22 May 2007

A brief history

St. John the Baptist parish in Quincy, Illinois was founded on 15 May 1880, the fifth parish to be established in the Gem City.

The first parish in the Diocese of Quincy (which then became the Diocese of Alton, which became the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois), St. Boniface, was founded in 1837 to serve the German speaking parishioners of the newly established city. Upon their arrival in Quincy, the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) established St. Francis of Solanus parish in 1860. Two years later St. Peter parish was established to meet the needs of Irish immigrants who had come with the railroads. Immaculate Conception parish (St. Mary's, as it is more commonly named) was established in 1867 to serve the German citizens in Quincy's south side.

There was a recognition of the needs of the German Catholics in Quincy's north side toward the beginning of the 1860s. At the time of the dedication of Immaculate Conception parish, Bishop Henry Damien Juncker promised the established of a parish in the north end once St. Mary's and St. Francis' were in better financial situations.

These were, of course, difficult times financially for Catholics in the United States, as well as for most of her citizens. Bishop Peter J. Baltes succeeded Bishop Juncker, who learned in 1872 of a plan of the Illinois General Assembly to repeal legislation that granted the incorporation of churches. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Bishop Baltes incorporated the future parish of St. John the Baptist on 24 May 1872, appointing at the same time two trustees.

Some months later, Mrs. Anna Cox, the widow of General John C. Cox, donated half a block of farm land for the new parish, which was accepted and deeded on 5 January 1874.

Even so, difficult times remained and monies remained scarce. The priests at St. Boniface parish remained sympathetic to the needs of the Catholics in the north side of Quincy and helped to organize a building committee and to collect donations for the new church. Formed in 1879, the committee collected $818 dollars from prospective parishioners. Once the boundaries for the new parish were established another collection was taken up. Yet the parish lacked the leadership it desperately needed.

Fr. Bruener, pastor of St. Boniface parish, requested Bishop Baltes to send help the struggling parish. His Excellency replied to the request on 15 May 1880 with a simple telegram: "Father Still is coming."

At only thirty-one years of age, Fr. Joseph Still, a native of Prussia, seemed just the man for the daunting mission that lay before him. One parish history book describes him thus:
"Father Joseph Still was the answer to many prayers and the cause of many more. His personal endowment seemed ideal for the hard task ahead. He was a young man, 31 years of age, strong, determined, enthusiastic, physically pre-possessing with a no-nonsense personality that matched his parishioners."
Fr. Still lived at St. Bonfiace while he oversaw the construction of an initial structure that housed both the church and the school and school began on 7 October 1880 even though construction was not quiete finished. In a just a few months, Fr. Still's leadership advanced the parish greatly. The church - located on the second floor - was dedicated on 21 November 1880.

The first rectory was completed and occupied on 4 August 1881, with the parish numbering 190 families.

After purchasing additional lands around the church, Fr. Still invited the Sisters of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to open a home for the elderly. This they did, which eventually led to their teaching in the school.

By 1887, the parish numbered 250 families with 244 children in the school. To house the students, a three-story addition was built in 1891.

With the growth of parish a new church was needed to the provide the sacraments to the parishioners. With little effort of the convincing the parishioners, Fr. Still drew up plans for a new stone church with the help of the altar builder, Henry Schenk. The new church would be 74' by 166', while the original structure measured only 82' by 54'.

Construction on the new church continued through 1897, slowed down by a lack of funds. The cornerstone was laid on 13 October 1895. The local papers described the day as "outdoing anything of the kind ever attempted in Quincy unless it was the laying of the cornerstone of the Courthouse." Bishop James Ryan dedicated the new church on 13 February 1898.

This is enough for now of the history. I may post more in the coming days.


  1. I hope you do.
    Do you have a good picture of that entrance porch? It looks good.