|For more than 140 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 fledging parish. Fr. Francis
Schaeffler, CSsR, celebrated the congregation's first Mass on August 4th,
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 28th, 1867. On June 29th, 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
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
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
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
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
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 4th, 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 17th, 1921, with dedication on May 30th, 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 10th, 1934. He served the
parish until his death on June 3rd, 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
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
and 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
A difficult blow was the
withdrawal of the teaching nuns in 1967. St. Alphonsus' School merged with
St. Patrick's School to keep its doors open. Thirty-four years later, the
two-campus combined St. Alphonsus/St. Patrick Combined School accommodates
approximately 300 students from pre-school through eighth grade. St.
Alphonsus alone has 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 8th, 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
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 in 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 on November 1, 2002, by Francis Cardinal
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.