Grafton Church to celebrate 150 years

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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, SJ – sometimes known as “Father” – and his fellow explorers in the Grafton area in 1673 is significant both to the city and to the Catholic Church.

To the city because this is the first recorded appearance of anyone in the Illinois Territory. At the church because the visitors were Catholics. Marquette was a Jesuit missionary priest.

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

“To me, it’s 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, ”he said. “I am humbled and very blessed to be posted there with them as a priest. “

After Marquette’s visit, Father Louis Hennepin – another explorer priest – was reportedly among 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 Indian tribes and migrating settlers during the War of 1812; however, history is silent in this regard.

Historical sources indicate that Father Verreydt, SJ, in 1838 had Grafton as a mission. But it was not until quarries rose to prominence – circa 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 and Bishop Juncker, then head of the Diocese of Alton, held meetings in the Methodist church, a sign of ecumenism even in those early days. .

Mass was also 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.

Also in 1871, the Catholic community of Grafton began to build a church. But before work could begin, a location was needed. 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. The structure was built for $ 5,000, using many hours of labor and native stone from the local quarry.

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

The church’s first rectory was built the following year 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.”

In honor of his 150th birthday, Saint Patrick received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis. The parish council is planning a 150th anniversary on Saturday, December 11, with a mass at 5:45 p.m. followed by festivities on the church grounds, including Christmas lights, a living nativity scene 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.

Martha Carey has been a lifelong member of St. Patrick’s Church.

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

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