev. Max Albrecht, Canon J. Moyinhan, Very Rev. James Shannon, present Vicar General of the Diocese of Peoria and the Rev. A. Mainville, rector since 1899.

St. Joseph's & Rectory: Brimfield
submitted by Sandy MacDonald

     Elmwood for several years attended from Brimfield, secured a resident rector in 1892. Rev. D. A. Kelley to whom that distinction came was succeeded after a few months by Rev. J. W. Callias, who in turn was followed by Rev. N. Dempsey, the present incumbent.
     Chillicothe after being an out-mission of Henry for some years, became a distinct parish entity in 1904, when the Rev. E. M. Hayden arrived as its first rector. The present church building was erected by Rev. Edward Kniery, while coming now and then, as rector of St. Joseph's, Henry. The parochial residence is due to Father Hayden, who remained until autumn, 1911. He was succeeded by Rev. J. E. Roach.
     Catholicity came to Princeville with the early Irish and German settlers. At that time there was no church nearer than Kickapoo or Peoria to which places they were accustomed to drive. While the present Peoria diocese was part of the archdiocese of Chicago, the Catholic people of Princeville township were ministered to by priests from Peoria city. On September 7, 1867, the Rev. J. Murphy was appointed first rector of Princeville and his successors in turn have been, Rev. Max Albright, Rev. Chas. Wenserski, Rev. Father Moore, Very Rev. J. Canon Moyninhan, Rev. H. Schreiber, Rev. P. A. McGair, Rev. C. A. Hausser and Rev. C. P. O'Neill.
     It was in Father Murphy's time that the old Presbyterian meeting house was purchased and made into a Roman Catholic church, the first in Princeville. Father Albrecht built the first rectory. The handsome new church was the work of Father McGair, while the present fine new rectory, together with the Christ chapel and the fittings for the church are the results of the labor of Father O'Neill, the present rector.
     Attached to the mother church in Princeville are two missions, one at Dunlap and the other at Edelstein. At the former place is a strong parish composed of many of the leading citizens. The first church was built in 1879 by Father Moyninhan on ground given by Alva Dunlap. This church known as St. Rose's served the congregation till the November of 1909 when it was destroyed by lightning. It has been replaced by a handsome new brick and stone structure in the English Gothic style and is now known as St. Clement's.
     St. Matthew's in Edelstein was the result of a gift by Matthew McDonnell, one of the early settlers of Hallock township and a staunch Catholic. It was built in 1901 and although the parish is small the members make up in enthusiasm what they lack in numbers.

[Note: not mentioned in this book: St. Patrick's and St. Mary's in Kickapoo]

St. Patrick's: Erected in 1837 and dedicated in 1839
Picture taken in Oct. 25, 2004


St. Mary's Catholic Church in Kickapoo
Picture taken in Aug. 21, 2007


Roman Catholic Institutions

     Apart from distinct parochial organization and equipment, which is similar to that found elsewhere, the Bishop of Peoria was eager and persistent in the establishment of parish schools. It is noteworthy therefore, that in the city of Peoria each parish has its own school. Most of the buildings are new and models in equipment and efficiency. Five sisterhoods direct their progress.
     Higher education is represented by the Academy of Our Lady of The Sacred Heart, corner Bryan and Madison, and by the Spalding Institute, corner Madison and Jackson streets. The former began in 1863 and has gradually added to its material endowment so that it is stronger today than at any time during the past half century. It has continued under the management of the founders and their successors in the same sisterhood—Sisters of St. Joseph's, Carondelet, Mo. Many of the women of the leading families of Peoria and surrounding counties lovingly call it Alma Mater.
     Spalding Institute, which in 1901 opened its doors for young men seeking a higher education classical, commercial and scientific other than that obtainable in the ordinary graded school, is the personal gift of Bishop Spalding. Born of his brain and pocket book, it continues as it began, under the direction of the Brothers of Mary of Dayton, Ohio, to send forth its yearly quota of young men equipped in things of the mind for the more serious and strenuous problems of modern life. The building itself is one of the architectural triumphs of the city of Peoria.
     From the educational institutions we pass to the charitable and philanthropic, which have found material expression in the St. Francis Hospital, Home of theGood Shepherd and St. Joseph's Home for the Aged, St. Francis' Hospital began in 1876. Four of the Bismark—exiled sisters were brought to Peoria by the Rev. B. Baak, rector of St. Joseph's church. They rented the Bradley home place on Adams street and remained there until the autumn of 1877, when Bishop Spalding secured for them the site on Glen Oak avenue, which they still occupy. They have not only annexed neighboring lots for the needs of newer and up-to-date buildings and equipment at home; but they have gone abroad and almost annexed surrounding states. To a modern and highly efficient hospital and Mother House in Peoria, they have added ten new hospitals in Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. The acorn is now the oak.
     The Home of the Good Shepherd threw open its doors July, 1891. The impelling power was Bishop Spalding, who called on the various parishes of the diocese to lend the helping hand. The Catholics of the city of Peoria and many non-Catholics as well have continued their interest in and appreciation of the great sacrifices made by the sisters for the fallen and dangerously-near of our race.
     The local chronicler finds himself dwelling upon the bond which ties Peoria in its Catholic history to St. Louis. The first bishop to visit Peoria was Bishop Kenrick of St. Louis, the first priest to say Mass here after the discoverer and the explorer had passed was sent by Bishop Rosati of St. Louis. The Sisters of St. Joseph's who opened the first Catholic school of learning here came from St. Louis. The Brothers of Mary who direct the Spalding Institute now look to St. Louis as their Mother House and headquarters. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd came from St. Louis and as their home here grows they turn to St. Louis for other "Angels of Buena Vista" to continue the work. Though tried by fire they have prospered and are today more flourishing than ever. Not Peoria county alone nor many counties of Illinois but neighboring states are indebted to their zeal for relieving them of many of the cares and burdens of charity.
     St. Joseph's Home for the Aged is a home-grown charity. It was given its first impulse by Rev. C. Rotter, rector of St. Joseph's church. December, 1902, found it beginning in a humble way on Smith street. The present modern buildings twice added to are an index of the need for such an institution and of the ability to make things go which stands back of it in the humble garb of Mother Pacifica. It has since sought other fields and conquered them. Nine schools and homes look to it for supply and guidance. Just now a new building to be used for training sisters as a mother house is lifting itself skyward on the West Bluff.
     We interrupted the story special to St. Mary's parish when we noted the passing of old St. Mary's church, May 14, 1889, corner Jefferson and Bryan streets, in the cathedral, corner Madison and Green, which since May 15, 1889, has been not only the center of the parochial life for the people of St. Mary's but—being the Bishop's church and seat—of the directive Catholic life of Peoria and surrounding counties as well. The day of the opening of the new cathedral was also the day of its dedication. Archbishops Feehan and Ireland, Bishops Ryan of Alton, Janssens of Bellville, Cosgrove of Davenport and Hennessy of Dubuque were prelates present. The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Feehan and the sermon delivered by Bishop Hennessy. The next event which in the story of the parish had a wider than parochial interest was the consecration of Rt. Rev. P. J. O'Reilly as Bishop Auxiliary to Bishop Spalding. This event took place September, 1900, and brought to Peoria many visiting Bishops. The consecrator was the apostolic delegate later known as Cardinal Martinelli.

St. Mary's Cathedral circa 1930 postcard
This cathedral, envisioned by Bishop Spalding,  was a
smaller version of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

     Far and away the most important and most imposing event in the history of St. Mary's gathers itself around the silver jubilee of Bishop Spalding who, May 1, 1902, celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration. There were present Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore; Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul; Arch­bishop Keane of Dubuque; Archbishop Kain of St. Louis; Archbishop Riordan, of San Francisco. Bishops Gabriels of Ogdensburg, N. Y., McQuaid of Rochester, N. Y.; Byrne, of Nashville; Foley, of Detroit; Messmer, of Green Bay; Shanley, of Fargo, North Dakota; Cotter, of Winona, Minnesota; Scannell, of Omaha; Burke, of St. Joe, Missouri; Dunne, of Dallas, Texas; Cosgrove, of Davenport; Glennon, of Kansas City; Muldoon, of Chicago; Ryan, of Alton; Janssens, of Belleville, Illinois; Moeller, of Columbus, Ohio; and Conaty, Rector Catholic University, Washington, D. C.
     Since the dedication of St. Mary's cathedral it has had four rectors: Rev C F. H. O'Neill, Rev. Martin O'Conner, Rev. F. J. O'Reilly and Rev. James Shannon, present incumbent. The two former—after a pastoral direction of six years passed to their reward. The Rev. F. J. O'Reilly, succeeding to the rectorship, June, 1897, and with the distinction of serving longest in point of years, was transferred to Danville, Illinois, December 8, 1911. The Very Rev. James Shannon, who now directs its spiritual and temporal interests is also Vicar General of the Diocese of Peoria.
     January 6, 1905, Bishop Spalding was suddenly stricken with paralysis, which, while not fatal nor wholly incapacitating him for the work here recounted and of which he had been so large a part that the narrator must thrust him forward and hang around his virile and constantly growing personality the story of more than thirty years of the Catholic life of Peoria county—the affliction so handicapped him that in September, 1908, he voluntarily laid down the burden.
     That diocesan work did not locally confine him or take up all his energies cannot better be told than in the words of a cosmopolitan newspaper which chronicling his resignation September, 1908, said "when John Lancaster Spalding became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Peoria, in 1877, he was an ardent young churchman, and his missionary labors were fruitful. He was not then, as now internationally famous as scholar, writer, orator and sociologist, but the thirty odd years of his episcopacy brought this and more.
     "Illinois has claimed as sons some great idealists. Foremost among them stands John Lancaster Spalding, a gentle, saintly prelate in his church relationships and a lion in strength as educator, sociologist and humanitarian. An ideal American bishop was Spalding, for his teachings were American. He was a natural leader in the group of progressive churchmen including Gibbons, Ireland and Keane, who have helped to make American Catholicism what it is today."
     September 1, 1909, witnessed at the cathedral of Chicago the consecration of Rt. Rev. Edmund M. Dunne. Eight days later the newly consecrated came to Peoria and was installed as successor to Rt. Rev. John L. Spalding. The second bishop of Peoria has youth, vigor and sympathy—one to the manor born, and a cosmopolitan grasp—the result of many years' study abroad. He is a linguist, eloquent of speech in his own tongue and the first native of Illinois to be advanced to an episcopal see in Illinois.

Confirmation class of the spring of 1931: in front of St. Mary's Cathedral
submitted by Peggy Nemmers

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