Parish Hall and Religion Center
The second-largest building on the grounds of St. Mary of Lourdes – after the church itself – had been Stokes Hall. But it didn’t belong to the parish; it sat on two acres donated to the parish Men’s Club in 1950 by Clement Stokes of El Paso. The club, formed in 1941, then constructed its own clubhouse, named Stokes Hall, that also could be used for both social and religious events.
By the end of the century, however, it no longer met the needs of the growing parish.
And so, in 1993, the Men’s Club sold the property and its hall to the parish for $1. Three years later, the parish’s Building Committee began formulating plans for a new center. In January of 1998, in a joint meeting of the Building Committee, the Fund Raising Committee, the Finance Committee and the Parish Council, all agreed to proceed with plans for a $700,000 two-story building. The top floor would have classrooms and offices. The lower level would include a youth room, kitchen and hall.
Then things shifted into high gear. Fund-raising started in March of 1998 and amassed enough pledges by mid-June to draw diocesan approval. Ground-breaking was on June 28, 1998. After the removal of Stokes Hall, construction began the following month. Seven months later, the building was ready for limited use. It was formally dedicated by the bishop on May 1, 1999, less than 18 months after the parish committed to the project.
The hall has hosted all manner of social events such as birthday and retirement parties, family reunions, church picnics, wedding receptions, club meetings, funeral dinners and even special Masses. And the upstairs classrooms get regular use for study groups, RCIA, group meetings and more.
Hall rental is arranged through the parish secretary.
St. Mary of Lourdes Grotto
In 1858, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France near a town called Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin appeared in a small cave by the River Gave, the Cave of Massabielle.
She appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times during the course of the year. Bernadette kept inquiring who she was. On the fourth effort, the woman lifted her eyes to heaven and said in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Counchetsiou (I am the Immaculate Conception).”
On the other side of the world, on a hill on the edge on the prairie not far from the Illinois River, stood a new church; it had been dedicated just three years earlier to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of The Immaculate Conception. Most people called it simply St. Mary’s and it served a congregation already more than 20 years old. By the end of the century, through a serendipitous series of misunderstandings and misspellings, it would come to be called St. Mary of Lourdes.
In 1928, 70 years after the miraculous appearances in Lourdes, France, the priest of St. Mary of Lourdes at Germantown Hills, Illinois, decided a grotto should be built to link the two.
At the direction of Father Caesar Kron, parishioners hauled colorful rocks and boulders from nearby creeks and streams. Other stones were obtained elsewhere and shipped in, all added to piles accumulating on the parish grounds.
Then came brick mason H. Weber of Piper City, Illinois, to assemble these stones into a grotto similar to the one in France. Included within the structure were arrowheads left behind by the Native Americans who’d lived, worked and hunted the nearby grounds. When finished, the grotto would have a ledge to hold the carved wood statue of the Blessed Virgin, donated by a parishioner. Below, on Mary’s right, would be the wood statue of a kneeling Bernadette, a gift of the Young Ladies’ Society. Within the grotto were candles to be lighted by those who came to pray and contemplate. All told, it cost $2,133 to erect and landscape (nearly $30,000 now).
Lighting was added in 1954; the nearby Way of the Cross was installed in 1974.
While millions of pilgrims converge yearly at the grotto in France, a much smaller number, though no less devout, come to this grotto, at all hours of the day and night, to honor the Mother of God.
St. Mary of Lourdes Cemetery
Their souls have moved on, but the earthly remains of more than 1,400 people lie in the soil of St. Mary of Lourdes Cemetery.
The first recorded burial came in 1842, just a few years after the founding of the parish.
Tombstones from the intervening 175 years tell the stories parishioners, including many whose family names go back the parish founders.
And they tell the stories of hardship and anguish. From one family alone, six children died in infancy. From another, three children died within four months’ time. And from many other families, young and old alike were claimed by cholera epidemics, 32 deaths in 1855 and another 26 in 1880s. Some of those are in unmarked graves; some were interred at night for fear that a delayed burial could help spread the disease.
Elsewhere are stones marking the graves of those who lived to ripe old ages.
They all rest in peace on this hilltop.
A board of parishioners oversees the cemetery and sees to it that the grounds and driveways are maintained.
A plot costs $400 for active members of the parish and $800 for non-members.
For information, contact Joseph Kamp, (309) 264-6632.
Members of St. Mary of Lourdes parish have answered their nation’s call to military service going back to the Civil War in the 1860s.
Many of those service members died on far-off battlefields.
A memorial to all veterans was constructed in 2015 and blessed and dedicated on Sept. 7 of that year.
It stands at the entrance to the church parking lot and features concrete pavers around a flag pole and a simple headstone etched with a cross and the words:
“All gave some
Some gave all
It was erected in memory of parishioner Fred Fandel, a veteran of the Korean Conflict, who died in 2014 at the age of 82.