210 E. Logan St.
Lemont, IL 60439
For more than 145 years,
St. Alphonsus Parish has faithfully served the spiritual and corporal
needs of its members and the community. The parish has witnessed years of
growth, challenge, and struggles. Led by devoted clergy and religious, the
heart and spirit of five generations remained focused on its center -
Early immigrants gravitated to the village overlooking the Des Plaines River Valley in the 1830's, finding work in building the Illinois & Michigan Canal. In the 1850's, quarrying stone became another way to earn a living.
The pioneer Catholic population was ethnically diversified. Irish, Polish, German - all worshipped as one at the first St. Patrick's Church, built of logs at the corner of State and Main Streets.
In 1867, the German and Polish sectors took steps to build a church of their own. Their goal: to worship God in their native language incorporating the customs and traditions of the country of birth.
The majority of Germans traveled to Lemont from Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine seeking freedom from concerns of war and civic unrest. With backbreaking work on the canal and quarries, farmland was purchased as soon as possible (approximately $8 an acre at the time).
A Mr. Daus who lived in Lockport joyfully donated two lots for the new church site on the east side of State St., between Custer, Walnut, and (now) Logan Streets. The Redemptorist Fathers (the order founded by St. Alphonsus of Italy) from St. Michael's in Chicago helped organize the fledgling parish. Fr. Francis Schaeffler, CSsR, celebrated the congregation's first Mass on August 4, 1867. As poor as the first parishioners were, through great sacrifice and sharing of goods, skills, and talents, a small wooden church was built.
Redemptorist Fr. C. Rosenbauer, CSsR, celebrated the first Mass in the new building on September 28, 1867. On June 29, 1868, the church was solemnly blessed by Fr. F. Oberle, CSsR, at which time it was officially placed under the patronage of St. Alphonsus.
Recognizing St. Alphonsus Parish had built a strong foundation of faith and was financially strong, the Redemptorists placed it in the hands of secular clergy with Fr. Juetting, CSsR as administrator. Records indicate St. Alphonsus was a mission of St. Joseph, a German church located in Lockport, from 1869 through 1874. Fr. Juetting supervised the building of a school served by the Sisters of St. Agnes from Fon du Lac, Wisconsin. He purchased three and one-half acres of land on the west side of State Street for a parish cemetery.
The Reverend Francis J. Antl was appointed as the first diocesan pastor in 1873. Fr. Antl oversaw the construction of the first rectory that eventually became the convent for the sisters. He added the transept to the church and installed the high altar. In 1880, he supervised the building of a frame two-room schoolhouse on Walnut Street where the Sisters of St. Francis taught students.
During Fr. Antl's term as pastor, extremely successful parish missions led to the installation of the 12' stone cross memorial on the northwest corner of the church grounds. The cross was anchored to a 5' stone blocked carved from a local quarry. Inscribed in German on the stone was, "He who perseveres to the end will be saved, 1874-1878-1882." The first mission, given by the renowned Jesuit priest Fr. F.X. Weninger, attracted over 1,000 people.
By 1882, St. Alphonsus was overcrowded with 400 families. The Polish and Bohemian members chose to withdraw from St. Alphonsus, building their own Church - Ss. Cyril & Methodius, under the guidance of Fr. Leopold Moczygemba, who temporarily had served as second pastor of St. Alphonsus.
The Rev. Francis Sixt was third pastor of St. Alphonsus, followed by the Rev. Bernard Westarp, who envisioned a new church building. Fr. Westarp engaged an architect to draw up plans and specifications for a new church, but he did not see his dream come true.
Fr. Westarp was followed by Rev. Francis Bay. The next pastor, Rev. Francis J. Schildgen, is still remembered by some of the older parishioners of St. Alphonsus. He gained the support of parishioners to build a new rectory. The old rectory was dismantled in 1914, and then reconstructed on Freehauf Street. Using Sear's catalogue blueprints, a brick rectory was built. Since 1997, the rectory has been used by the Vincentian priests.
Fr. Schildgen remodeled the Sisters' home on Walnut Street, expanded the school (complete with a pot-belly stove and outhouse), and directed fundraising to build the new church to replace the deteriorating half-century old church.
Farmers donated chickens. Wives cooked up chicken dinners and held bazaars. A special memorial quilt was crafted. Families and children saved pennies in church shaped banks.
The cost of the building was $465,000 with stained glass windows and interior decorations adding another $15,000 to the total. With a membership of only 175 families, the responsibility of building the new church was tremendous. After a pledge drive was completed, the parish had a construction debt of $33,500.
Two lots adjacent to the church property were purchased - the parish now encompassed an entire block. Excavation for the new church began in May 1919. The basement was dug out using manpower and horses to pull debris away.
The church building was
designed by Charles E. Wallace of Joliet. The majority of the work was
done by local contractors: A.J. Helbig & Son - carpentry and
framework; August Nagal - excavation and foundation; Fred Fries - brick
The cornerstone of the new church was laid on July 4, 1920 by Monsignor F. Rempe, pastor of St. Clement's Church in Chicago and the Vicar General of the Archdiocese, both Germans. The first service in the deep-red brick, Gothic style church was held on April 17, 1921, with dedication on May 30, 1921. Approximately 30 clergy from Joliet, Chicago, and surrounding areas attended the dedication, along with parishioners and hundreds of out-of-town visitors.
Archbishop George Mundelein of the Archdiocese of Chicago officiated at the consecration of our Gothic church, along with Rev. Suerth who preached the homily in German.
The men's choir of St. Matthias Church of Chicago was accompanied on the organ by Pro. L. Jacobs of St. Paul's Church of Chicago. A banquet followed, served by the ladies of the parish.
Fr. Schildgen served as pastor until 1928 when the Rev. George Wunder was appointed. He was followed by the Rev. Albert W. Reisel on January 10, 1934. He served the parish until his death on June 3, 1953. Fr. Reisel's proudest accomplishment was the building of a one-story modern school in 1950 that included indoor plumbing and furnace heat. Also in 1950, the Wunderlich Co. of Joliet placed a granite marker engraved with the names of parishioners who served in the armed services in WWII in front of a flagpole donated by the Pure Oil Company (in 1997 the CITCO Refinery of Lemont).
The Rev. Richard L. Hills was appointed to take Fr. Reisel's place. In 1954, Fr. Hills replaced the former convent with a brick building planned to accommodate nine nuns. (In 2001, this building, formerly the Parish Center, is known as the Chapel & Conference Center).
The Rev. Vincent Flynn succeeded Hill in 1959. He served the parish until his retirement in 1967. That was the year the parish should have celebrated the 100th year of its founding. It was a year of many changes - many of them painful.
Temporarily without a pastor, the Rev. Edward Fitzgerald, pastor of St. Patrick's Church, was directed to also pastor the priestless St. Alphonsus Parish. Fr. Fitzgerald was assisted by Rev. Paul McArdle. Franciscan priests at St. Mary's Seminary on East Main Street and Vincentian priests from DeAndries Theological Seminary on 127th Street assisted both parishes for many years.
The withdrawal of the teaching nuns in 1967 was a difficult blow. St. Alphonsus' School merged with St. Patrick's School to keep its doors open. By 2001, the two-campus combined St. Alphonsus/St. Patrick School accommodated approximately 300 students from pre-school through 8th grade. St. Alphonsus alone had approximately 430 students in the CCD Religious Education Program in 2001.
A new pastor, the Rev. Stanley Gaucias, planned a belated 100th anniversary celebration for St. Alphonsus. A concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving was held on Sunday, December 8, 1968, with the Most Rev. John L. May, D.D., auxiliary bishop of Chicago presiding and giving the homily. A Centennial dinner followed in the newly remodeled parish hall with an evening open house.
The Rev. Julian Grinis followed Fr. Gaucias as pastor, who was followed by Fr. Thomas Enright, who remodeled the empty convent into a Parish Center that included a beautiful chapel, offices, and an apartment for the pastor.
On August 22, 1992, St. Alphonsus Parish celebrated its 125th anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving followed by a banquet at the Montefiori Estate on Archer Avenue. In 1996, after 12 years of service, Fr. Enright was appointed to another parish.
His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Bernadin appointed the Rev. Kevin J. Spiess, then Vicar for Administration of the Archdiocese, as the 14th pastor of St. Alphonsus on February 1st, 1996. Since Fr. Spiess has been pastor of St. Alphonsus (at the writing of this article), many changes have been accomplished in the parish to serve the current 1,100 families that have more than doubled the size of the parish since 1984 (Fr. Enright's first year).
During his six-plus years as pastor, Fr. Spiess led the parish in the renovation of the church. He was at the forefront of seeking expanded space for the school from the Lemont School District, and oversaw the purchase of more property to serve our growing parish. An explosion of parish-wide programs and services has been led by various commissions and committees under the leadership of Fr. Spiess.
Rev. Francis C. Jenks was appointed as the 15th pastor in 2002 by Francis Cardinal George, OMI.
Rev. Brian P. Ardagh was appointed as the 16th pastor in 2008 by Francis Cardinal George, OMI.
May God bless our efforts and continue to guide our St. Alphonsus Parish family.