I am one quarter French Canadian, via my mother, her mother, her grandmother and so on. With the bit of history I know or have found, it looks like their roots go back to 18th century Quebec, but by late 19th century they were in Massachusetts, where both my mother and grandmother were born. I guess I’ve always thought of French-Canadian settlement as being primarily in New England and Louisiana. It really was only when I became friends with my beloved Mary King, who is also of French-Canadian descent, that I learned about their presence in Illinois.
I haven’t been able to get the L’Erable church out of my mind. So beautiful and so startling to find in a tiny town in the cornfields. Yesterday, we drove up to a couple more old French Canadian towns and poked around some more.
We wandered across some delightful spots but what stayed with me was St. Mary’s in Beaverville, Illinois. Original St. Marie, but reportedly, the post office made them change it because there was a St. Mary in Illinois. It seems a long ways from St. Marie to Beaverville but who am I to say?
What amazed me was the sheer mass of not only the church but the property. The massive Romanesque church dominates the landscape. Not my favorite style but quite impressive. I’d love to visit the interior to see the windows. Twenty-two thousand tiles on that roof! It was built in 1909-1911, although the interior wasn’t completed until the 1940’s when the debt for the building was paid off. There is also a handsome rectory from 1880’s with a little well house and a pagoda from the 1920’s. The school buildings have been torn down and there must have been convent buildings as well. Four nuns came from France in the 1890’s. The first novitiate from the area joined them but was sent to Lourdes due to ill health. She felt it healed her and when she came back she had a grotto built based on the one at Lourdes.
All this in a town with a population that has never even hit 500.
More to follow.
2 thoughts on “Cathedral of the Cornfields: a bit more of French Canadian settlement in Illinois”
Did you ever walk through the grotto at the convent on Maple in Lisle growing up? I always looked at it with wonder and was slightly disappointed when I actually went in. I expected it to be bigger and more mysterious.
I remember seeing it and being fascinated by it, but I never walked through it!! So nice to hear from you!