Driving back from Iowa we came across this beautiful little church not far from Peoria. I was mesmerized. Ernie, not so much. I kept saying, "Isn't it beautiful?" and he finally said, "I don't have to love everything you do Cynthia." I took this to mean he was getting tired of stopping and just wanted to get home. So off we went. But, it IS beautiful. And I never would have dreamed there was an 1830's Catholic church in the area. So many things hidden out there…
On Saturday, August 24, 1839, the Peoria Register and North-WesternbGazeteer carried the following story written by Samuel H. Davis, editor and publisher.
At the West end of Kickapoo Town the corner stone of a Catholic Church was laid a few weeks ago, and the building is now in the progress of erection. We understand that the donors felt encouraged to enlarge the design since the work was commended, and that the building when completed will be of most respectable dimensions. We are under the impression that there are very few persons of this religious denomination among the settlers in that township, though we doubt not that the erection of this house of worship will be the means of drawing together a considerable society.
According to St. Mary's in Kickapoo, which later absorbed St. Patrick's:
The ground for the church, and for the cemetery that surrounds the church, was donated by William Patrick Mulveny, a native of Dublin, Ireland. The grave of Mr. Mulveny lies just a few feet South of the church. Men and women of Kickapoo built the church. Timbers were hand hewed and pegged. The sandstone was quarried near Joliet, Illinois and hauled to Kickapoo by oxen cart. The men laid the stone while the women mixed the mortar.
St. Patrick’s Church remained the only Catholic Church in the area until 1861. At that time the German Catholics purchased a former Episcopalian Church in the Village of Kickapoo. This became St. Mary’s Church. Mass was offered in both churches until 1921 when the present St. Mary’s Church of Kickapoo was built. The two parishes were then combined and Mass was no longer offered in St. Patrick’s Church on a regular basis. St. Patrick’s Church was, more or less, abandoned and allowed to deteriorate until the early 1960’s.
At that time the Bishop Rosati Council, Knights of Columbus, in cooperation with several other Knights of Columbus Councils in Central Illinois, requested permission from Bishop John B. Franz, then Bishop of Peoria, to begin a restoration program for the church. In granting permission, Bishop Franz wrote the following words of encouragement. “It is gratifying to know that the Bishop Rosati Council, No. 5034, Knights of Columbus is willing to sponsor this project by soliciting the cooperation of K. of C. Councils throughout the Peoria Diocese in an effort to raise the necessary funds, I readily endorse this project and wish you every success in your efforts.” With these words of encouragement the work was begun.
While no one had to “handhew” timber or “quarry” for stone in the restoration program, it did involve many hours of backbreaking labor for the men of the area who volunteered their time and talent. The restoration program took three years and two months to complete. A rededication ceremony was held on the Feast of All Saints, November 1, 1964.
Today, the church still stands as a tribute to those who brought the faith to this part of the world, and to those who for thirteen decades have preserved the faith for the present generation in the Kickapoo Area. Perhaps the spirit that moved the pioneers to build the church in the 1830’s and which inspired their descendants for many generations to worship in the church; and, which encouraged the local residents in the early 1960’s to restore the church to its original state, is best reflected on the stones in the cemetery that surrounds the church. The weather-worn tombstones record the pious sentiments of the bereaved and thoughts of humble resignation and trusting faith. Through these messages cut in stone the pioneers speak to us now separated in time by many generations.