We should feel blessed living in this era with the comfort of air conditioning, fast transportation, and central heating. Back in the day, there were priests who rode hand cars along the railroad tracks for miles in all kinds of weather to preach their sermons and hold mass.
That’s the way it was in Minooka. St. Mary’s Church in Minooka is celebrating its 150th anniversary this coming year, and Father Mark Fracaro shared some of the history of the parish with me this week.
The parish was founded by Rome in 1862. In many ways, worship there is much the same as it is today. Parishioners get to hear mass in English today, though, whereas mass was in Latin back in the day. Mass was also very quiet back then, with only the servers hearing the prayers, which were said quietly in Latin.
It was only during High Mass that there was singing and a louder proliferation of prayers the whole room could hear.
Which church you could go to for mass was pretty much set in stone back on those days, too, Father Mark said. Today the faithful can worship wherever they want.
“It was strictly bound by the boundaries,” he said. “We used to be very strict about that.
In 1852, the Catholics originally met at Dresden, near present-day Dollinger Farm. Founding families were the Comerfords, the Kinsellas, and the Smiths. When the railroad came through in 1862, it moved to Minooka, and that’s where the parish actually began.
“The priest came from Morris on a hand car every Sunday for services,” Father Mark said.
Through the cold of our northern Illinois winters, the ice storms, and the blazing heat of July. I can’t imagine.
Masses were first celebrated at a house on West and Mondamin Streets. It was in 1869 a building was constructed where the present day cemetery is located. That’s when the parish got its first permanent priest assigned.
Today, St. Mary’s is in its third building (303 W. St. Mary Street), and it’s working on its fourth across the street from the high school. The current building will then be used for meetings and events and offices.
St. Mary’s wasn’t the first church in the area. Father Mark said the Methodist Church beat them out by a couple of years. The two churches have a long history of working together in the community, though, he said, including 20 years ago when there was a fire at St. Mary’s. The church’s new pulpit was even designed after the Methodist Church’s pulpit.
Father Mark said there are several observances planned for this year.
“Celebrating the anniversary gives us a sense of our roots,” he said, “and acknowledges the people who began our history here. It also celebrates that amount of time of faith lived here in town.”
Next week, he will celebrate with a Latin mass. There will also be a celebration at Dollinger Farm in the future, including cultural lessons of Native Americans, who shared the land with the parish 150 years ago.
On October 2, there will be a special children’s mass, and next May, Father will dedicate a plaque to the founding families and host a visit by Bishop Daniel Conlon.
Congratulations on a rich, full history of worship and service, St. Mary’s!