Genealogy and History
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In October, 1827, before the first white settlers had permanently located in Stephenson County before that historical event known as the Black Hawk War, the first mass was offered up to God by Father Stephen Vincent Baden. This event, so notable in the history of Catholicity in the county, occurred at the cabin of a man named Simon Brady who was then living in the vicinity of Kellogg's Grove. Father Baden did not stay long in the county, as he was on his way to visit Galena and Prairie du Chien to administer the spiritual needs of the miners who were beginning to throng to those regions.
The next six years are a blank. It was not until 1843 that further developments took place. At that time, the Bishop of St. Louis, who had under his jurisdiction all the western part of Illinois, sent Father John McMahan to locate his dwelling in Galena and care for the spiritual welfare of the settlers who were beginning to appear in large numbers in that section of the country. At first Father McMahan went to Dubuque, Iowa, where he remained for a short time only, presently departing to fulfill his mission in Galena and the surrounding counties. Stephenson County was included in his charge and for the next ten years had no resident priest of its own. Father McMahan found the labors of his position excessive. In less than a year he had completely worn himself out and in the ninth month of his stay he died and was succeeded by Father Fitz Morris. Father Fitz Morris' labors were even more brief, for in three months he also went to his everlasting rest. Father Shanahan the third priest at Galena also died soon after coming to these parts and was buried beside his predecessors. In 1843, the connection of Stephenson County Catholics with the Galena congregation ceased, and they received their first resident priest, Farther Derwin, whom the Bishop of St. Louis appointed to the. parish of New Dublin. His parish was extended over the counties of Stephenson, Lee, Ogle, and Winnebago, with his residence at New Dublin. The welcome pastor made his home with a family named Murphy and offered the holy mass in a log church "16x24 feet and seven logs high," which had been erected in 1836. In 1844 the Bishop of Chicago was given jurisdiction over all Illinois and in 1846 he appointed the Rev. James Cavanaugh to the charge of New Dublin' and the Missions in its vicinity. This clergyman was succeeded by Rev. F. Kalvelage, who erected, in 1855, the church now in use at New Dublin.
In 1854, Father Cavanaugh came to Freeport to reside permanently, but the history of St. Mary's Parish dates back farther than that. Four years before, the priest had succeeded in organizing the present parish, but no church was built, and instead mass was offered up at the home of one of the members of the parish. It was in the little parlor of the home of Thomas Egan, at a time when there were but few houses in the city of Freeport, that a number of Catholics met one afternoon to form a congregation. It was in that same little parlor, thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Egan, that services were held by Mrs. Egan's brother, Father Cavanaugh. Mrs. Egan passed away only a short time ago and was for a long time the only surviving member of the first parish. Among those who attended the first meeting in her home were Father Cavanaugh, Richard and Thomas Barren, Robert Balow, Mr. Tuhey, Edward Cavanaugh, James Manion, George Cavanaugh, Thomas and John O'Connor, Thomas Egan, Mr. Nagle, William Barren, and Mrs. Catherine Egan. One of the first steps taken was a proposal to build a church, and the congregation all put down their names for contributions in accordance with their means. A few hundred dollars were raised but the sum was inadequate for the building of a church.
In the meantime the brave little congregation was granted the use of a hall belonging to J. K. Brewster. The hall proved large enough for the Catholic citizens to assemble there to assist at the holy sacrifice on Sundays, and there they worshiped, until the little frame church, begun nine months later, was completed.
Various materials were voluntarily furnished, and thus the expense was materially lessened. Robert and Thomas McGee furnished the sills, others gave shingles, glass, nails, putty, etc., and so, after much labor and self denial, the little structure was completed, and who shall express the happiness of a devout people, such as these, when they knelt once more in a real church, however poor and plain.
During Father Cavanaugh's pastorate in Freeport there were no railroads. Early in the fifties, the Illinois Central was not completed, and he had to travel almost incessantly with horse and buggy. The cholera made his work yet more laborious, because of the great number of sick people he was called upon to see. He met with many ludicrous, and some very dangerous experiences in his travels over the wild country. Everywhere he found opportunities open for earnest work, and it is no wonder that he was greatly beloved by the members of his flock, for he was untiring in his efforts in their behalf.
Father Ferdinand Kalvelage, who succeeded Father Cavanaugh, remained in charge of St. Mary's Parish until 1859. It was during his pastorate at St. Mary's that the second church, a brick structure, was built. The new edifice was a decided improvement on the old one, and was considered a very excellent building at the time of its erection. The cornerstone was laid in July, 1855, and in it was placed a tin box containing copies of the weekly papers of the city, some manuscript, 3, 5, and 10 cent pieces, and a copy of the New York Catholic Zeitung. The lumber used in the building was brought down the Mississippi to Savanna and was hauled from there by oxen. The material was hewn out with the ax. The structure was 40x80 feet and was severely plain and unadorned. It continued to meet the needs of the congregation somewhat inadequately for thirty-five years until the present edifice was built in 1890.
Father Thomas O'Gara was Father Kalvelage's successor. He came to St. Mary's in August, 1859, and during the seven years of his pastorate he showed himself an indefatigable worker and a most zealous pastor. Not being acquainted with the German language he engaged from time to time the services of a German priest, for the benefit of the German half of the congregation, who did not leave St. Mary's until 1862. This event occurred in Father O'Gara's pastorate, the German's building St. Joseph's church and the Irish retaining the use of St. Mary's after having given a certain sum to aid in the building of St. Joseph's. It was also at this time that the first parochial residence was fitted for use, the old frame church being used for the purpose. Father O'Gara likewise secured property for St. Mary's Cemetery west of town, and succeeded in raising funds sufficient for the purchase of a pipe organ which has ever since remained in use.
Following Father O'Gara, two priests, Father Kennedy and Father Rigby filled the charge for brief and uneventful periods, and in 1867 Father Michael J. Hanley came. He stayed for only two years, but accomplished a great deal in that short time. The old frame church having become unfit for the parochial residence, it was moved away, and on a newly purchased lot was erected a two- story brick building, which remained in use until vacated by Father Stack for the use of the Sisters. In 1868 the first school was organized, later to be improved and enlarged.
Father P. L. Hendriek succeeded in 1870 and remained a short time only, to be succeeded by Father Murtaugh, who bought the brick building converted into St. Mary's school, and also painted the interior of the church building. In June, 1871, Father Stack came, and turned his attention to the school which he immediately began to improve and re-organize. Money was raised, with which the building was repaired and duly furnished. Application was made to the Dominican mother house at Sinsinawa Mound for instructors who were sup- plied and immediately took charge of the school. Father Stack vacated his own house that the Sisters might have a home, and then began to build them the present convent, which at that time was considered one of the most comfortably furnished structures of its kind in the northwest.
In 1877, Father Thomas F. Mangan came to take charge. He was a very diligent worker and effected a number of desirable changes and improvements. He repaired and remodeled the church and added a considerable piece of land to the church cemetery, now in very respectable condition. Father Mangan remained in Freeport for ten years, to be succeeded by Father Michael Welby. Father Welby was a man of great learning and was warmly welcomed by St. Mary's Parish. It was during his time that the matter of building a new church was considered, and a fair was held to create a fund for that purpose. The new priest was not, however, a man of robust strength and in 1890 he took a trip to the City of Mexico for the purpose of regaining his health. His quest was unsuccessful and he died while in Mexico.
Father W. A. Horan succeeded Father Welby.
Father W.A. Horan
He was a most able and energetic worker, and much beloved by all the members of the parish. During his occupancy many changes were brought about. Most important of these was the building of the new church. There had been talk of building a new church during Father Welby's stay, and even earlier but nothing definite had been done. Father Koran's perseverance and courage led to the raising of sufficient funds and in April, 1890, a sum had been raised large enough to warrant immediate progress on the work. On August 3, 1890, the corner stone was laid, with appropriate exercises, Father McLaughlin of Rockford and Father Horan conducting the simple but eloquent exercises before an audience of three thousand people.
The church is 53x137 and is built of native stone, with trimming of terra cotta. On Wednesday, October 28, 1891, the solemn opening of the church occurred, the dedication not being accomplished until somewhat later.
In 1896 occurred the Golden Jubilee Festival commemorating the introduction of the Catholic religion into Siephenson County. High festival was held, a triumphal arch was erected on State street spanning the thoroughfare from the school to the church, and many Catholics from out of town were present.
In 1903, the school building and hall were completely repaired, remodeled, and rebuilt, making of the structure a thoroughly up-to-date school and auditorium.
Shortly after the accomplishment of these labors, a great sorrow came to the parish in the death of Father Horan, who had been for some time in poor health. His decease was mourned not only by his own church people but by the community at large, for Father Horan, like few of his predecessors, had been a most active influence for good in the various departments of social and charitable work in the city.
Father Horan was succeeded by Father Daniel Croke, who remained in Freeport until October, 1907, when he was succeeded by Father Thomas J. Leydon, who still holds the charge. The church is at present in a most prosperous condition and numbers over six hundred members. [Source: History of Stephenson CO - Addison L. Fulwider 1910 Chapter 373]
The first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Stephenson County was celebrated by Father Stephen Vincent Baden in Oct., 1827, in the cabin of Simon Brady while the Father was on his way to Galena to minister to the miners in the lead region. The little cabin stood near Kellogg’s Grove, in the vicinity of the spot where now stands the monument which marks the battle of the Black Hawk war. The first resident priest in Stephenson County was Father Derwin who was appointed by the Bishop of St. Louis to the parish of New Dublin. The church was built in 1836, of logs 16x24, and seven logs high.
In 1818 the Rev. John Cavanaugh, pastor of the church at New Dublin, called together the first congregation that assembled in Freeport, in the parlor of Mrs. Thomas Egan, sister of the Father. A room on the second floor of her house was afterward fitted up as a chapel and here the little congregation continued to meet at intervals for two years, until it outgrew the small chapel. At this time J. K. Brewster, although not a Catholic, very kindly offered the use of his hall which they occupied until, with the few* hundred dollars raised, the little frame church was completed nine months later.
In 1852, with the consent of his Bishop, Father Cavanaugh changed his residence from New Dublin to Freeport. In 1854, Father Cavanaugh being removed to Joliet, the Rev. Ferdinand Kavelage was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s. During his administration a brick church, a grand building for those times was erected. Father Kavelage remained in charge until 1859 when Father O’ Gara succeeded him at St. Mary’s. The new pastor converted the old church into a comfortable dwelling, collected funds to purchase the cemetery, and it is stated he procured the fine pipe organ still in use. It was during his administration, in 1862, that the German parish of St. Joseph was organized. In April, 1800, Father O’Gara was succeeded by Father Kennedy and in November of the same year, he in turn was followed by Rev. George Rigby who left the next spring.
Rev. Michael J. Hanly became pastor of St. Mary’s in 1867. He was a man of great energy and perseverance. The old frame residence was sold and removed, and a new residence erected on the lot in the rear of the church, fronting on State St., which was purchased for that purpose. Father Hanly accomplished much in a short time.
Rev. P. L. Hendricks became pastor of St. Mary’s in September, 1869, and in February, 1870. he was succeeded by Rev. F. J. Murtaugh. The new pastor, by his zealous efforts, succeeded in purchasing the two-story brick school house which stood on the opposite side of the street. He continued as pastor until June, 1871, when Rev. Maurice Stack succeeded him. Father Stack had the school building repaired and refurnished, and secured the services of the Dominican Sisters, for whom he vacated his own residence, nor did he again occupy it until he had built and furnished for the sisters a better house than the pastoral residence. In the meantime he lodged in the attic of the school house and took his meals elsewhere. He purchased the two lots adjoining the school upon one of which he later built St. Mary’s convent. In March, 1877, Father Stack was succeeded by Rev. Thomas F. Mangan.
Under the supervision of Father Mangan the cemetery was surveyed, platted and beautified; the church raised and otherwise repaired, and an addition built to the residence. He remained until Oct., 1887, and his successor, Rev. M. Welby, was followed in Feb., 1890, by Rev. William A. Horan.
In January, 1890, Father Horan announced in church that if forty families would contribute $250.00 each they could begin a new church. At a meeting that afternoon he began the work by giving his own check for $250.00, and raised $10,000 that afternoon. Father Horan gave, in all $3,500. In May the building was commenced, August 3rd of that year the corner- stone was laid, and Oct. 28th the new church was opened. The church, which is built of stone in the modern gothic style, 53x137 ft. with a tower 10x16, 110 ft. high, cost, when completed, $40,000. In the summer of ’91, he built a new school and hall, a brick building 54x104 ft. and two and one-half stories high, the expenses of which were met with the proceeds of lectures, concerts and other entertainments. In 1897 a new front, three stories in height, was built to the school at a cost of $13,000. He also built the fine parochial residence adjoining the church. St. Mary's parish is now provided with everything that could be desired in the way of buildings, is free from debt, and stands on a firm financial basis. [Source: "Footprints of the Pioneers" Publ. 1900 Transcribed by Christine Walters]
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