The new St. Mary's Church, dedicated October 15, 1898
St. Marys Catholic Church
Located on the corner of Avenue B and West Sixth St. It started in 1854 and was first called St. Patricks and remained so until 1900, when it was renamed St. Marys. The church only met about every three months in the early days and and about once a month beginning around 1861 under the direction of Rev. Michael Ford. When he died in 1862 he was buried in Dixon but the parishioners of Sterling disinterred his body and buried him in Sterling. He was again disinterred and reburied when the new cemetery was purchased around 1890. The first resident pastor was the Rev. John Daly about 1863. The church prospered greatly, complete with a fine church, a rectory as well as a school and convent. They fell upon hard times in the 1880's when they lost everyting. In 1886 they purchased the church once used by the Presbyterians. The first church and rectory were built in 1863 and replaced within two years. Around 1900 a new church was erected at the corner of Avenue B and 6th St, the rectory being built a year later.
The early history of St. Patrick's is enveloped in obscurity, not a single representative of its first membership being left to tell the tale of the organization's young struggles. Tradition alone is to be relied on for an account of the transpirings of those early days. It seems that away back in the forties (1840's) a priest would come occassionally into this neighborhood from beyond the Mississippi and hold services in what by courtesy was called the Court House. The gathering evidently were notable affairs, for we are told that the throng was immense, no available space being forgotten or neglected. In the words of Mr. Sol Seely, "Parthions and Medes, Elamites etc, and strangers from Rome were there."
Some time during the year 1854, the true nucleus of a parish began to form. Clergymen attached to the Dixon Mission began to attend to the spiritual wants of the Catholics of this neighborhood, and, as these visits increased, so likewise did the attendance of the Communicants. Services were held at different points in the district, but the favorite locality was up in what is now our First ward. Mr. Lyon's home was the shrine of welcome. Like Zacheous of old, the Captain was not a son of Israel, but nevertheless he possessed a soul ever swayed by noble impulses. This gentleman generously donated a building site, soon after, and banking the offerings saved from their scanty earnings, the devoted Catholics started and finished the first church. It was a frame building, very unpretensious but suited every purpose, and for that day, gave free expression of true Catholic faith in those who made the sacrifice. The first resident priest was Father Herbert - 1862.
The following year, 1883, brought a new pastor, the Rev. John Daly and new impulse to the congregation. Societies were formed, building committees called into existence and within the next seven years, St. Patricks, accumulated, according to Father Daly's own report, $35,000 worth of property. It had its brick church, its parsonage, its schools and convent. Everything was complete. But the fates turned unpropitious. Discord came, and St. Patricks' kingdom divided against itself, fell, as the Savior had declared of old. Everything was swept away and the distracted people brought to the verge of religious despair. The prudent Archbishop, with his wonted generosity, came to the rescue. Purchasing the old Presbyterian property, he installed them in a new home, and promising them every kind consideration, he bade them to be of good heart, go on and prosper. And so it has turned out since then. The varying years have brought their changes, many rectors have come and gone, yet the parish has prospered fairly. Each priest, in turn, has had some improvement of record. At the present writing, matters stand for St. Patrick's in the most flattering shape. [Source: Sterling Standard Dec. 11, 1896]
St. Mary's Catholic Church
The founders of the present day St. Mary's Catholic Church were a group of sturdy, dedicated settlers with a very strong desire for not only the continuation, but with an eye for growth and development ot their religion. These early pioneers worshipped first in a crude log cabin owned by Capt. Lyons. One of their first official acts in organizing was to form an altar under the trees near the cabin for services during the summer months. The outdoor masses were held as the curhc population grew and the small cabin could not contain the number.
This was the beginning of the current St. Mary's Church in the year 1854, when the Rev. James Fitzgerald, a Dixon priest, came on occassion to conduct the mass. Afterwards, the Rev. Kennedy served as the successor and held mass three or four times a year at Capt. Lyons cabin. It was in April of 1859 the Rev. Michael Ford of Dixon began holding monthly meetings in Sterling and this continued to 1862. History also records a vague figure about this time, the Rev. Hubert who is said to have built a small frame church and parish house in the early 1860's. Father Ford died in 1862 and was buried in Dixon, but the parishioners disinterred the body in the night and removed it to Sterling. He was reburied a second time after the new cemetery was purchased around 1890.
The first resident pastor was the Rev. John Daly appointed in 1863. Father Daly officiated at his first baptism June 7, 1863. His first parish assignment included Sterling, Fulton, Morrison, Savanna, Albany, Genesee Grove, Tampico and Prophetstown. Under Father Daly's administration, the first church and rectory were built around 1863 and the old frame rectory remodeled for a school. Mary Ryan taught in the school during 1867 - 1869. In 1869 the Sisters came for one year and the school was called St. Anne's Academy. At this time the church was called St. Patricks. However after one year, the Sisters left and the school reverted back to Mary Ryan in 1870. It was not until 1876 that St. Mary's parish was incorporated and soon afterwards, the entire property was lost to litigation. It was the Rev. Bishop Foley who was instrumental in purchasing a vacant building used earlier as the Presbyterian Church, for the continuance of the church and school. The old building had been located on East Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue.
The Rev. Michael J. Byrne came in 1876 and stayed some 18 months, being followed by Fr. C.J. O'Callaghan, who served 11 years. In 1889 the Rev. E.A. McMahon began a 3 year pastorate during the time the Calvary Cemetery was acquired. Interesting note is the fact that Father McMahon was buried in Calvary and over him was erected the beautiful altar with the life-size bronze statuary of the Crucifixion where St. Mary's congregation held a mass once a year. [From the Sterling Daily Gazette Bi-Centennial Edition July 1, 1976]
SAINT MARY'S PARISH HISTORY
Unknown publishing date, after 1976
Contributed by Sue Nesland
From the very beginnings of both Sterling and Rock Falls, realization of the worship due the Creator and Ruler of human destinies has been fittingly acknowledged. Hezekiah Brink, the first pioneer who made his home alone near the river bank in the first ward nearly 150 years ago, opened his cabin to the early settlers who, regardless of their denomination, gathered to offer prayer and joined their hearts in the tie that binds.
Meager funds and hard toil did not prevent the erection of churches at an early date. Instead, devout hearts prompted the sacrifices needed to build modest structures for each church society soon after its organization, and, step by step, the buildings have been improved, enlarged, or replaced with larger and more attractive edifices. A spirit of mutual helpfulness prevailed despite the more ardent denominationalism of the past centuries. The Presbyterians sold their old church to the Catholics and the Catholics sold their church to the Christian church.
William Gagin 5th from right 1st row
Only brief accounts can be given of the very early history of the first Catholic settlers, but those who can remember back even part of the way can read between the lines of many ardent hopes that reached fulfillment, and names of sainted memory will be spoken with reverence and gratitude as the story unfolds.
Records dating back to 1849 show that the spiritual needs of Catholics in the Sterling area were filled on a very occasional basis by priests who happened to be passing through the area. Starting in 1854, priests from Dixon assumed the responsibility of ministering to the Sterling Catholics three or four times a year. Father James Fitzgerald was the resident Dixon pastor at the time, and was followed by Fathers Kennedy, Tierney, and Diamond. Mass was celebrated in a log cabin located in the east end of town which had been donated as a place of worship by a Captain Lyons. These quarters often proved inadequate to accommodate the crowds, and, weather permitting, an altar was sometimes erected in the yard. At other times, a room in the court house was used-at that time, Sterling was the county seat, and the court house stood on the north side of East Third Street between Ninth Avenue and Broadway. In 1858, the county seat was won by Morrison, and the court house fell into disuse. A building called Crandall Hall was rented for the next several years. This building still stands at 710 E. Third Street, but has since been remodeled into a residence.
Father Michael Ford became the Dixon pastor in April, 1859, and Sterling was established as a mission parish. As a result, the Catholic congregation was regularly attended once a month for the next four years. Father Ford died in the fall of 1862, and an incident occurred which could be considered unneighborly, but which demonstrates the place he had won in the affections of his parishioners. He was buried at Dixon, but Sterling Catholics came by night and removed his body to their own cemetery which, at that time, was located in the present Sinnissippi Park district overlooking Rock River. When the present Calvary Cemetery property was purchased in 1890, Father Ford's casket and stone marker were moved to the circular plot which divides the roadway in the cemetery.
Discrepancies in the records we have reviewed cause some confusion with regard to the exact date, but it appears that, about the fall of 1860, Sterling was separated from Dixon and established as a separate parish, with Reverend Herbert as pastor. A small frame building situated east of Broadway was the place of worship, and the new parish was named St. Patrick's. Shortly after the arrival of Reverend Herbert, the building was moved west of Broadway to approximately Third Avenue and East Fifth Street since most of the parishioners were then living in the western part of the city.
The parish at that time was very extensive. It served missions in all the area west of Lee County to the Mississippi River, north to Carroll County, and south to Bureau County. To give the exact number of Catholics then included in St. Patrick's Parish would have been a difficult task. A priest at the head of so large a family found it difficult to spare time to procure the necessities of life such as rest and food, much less to count the number of people in his parish. When, however, one reads that the principal towns attended outside of Sterling were Morrison, Fulton, Savanna, Albany, Prophetstown, Tampico, and Lyndon, it will suffice to convey some idea of the size of the parish.
For two years, the Reverend Herbert continued to teach, instruct, and admonish the faithful of his parish, then was moved by the bishop.
The pastorate remained vacant for about three months, then on June 7, 1863, the Reverend John Daly was appointed pastor by the Most Rev. James Duggan, D.D. Bishop of the Chicago Diocese. To make it easier for his far reaching parish to attend Mass and avail themselves of other pastoral function on some regular basis, it was Father Daly's practice to conduct services at Fulton and Sterling on alternate Sundays. Gradually, the various missions of St. Patrick's Parish established their own parishes or became attached to other parishes.
The business eye of Father Daly soon perceived that the house of worship in Sterling was anything but adequate for the congregation. He had also noticed a general dissatisfaction in the parish as to the location of the church. He called on the congregation to come forward and to subscribe their names and the amount they would give toward the erection of a suitable edifice for the worship of God. The call was all that was necessary-the people came forward and gave liberally. With these subscriptions and other collections made afterward, three lots on the northeast corner of Spruce and Sixth Streets (now Second Avenue and Sixth Street) were purchased, along with two lots just opposite, or west, of these.
In 1865, he began the construction of a new brick church on the first three lots purchased. On the two lots opposite, a frame rectory was built. Father Daly, who had been a carpenter in his youth, worked with his parishioners on construction of the buildings which were completed about 1868 at a total cost of $7,000. The former church and rectory were remodeled into a school, and Miss Mary Ryan was employed as the teacher, with her salary being paid by the tuition charged the students. Two years later, in 1869, the Sisters of Mercy assigned nuns to the school, and it became known as St. Anne's Academy. However, the nuns remained only one year, and Miss Ryan assumed the teaching duties once more. Again, nuns were invited to take charge, and they came, but their stay was like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day-a flash of light across the darkened sky.
A substantial group in the parish was of German origin, and in 1870 they requested and were granted permission to form a parish of their own. Sacred Heart Parish was established, with Father William Schamoni as the first pastor.
On May 28, 1875, Reverend Michael J. Byrne replaced Reverend John Daly as pastor of St. Patrick's.
Although the parish had been established about 1860, it was not until July, 1876, that St. Patrick's Parish became a corporate body under the laws of the State of Illinois.
At about this time, discord arose among the congregation, leading to a chancery suit which dragged on for quite some time. The issues were not clearly understood, and, as a result, all property-the church, rectory and school-was lost. The Second Avenue property was transferred to the First Christian Church in 1880, and they later built a new church on the site. The Calvary Baptist Church presently occupies the property.
The congregation of St. Patrick's Parish soon reunited, and brought an end to their troubles. The Most Rev. Bishop Foley was instrumental in purchasing a vacant building located at the northwest corner of East Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue which had earlier been used as the Presbyterian Church. This became home to St. Patrick's Parish for nearly twenty years.
In 1878, Father Byrne was succeeded by Father C. J. O'Callaghan. After the difficult times the congregation had experienced during the preceding several years, it welcomed the leadership of "Dr." O'Callaghan, - was always called. He was a dignified man, who dressed in a frock coat and silk hat and carried a gold headed cane. He introduced the practice of holding missions and of Sunday afternoon Vespers, which seemed to be very popular with the young folk. Maybe the "fun after Vespers" was the secret.
Although Dr. O'Callaghan's dignity was welcomed by his parishioners, a young, newly ordained Irish born priest, Father Dwyer, who was assigned temporarily to the parish in 1880 while Dr. O'Callaghan was in Europe, brought great pleasure to the expatriate Irishmen who predominated in the parish. Many of the families had come from Ireland to America believing, as did many immigrants, that the streets were virtually paved with gold. They found severe winters and year-round struggle for material substance in the Sterling area, and Father Dwyer's warm encouragement renewed their faith in the Tightness of the decision that had brought them so far from home.
Father O'Callaghan remained in Sterling 11 years, leaving in February, 1889, when he was appointed to a post in Belvidere. Father Thomas Quigley replaced him only until March, 1889, when Father P. A. McMahon arrived to take up his duties as pastor. The following year, Father McMahon purchased five acres of land from Clark and Powell for $250.00 per acre for a new cemetery. This is now the old part of the present Calvary Cemetery on Freeport Road. He selected a lot for himself when the cemetery was plotted, but left Sterling two years later when he was appointed pastor of St. Mary's Church, Rockford, and, as far as anyone knows, never visited Sterling again. Yet, when he died in 1919, his remains were brought to Sterling and interred in the space he had selected almost thirty years before. He had made provision in his will for the erection over his grave of a stone altar surmounted by a crucifixion group in bronze. The annual Memorial Mass in the cemetery has always been offered at this altar. Father McMahon is remembered as a scholarly man who had collected an excellent library. The collection was willed to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Rockford. Father Richard V. McGuire, who had been the first resident pastor of St. Mary's Church in Tampico, succeeded Father McMahon in May, 1892, and remained until October, 1893, when Father J. J. Bennett was appointed pastor of St. Patrick's Church. Father Bennett's first administrative project was to organize his parishioners for the acquisition of church property and the erection of a church and parsonage. During the first three years of his pastorate, Father Bennett laid plans for the new church and parsonage, assisted by his trustees, Michael B. Fitzgerald, president, Thomas Conboy, secretary, Eugene F. Williams, assistant secretary, Michael Kannaly, assistant secretary, James B. McCue, treasurer, and an 18-man committee. By early 1897, they had completed the groundwork, Father Bennett had drawn up most of the plans, and they were ready to start building. The church buildings at East Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue were sold to the trustees of the public school district, and lots on the southwest corner of Avenue B and West Sixth Street were purchased from the Honorable H. C. Ward. The construction contract was given to Fitzgerald Brothers Contractors, and on February 25, 1899, a financial statement on the completed structures was published showing a total cost of $17,454.13 for the church and $2,203.42 for the parsonage, for a grand total of $19,657.55.
The new church, dedicated to and named in honor of Mary, and parish house were heralded as beautiful new additions to the city of Sterling. The exterior was not the only outstanding part of St. Mary's Church, for Father Bennett was a lover of good music, and saw to it that a proper choir loft was installed. This extended the full width of the church at the back, balcony fashion. The windows were stained glass works of art, and the beautiful white altars were a further testimony to Father Bennett's good taste.
He took none of the credit for the completed work, however, as demonstrated by his words to his parishioners upon completion: "My Dear Friends, "I herewith submit to you the financial statement of the accredited officers of our Building Committee. I forego-the pleasure of comment on it, leaving that for yourselves, who deserve every compliment. You have plainly done your duty and more, and to you are applicable the words of our Blessed Savior: 'By their fruits you shall know them. " Father Bennett is also remembered in Sterling as the founder of an organization known as Father Bennett's Temperance Society. He enforced the purpose of this organization with rigidity, and many of the young men he enrolled in this club went to their graves still keeping their pledge."
His altar boys used to tell the story of his asking them about the middle of Lent if they liked eggs. Then he would tell them that he had a big goose egg for each of them, but they had to promise to eat it with salt on it. On Easter morning, he would deliver the eggs which, much to the delight of the boys, turned out to be shiny silver dollars. They would also tell of coming to Catechism Class on Saturday and, if Father thought the day too nice to tax young minds, he would give them all a nickel to go down town to buy ice cream cones.
April 21, 1900
First communion of miss Margaret Weber, now Mrs. T.J. McDonnell
As a note of diocesan history, from the date of establishment, the Sterling parish had been under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Diocese, which was erected November 28, 1843. Chicago was erected as an archdiocese in 1880, and it was not until September 23, 1908, that the Diocese of Rockford was erected, with the Most Reverend P. J. Muldoon as the first Bishop of Rockford.
In December, 1908, Father Bennett was raised to the position of Vicar General of the Rockford Diocese by Bishop Muldoon. On June 1, 1909, he was transferred to St. Mary's Parish in Aurora, but with the firm understanding that, at his death, his remains would be returned to Calvary Cemetery in Sterling. In 1913, after four years in Aurora, Father Bennett retired at the age of sixty five from active parish work due to his age and attendant infirmities. He was, however, devoted to both St. Joseph's and St. Charles's Hospitals, and spent much of his time attending to the patients and staffs, acting as chaplain for St. Charles for four years. He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor in 1919 by His Holiness Pope Benedict XV.
Following an illness of several months' duration, the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Bennett, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rockford, died on January 22, 1922, in the tender care of those who had loved him as their chaplain and friend at St. Charles Hospital. Funeral services were held from St. Mary's Church in Sterling, with the Pontifical High Mass celebrated by the Most Rev. Bishop P. J. Muldoon of Rockford. Father Bennett was greatly beloved by those he had served, and was widely known and respected throughout Northern Illinois. His friends were legion,and came from every walk of life.
Father Andrew J. Burns was appointed pastor of St. Mary's Parish in June, 1909, beginning an amazing period in an already remarkable career. He turned his attention almost immediately to establishing a parochial school to serve St. Mary's Parish. Property was acquired on the northeast corner of Avenue B and West Sixth Street, and, on July 14, 1912, the cornerstone of the present St. Mary's Grade School was laid. The school was completed in 1913, and opened that fall with five nuns and an enrollment of 180 students divided among the first seven grades. In 1915, St. Mary's High School was opened with 22 students, and occupied part of the upper floor of the school building. Initially, the nuns had lived on the second floor, but, with the opening of the high school, a large residence on the corner of Avenue B and West Seventh Street was acquired for use as a convent.
In 1912, Walter Condon donated the tabernacle safe to St. Mary's Church. Major repair and remodeling of the church was undertaken in 1920, including removing the vestibule to provide more seating space, and installation of new Stations of the Cross. A new Esteys pipe organ was installed in November, 1921, and was dedicated with an organ recital of sacred music by St. Mary's choir with Rev. John Ready at the organ.
A group of converts to the Catholic faith founded the Benson Club in Sterling in 1917, with Father Burns serving as chaplain and mentor. The purpose of the club was to help the converts to a deeper understanding of the truths they had been taught, and to be at ease in their new surroundings. The organization grew steadily, and attracted much comment and praise throughout the country, resulting in a nationwide organization of Benson Clubs.
The increasing responsibilities of a growing parish made it necessary to assign an assistant to Father Burns. In 1921, Father David Murphy came to St. Mary's as the first assistant pastor, and remained until 1927 when he was named pastor of St. Flannan's in Harmon.
By 1922, the school had become crowded, and a drive was started for funds to construct a separate high school, to be known as St. Mary-Sacred Heart Community High School. The high school opened in September, 1924,with 125 students.
After Father David Murphy's reassignment in 1927, Father Leo Binz (later to become Archbishop Binz) was named assistant pastor, but remained only until January, 1928. Father Ambrose Weitekamp assisted Father Burns from June, 1928, until his appointment as pastor of St. Mary's, Tampico, in July, 1929. He was succeeded by Father Emmett Murphy, who remained until 1934.
Because of his vigorous and effective administration of St. Mary's Parish and schools in both spiritual and temporal matters, Father Burns'' abilities were becoming widely recognized. He was named Vicar General of the Rockford Diocese in 1928, and was further honored when Pope Pius XI named him a Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor on March 12, 1929. On April 11, 1938, Pope Pius XI elevated him to the rank of Protonotary Apostolic. St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa, awarded him the degree of Doctor of Laws on June 2, 1940, for his achievements in the fields of education and religion.
In 1930, a private residence on the corner of Locust and West Seventh Streets was purchased by the parish, and was remodeled to house three classrooms and a health office. This building came to be known as the "Little University." In that same year, a third story was added to the convent to accommodate the increasing complement of nuns assigned to St. Mary's Parish.
Father Emmett Murphy was succeeded in 1934 by Father John Smith, who remained as assistant pastor until 1943. Father Smith returned to Sterling as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in October, 1955, holding that position until his untimely death on May 26, 1957.
On April 11, 1943, Father Leo Ambre was appointed assistant pastor of St. Mary's, and remained almost 11 years. Among his duties was that of athletic director of Community High School, and Father Ambre is especially remembered for his interest in young people-both while they were in school and in their post-school endeavors. He was appointed superintendent of St. Vincent's Home, Freeport, in 1954, and the farewell reception was well attended not only by parishioners, but also by many friends and dignitaries from the general community.
1948 marked the 50th anniversary of Monsignor Burns' ordination, as well as the 50th anniversary of the erection of St. Mary's Church. Another noteworthy event for Monsignor, and the greatest satisfaction in his Jubilee Year, came in October at the dedication of the new marble altars. "Believing as we Catholics do," he said "that Christ is ever present on the altar, we are grateful for having the finest marble in the world." The altars had been ordered more than ten years previously through the Deprato Studio in Chicago. Shipment from Italy of the altars was postponed due to World War II and other difficulties. Monsignor offered his first Mass at the marble altars following the dedication on
October 2, 1948, but delayed general announcement and publication of pictures taken until the celebration of his Jubilee Mass on December 17.
Monsignor had long been aware of the need for a separate parish in Rock Falls, and was instrumental in organizing it. The parish was established in 1950, and the first pastor was Father Tully, who came to Rock Falls in October, 1950. He set up a temporary church at 716 Fourth Avenue in a building which had formerly been used as a warehouse. Father Burwell Beddoes succeeded Father Tully in January, 1951, and initiated the planning which resulted in construction of a school and church combined at the present location, 701 llth Avenue, Rock Falls. The gymnasium was used as the church until the new church was built in 1975. Most personally pleasing to Monsignor Burns was that the Rock Falls parish was named in his honor-St. Andrew's.
On October 27, 1952, a new facility was added to the physical plant of St. Mary's Parish with the dedication of Newman Center. Containing a gymnasium, locker rooms, coaches' offices, a recreation room, kitchen, and a parish library, it serves many needs of the parish. The library was furnished and is maintained by the Altar & Rosary Society. In conjunction with the dedication of Newman Center, the name of Community High School was changed to Newman High School in honor of one of the most famous converts to the Catholic faith, John Cardinal Newman.
Father Frank J. Bonnike was assigned to St. Mary's Parish as assistant in 1954. and a second assistant, Father John Moroney, was appointed in May, 1956. He remained only until November, 1957, at which time he was called to Rock-ford to serve as secretary to the late Bishop Loras T. Lane.
Death came to the beloved Monsignor Andrew J. Burns on March 28, 1957, after a brief illness. The Most Reverend Loras T. Lane, Bishop of Rockford Diocese, offered a Pontifical Requiem Mass at 11:00 A.M. in St. Mary's Church on April 1. Monsignor Charles Conley of St. Mary's, Freeport, delivered the eulogy in which he praised the priestly qualities which had been an inspiration to both religious and laity. Among those participating in these final rites were Msgr. Louis Franey, Father John Regan, Father John T. Smith, Father Emmett Murphy, Father William Boland, Father John Vaughn, Father Leo Ambre, Father Joseph Egan, Father E.J. Lehman, Father Lawrence London, and Father Donald L. Schuler.
While Monsignor Burns administered his parish with an iron hand, he was held in great affection and respect by his congregation. He was an accomplished speaker, with a dramatic "oratorical" style not generally in fashion today. No microphones were used on the altar, and none were needed-his softest whisper was as clearly heard in the back of the church as his mightiest roar. Monsignor was well known for his dry wit, and, while many of the humorous stories still circulating may be of somewhat doubtful authenticity in total, they are based in fact. A collection of the anecdotes people are quick to relate when his name is mentioned would make a rather respectable book by itself. His death meant the loss of a personal friend and counselor to most of his parishioners.
Upon the death of Father John Smith in March, 1957, Father Bonnike was appointed Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, and in June, 1957, Father Frederick J. Larson was assigned to St. Mary's. On July 12, 1957, Father Thomas Green was appointed pastor of St. Mary's and Dean of the Sterling Deanery, and continued to serve as Diocesan Director of the Propagation of the Faith, which position he had held since 1943. Father Green is a native of Rockford, and received his early education in St. James Parochial School and St. Thomas High School. His classical studies were made at St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa, studied preparation for ordination were completed at the Propaganda and Gregorian Universities in Rome. His ordination took place on December 8, 1932, while he was in residence at the North American College in Rome; therefore, his twenty-fifth anniversary was celebrated shortly after his arrival in Sterling -on December 8, 1957.
The first announcement of plans for construction of Newman Central Catholic High School was made on January 17, 1958, by the Most Reverend Loras T. Lane. A drive for the necessary funds was conducted in all the parishes to be served by the central high school district, with Joseph Novak of St. Mary's Parish as general chairman of the United Action Campaign. A 30-acre tract of land northwest of Sterling had been donated by the late Leo J. Wahl as the site of the new high school, and $1,500,000 in cash and pledges was raised to finance construction. Newman Central Catholic High School opened in September. 1959, with Father Frank Bonnike as superintendent.
On January 17,1960, Father Thomas S. Green was elevated to the position of Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor. Members of the clergy from the Rockford Diocese joined parishioners and former parishioners to witness the ceremony, performed by the Most Reverend Loras T. Lane, Bishop of the Rockford Diocese. Father Bonnike, acting as notary, read the official transcript from the Vatican Secretary of State, D. Cardinal Tardini, notifying all present that Pope John XXIII designated Reverend Thomas S. Green as a Domestic Prelate. He was invested in the vestments of the new office and celebrated his first Mass as a Domestic Prelate. An outstanding deanery choir, directed by Richard Kroger, sang the Mass, with Mrs. Edward Bartel as organist. Bishop Lane preached the sermon. Six hundred priests, relatives, and friends attended the dinner in the auditorium in his honor. Mayor Dan L. Metzger, Sr., as one of the dinner speakers, spoke in behalf of the city of Sterling. The happiest person present was Monsignor Green's mother, Mrs. Mary Green of Rockford.
Monsignor Green served as pastor of St. Mary's for twelve years, and, during his tenure, a succession of dedicated and able assistants enriched parish life. Father Humberto Rodriguez came to us in 1959. with the special mission of attending to the spiritual needs of our Mexican parishioners, and remained until 1970. Father Emilio Falcone was also assigned to St. Mary's in 1959, but was reassigned in 1960, and was succeeded by Father Phillip O'Neil. In 1963, Father Thomas Dzielak replaced Father O'Neil, and was, in turn, replaced by Father Louis Kagan in 1964. In 1966, Father Aloysius Piorkowski was assigned to St. Mary's, and remained until 1968. In 1967, Father Robert Willhite succeeded Father Kagan, and remained until 1969 when his ambition to become a missionary to South America was realized. In 1970, Father Edward Widmer succeeded Father Willhite, and remained about one year.
In the fall of 1961, St. Mary's Parish was very privileged to have Father Maleu, a priest of the Oriental Rite, come to celebrate with us one of the Byzantine liturgies. In order to under-stand this rite, one must distinguish between the
Oriental (Eastern) Church and the Latin (Western) Church. All are Catholics subject to the Holy Father, but are distinguished by differences in canon law, language and liturgy.
The liturgy Father Maleu celebrated was of the Greek Rite, common with all other Eastern liturgies. In preparing the altar for Mass, he placed an Icon on each side. Icons are a characteristic of the Eastern Church, used much the same as the statues of the Western Church. Father Maleu faced the people while saying Mass, which was not a practice of the Western Church at that time.
The bread for the liturgy was baked locally by Mary Dondero on special request. The small round loaves are made with an imprinted symbol, are unleavened, and are thicker than the hosts of the Western Church. The priest cut these loaves with a very sharp small machete-type knife. At the consecration, the bread and wine are consecrated separately into the Body and Blood of Christ, and, at communion, are mixed together in the chalice. Communion is received under both species by means of a small spoon dipped into the chalice by the priest, and the bread and wine placed on the recipient's tongue. This form of Holy Communion has always been proper in the Eastern Church, but was revived in the Western Church only since Vatican II.
A fire discovered shortly after 3:00 P.M. on October 8, 1962, destroyed the linen altar cloth and felt cover on the St. Joseph side altar in St. Mary's Church. A student who had stopped in church after school to pray was credited with having prevented what could have been a serious fire. The child dashed to the convent, a block away, not thinking to go to the rectory next door, and notified a nun of the fire. She immediately ran to the church, first telling another nun to call the Sterling Fire Department. She was able to pull the burning cloth and felt cover from the altar and stamp out the flames before any damage was done to the marble altar, and before the fire department arrived. While no certain cause of the fire was established, just six feet away was a votive light stand with a dozen or more vigil lights burning.
In January, 1969, Bishop O'Neill chose Mon-signor Green to succeed him as pastor of St. Peter's Church in Rockford where he had served as pastor until his elevation to Bishop of the Rockford Diocese on October 11, 1968. While his parishioners were pleased with the recognition of Monsignor Green's abilities and his advancement to a post of greater responsibility, they were greatly saddened at the loss of their beloved pastor. He will long be remembered by all who enjoyed his acquaintance.
Father Everett Hiller had been assigned to St. Mary's Parish in October, 1968, and was named pastor upon Monsignor Green's leaving. During Father Hitler's pastorate, the church was completely remodeled and refurbished, the sanctuary was enlarged, and new carpeting, pews and doors were installed. It was also during his administration that a parish council, an outgrowth of Vatican II and more fully described elsewhere in this history, was established.
In July, 1970, Bishop O'Neill announced a structural change in parish administration involving creation of an experimental team ministry in Sterling which would serve both parishes-Sacred Heart and St. Mary's. Father Hiller was appointed coordinator for both parishes, with Father Phillip Kennedy, Father Robert Sherry, and Father Edward Widmer as members of the first team. Prior to establishment of the team ministry, Father Edward Widmer had been serving as an assistant pastor, but was reassigned in 1970.
The team ministry was discontinued when Bishop O'Neill appointed the Reverend William P. Knott as pastor of St. Mary's on October 1, 1973. Father Knott immediately undertook an ambitious program of personally visiting all 1400 families in St. Mary's Parish, a rare practice in most parishes. These personal contacts between pastor and parishioners were a mutually rewarding experience in that they provided a setting in which many felt freer to make known and discuss troubling questions covering the full range of parish policies, practices, and activities.
A special project of Father Knott's was the installation of an air conditioning system for the church, evidence of his concern for the physical as well as spiritual comfort of his parishioners.
After discontinuance of the team ministry, Father Sherry remained as assistant pastor until his reassignment in 1974. He was succeeded by Father Ronald Jones, who remained until 1975. During this time, Father John Mitchell, superintendent of Newman Central Catholic High School, also assisted at St. Mary's, and, in 1975, Father Leo McKenna, S.J., was temporarily assigned. Father Thomas Brantman was named as associate pastor shortly after his ordination on June 14, 1975. Father Herbert Priester from Rockford is presently assisting on weekends at St. Mary's.
Father McKenna was reassigned in August, 1976, and a farewell reception was held on Sunday, August 22, at St. Mary's Parish Center. He will be especially remembered for his out-standing service to the elderly, the sick, and those confined to nursing homes in the area.
Mr. Rafael Rios was ordained to the permanent deaconate on May 29, 1976.
In December, 1975, the convent at the corner of Avenue B and West Seventh Street was declared uninhabitable, and the parish landmark was razed in 1976. Removal of the structure did provide needed additional area for playground and parking facilities.
The greatest mistake we can make in life is to rest on our laurels. We must never be content with what we have already achieved. Life never ceases to put new challenges before us, never permits us to come to rest. Every day, every hour makes new experiences possible and new achievements necessary. Great as our past has been, giants though our predecessors were, we have a mighty moral mission to share in carrying their dream to heights as yet unsealed. And now that the St. Mary's Bicentennial Pictorial Parish History has become a reality, we would like to express our deep feelings of gratitude to our beloved pastor, Reverend William Knott. whose paternal interest and wholesome geniality have inspired us to persevere in the sometimes confusing and frustrating effort to gather the information, articles, and pictures for this volume. Father Knott has expressed the opinion that St. Mary's is truly a great parish, worthy of each member's pride, loyalty, and devoted service. He has laid out plans to help us sense the direction we must all take to make this life worth living and to sustain the hope that will reach into the next world. We can have that hope only through Jesus Christ.
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