BELLEVILLE — The Belleville-area Catholic community is celebrating 100 years of existence this June.
In celebration, a potluck picnic for parishioners is planned following the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, June 27, at St. Francis of Assisi church.
During the last decades of the 1800s, the Belleville-area Catholic community consisted primarily of rural Irish, French, and German immigrant farm families. In 1869, these groups erected churches in Dayton and near Paoli.
As the 1900s arrived, many of these families’ second and third generations started to move into the villages. In 1900, Paoli Catholics built their new St. William Church and according to early articles in the Sugar River Recorder there was movement among Belleville Catholics to build a church in their village.
Sometime in 1910, land was purchased on Frederick St. and construction started on an inspiring structure, which was named St. Mary of Lourdes.
Belleville’s new church was primarily funded by commitments of 20 Catholic families and a number of significant donations from non-Catholic members of the Belleville community.
The priest spearheading this movement was Fr. J.P. Peschong. The newly appointed Fr. A.J. Mason presided over Belleville’s new church, Dayton’s St. James, and Paoli’s St. William congregations.
The bell for the St. Mary of Lourdes belfry was donated by three Lamboley brothers, who were members of one of the French families in the community.
The parish continued to grow with some of the nearby farm families joining the congregation while many others continued their affiliation with the Paoli and Dayton parishes.
In 1919, diocesan directives moved the St. William Parish, Paoli, to be a mission of the newly established Verona parish, leaving St. James, Dayton, as the mission parish of St. Mary of Lourdes, Belleville.
In 1923, a brick rectory for the priest was constructed next to the church.
The church basement and the adjacent vacant lot (between the church and rectory) were the focal points of parish social activities that often included other villages. An annual St. Mary of Lourdes summer picnic became an anticipated social function.
The church basement also provided an area for catechism classes for the youth and parish meetings. Pastors and Dominican nuns from Edgewood in Madison were regular Saturday morning teachers. Parents of the children took turns providing the Sisters’ transportation to and from Madison. Eventually parishioners under the guidance of the priests continued religious education instructions.
1956 church building
||The original St. Mary Church, Belleville.
As years went by, the parish numbers continued to grow. After World War II the original building began to show its age. Continued major maintenance of the structure, its limited capacity, and excessive heating costs all prompted consideration for construction of a new church.
In 1956, during Fr. Esdras Gariepy’s pastorate, a new A-frame church and hall was erected on the vacant lot between the church and rectory. The old church was razed and the stained glass windows were salvaged for the south wall of the new church. The pews and altar also were saved and used to refurbish the interior of St. James in Dayton. The new church complex designed on one floor also provided a hall, kitchen, and restrooms.
The St. Mary of Lourdes church served the congregation well over the years.
These parish facilities also provided accommodations for many Belleville organizations in need of a meeting place.
The hall, which was doubled in size in 1969, is regularly used as a preschool nursery center, a meeting and meal facility for the Belleville-Exeter-Montrose Senior Citizens program, and meeting area for 4-H clubs, Girl Scout troops, and others.
St. Francis of Assisi
During the late 1990s or early 2000s, the growth of the parish, with more than 600 families, and the imminent merging of parishes caused an expansion of the church or a new building to be considered.
The parish councils and an all-parish building committee developed a comprehensive plan for a new church on land donated by Phil and Marilyn Fahey.
The new church, to be named St. Francis of Assisi and designed to accommodate 600, was started in 2007 and completed 20 months later in time for the first Mass in November of 2008.
St. James Parish in Dayton is in the process of merging with St. Mary of Lourdes Parish to form the St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
During the 100 years, 14 priests served as pastors of St. Mary of Lourdes. Fr. Kenneth Klink has been the congregation's pastor for the last 28 years.
Father Klink recently announced his retirement. His last official Masses will be on Saturday and Sunday, July 3 and 4.
After each of the Masses, a reception in his honor will be held in the gathering area of the St. Francis of Assisi Church. Light refreshments will be served. This will be an opportunity for all parishioners and friends to greet Father Klink and wish him well.