Grafton Church marking 150 years of history, faith

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GRAFTON – On December 8, St Patrick’s Catholic Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary in the small town at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

The arrival of Jacques Marquette – sometimes known as the “Father” – and his fellow explorers in the Grafton area in 1673 is significant for the city and the Catholic Church.

For the city, this is the first recorded appearance of anyone in Illinois territory. For the church, it is important because these men were Catholics. Marquette was a Jesuit missionary priest.

“Every time a parish reaches its 150th anniversary, it is a source of celebration, especially with St. Patrick’s Parish,” said Reverend Martin Smith, pastor of the church. “This is because, despite the fact that St. Patrick’s was built a few hundred yards from the Illinois River and has been completely flooded several times in its history, the original church building still stands. upright.”

He sees this as a metaphor for “the invisible grace and presence of God, and the faith of the people of St. Patrick’s Church throughout its history,” he said. “Even though the parish is small, it is a beautiful place with loving, humble, hardworking and faith-filled people who continue to celebrate and live by example their devotion to God and their Catholic faith, despite the storms and floods, spiritual and physical. , met in life.

Father Louis Hennepin – another explorer priest – was probably one of the second group of men to arrive in the vicinity of Grafton. But many years passed before the recorded appearance of the next Catholic priest in Grafton. Perhaps there was an occasional Mass for wandering Native American tribes and migrating settlers during the War of 1812; however, history is silent in this regard.

A reliable source says that Father Verreydt in 1838 had Grafton as a mission. But it was not until quarries rose to prominence, around 1856, that there was evidence of a Catholic community in Grafton. By this time, many families of Irish descent had arrived, arousing the desire for a priest.


In 1857, Mass was celebrated at Sarah Dempsey’s home by Father Manyan. In the years that followed, Father Carroll said mass at the school while Bishop Juncker – head of the Diocese of Alton at the time – held meetings in the Methodist church, a sign of ecumenism even in those early days.

For a time, Mass was said at John Slaten’s store by Fathers Sullivan and Laurant. Father Harty of Jerseyville celebrated Mass in private homes and Father Bourke celebrated Mass in Quarry Hall in 1871.

It was at this time that the Catholic community began to build a church. But before work could begin, a location had to be chosen. Irish families living in Lower Grafton wanted the church there; German families living in Upper Grafton wanted the church in their area.

In a compromise, it was decided to build the church in the German part of Grafton and to name it St. Patrick’s in honor of the Irish.

On December 8, 1871, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the whole parish attended the first mass in St. Patrick’s Church. It had been built for $ 5,000, with many hours of labor and native stone from the quarry.

This same building, with some modifications, still serves Grafton today.

The first rectory was built in 1872 at a cost of $ 2,000. Almost 100 years later, in December 1971, a parish hall was erected and consecrated under the direction and dedication of Father Patrick Morrow.

“I have a unique perspective on St. Patrick’s Church because I am a life member and a life neighbor,” said Karen Kinder, the parish sacristan.

“Every morning I am greeted by the cross at the top of the steeple,” she said. “This church and this cross reminded me and so many others that with faith anything is possible.”

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, the parish council has planned a celebration for December 11. The event will begin with a mass at 5:45 p.m. followed by church grounds festivities including Christmas lights, a live Nativity, and Christmas carols.

Refreshments will be served in the parish hall, where a history of the church will be presented by Margret Ann Voke. The parish council also worked on commemorative items, including Christmas ornaments and holy cards.

St Patrick’s also received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis.

“I have been a long-time member of St. Patrick’s Church,” said parishioner Martha Carey. “I feel honored and blessed to be a part of such a wonderful parish and to have raised my family in the rich traditions of the Catholic faith here.

“It truly is one of my favorite places on earth,” she said.

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