the history of our church
In 1842 the first documented Catholic service was held in the home of William Shepherd, one of the earlier settlers of Jerseyville. Jersey County was established in 1839. Noted Catholics listed in 1839 include Thomas Carroll and his family of Elsah Township and Mrs. Mary Cummings of Otter Creek Township. Upon the arrival of William Shepherd, James Flannigan, and William Kelly, the Catholic population started to grow in the county. William Kelly is the first documented man married by a priest in Jersey County, being married in 1839 with Father Hamilton presiding over the ceremony.
The first Mass celebrated in Jersey County was in the Shepherd home in 1841 by Rev. Father Hamilton. From time to time, the Mass would be celebrated in the courthouse or private homes by priests who would travel from one locale to another serving the faithful. Two of those traveling priests include Father Carroll and Father Hamilton of the Alton Diocese.
The site of the current edifice was purchased from J. A. and J. C. Barr in 1848-49 by William Shepherd, Fred Bertman, and William Kelly. Nearly a decade later in 1857, a small frame church was erected on the site dedicated by the Right Reverend Henry Damian Juncker, Bishop of Alton. Father Thomas F. Mangan became the first resident priest of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church at that time until 1860.
As the Irish American population grew in the county, the congregation had outgrown the frame church. The June 5, 1868 issue of the Jersey County Democrat carried an article titled “LAYING OF THE CORNERSTONE OF THE NEW CATHOLIC CHURCH.” Presiding over the ceremony were Bishop P. J. Baltes of Alton, and Father O’Reily of St. Louis. Reverend Father O’Reily delivered a very eloquent and entertaining address stating, “The Catholic Church, when completed, will be one of the finest edifices in Jerseyville.” Today it is not only one of the finest edifices in Jerseyville, but in the state of Illinois. It remains a rare gem.
The current church edifice was built in 1871 under the pastoral guidance of Father John V. Sullivan out of St. Louis and Father James J. Harty. The July 7, 1871 issue of the Jersey County Democrat describes the dedication of St. Francis Xavier’s new church with the following words, “On Tuesday, the 4th, our new Catholic church was dedicated by Reverend P. J. Baltes, Bishop of the Diocese of Alton. The celebrant of the day was Reverend P. Kline of Kaskaskia assisted by Deacon Reverend John Moher of Alton, and sub deacon Reverend P. Brady of Springfield, Master of Ceremonies – Reverend J. J. Johnson, Vicar General of the Diocese, dedication sermon by Reverend David Daley of St. Louis. The majestic steeple of the church can be seen for miles in all directions.”
The original cost of the church in 1871 was $25,000 – a handsome sum for that time. The architect for its construction was William Embley, great uncle to parishioner Mrs. Hubert (Grace) Allen. The brick for the church was made in Jerseyville and the stone trimmings came from the Grafton quarries. Nichol T. Smith did the carpenter work for the church and Coddington &Irwin did the plastering. The roof is covered with slate shingles which remain today. The church took 3 years to complete.
On March 14, 1895 an article was written by Mrs. J.C. McG. stating, “There are about 920 members of whom 100 ladies belong to the altar society of the church, and 80 little members who attend the Catholic Parochial school taught by two nuns. The church has a good choir, with Miss Maggie Harty as organist, and Mrs. H. A. Shepherd and Mrs. Geo. Locke as leaders of the singing. Services are always held at eight and ten o’clock in the morning and at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
Major renovations were undertaken in 1907, under Fr. Bernard Lee, when large pillars were added in the church auditorium to support the roof after shearing actions were noted in the south wall. The tall ceilings were lowered at that time to their present level.
Many churches built in this style have lost their steeples due to structural issues. Thanks to the philanthropic kindness of many of our parishioners and local attorney Theodore Chapman, in 1942 our English Gothic steeple was reinforced by one of the parishioners, local painter and steeplejack, Joseph G. McDaniels (nicknamed “Cotton”). Many larger St. Louis firms refused to undertake such a project because of the possible dangers involved. Our church’s 3,000 pound bronze bell still rings clear today due to the charity of many.
An angel was placed on the steeple tower of the church around 2002 by Fr. D. Patrick Gibbons. At that time the angel and the church were blessed by Fr. Patrick Gibbons with Holy Water from Lourdes, Fatima, St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as holy water from Fr. Clancy, who served our parish for 52 years and celebrated his 75th Jubilee at St. Francis Xavier on Aug. 15, 1966 at the age of 100. Fr. Clancy was pastor of St. Francis Xavier from 1914 until 1966. During Father Clancy’s 52 years as pastor of St. Francis Xavier he baptized more than 950 and married 280 couples. He administered First Holy Communion to some 1200 children and held funerals for 570 souls in his long pastorate. Fr. Clancy died at the age of 101 on Thursday, November 16, 1967 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Alton.
Priests of the parish have included Father Mangan 1858-1860, Father Morrill 1860, Father Laurant (built frame house for a rectory which later became the convent and purchased the cemetery ground) 1860-1865, Father Hovin 1865, Father Sullivan 1865-68, Father James Harte 1869-1899, Father Fallon 1899-1903, Father Bernard Lee (erected the parish school and the old rectory) 1904-1907, Father J. J. Driscall 1907-1914, Father John J. Clancy 1914-1966, Father Francis Lee (made repairs, altered the church, and painted the church and statues a monochrome shade - $125,000) 1966-1971, Father Terry Shea (demolished the beautiful 70-year old, 12 room, brick rectory with wrap-around porch in order to build the gym and kitchen. A modern brick rectory and convent were constructed.) 1971-1977, Father George Radosivich 1977, Irishman Father Patrick Morrow (died in bed while serving as pastor) 1977-1987, Father Henry Schmidt 1987-1991, Father William Keikeisen 1991-1998 (retired to Florida), Father D. Patrick Gibbons 1998-present.
Priests who have served as parish assistants throughout the history of St. Francis Xavier have included: Father Curran, Father Mee, Father Shields, Father Frank Lawler, Father McKeough, Father A. J. Harty, Father Terrence Brady, Father Eugene Griffith, Father Thomas Gorman, Father Francis D. Lee, Father Terrence Shea, Father William Maul, and Father Roger Simpson.
Father Terrence Brady who served as an assistant to Fr. Clancy was killed in World War II while serving as a chaplain. The Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Assembly in Jerseyville is named after him.
Father Jim Murphy from our parish went on to become an ordained priest. He resided on Warren Street in Jerseyville when he was growing up. Father Jim Schroeder was ordained in and resides in the St. Louis Diocese. Deacon Scott Kallal attended seminary in Rome for 7 years in preparation for the priesthood. He was ordained a deacon in August 2010 in the Kansas City, KS Diocese along with 3 other men in his religious community. He is a religious brother in the Apostles of the Interior Life, a religious community that gives spiritual direction and serves on college campuses in Italy and the United States bringing others closer to Our Lord and His Church.
A total of eighty-two Springfield Dominican Sisters taught at the school from 1883-1985. Sister Zita Telkamp O.D.P. served as principal in the late 1990’s. The school currently is thriving with approximately 475 students. The school offers an after school latch key program as well as pre-school programs. It also offers accelerated programs for students who excel in a particular scholastic area. Band is available through Illini Middle School. A true Catholic identity is stressed throughout all aspects of the school in educating our youth. Students participate in weekly Mass, regular Confession, weekly Stations during Lent, special devotions, service projects, March for Life, as well as many other activities to live and express their faith.