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History of St. Francis of Assisi Church

Bishop William Quarter, Bishop of Chicago, saw a need for a parish that could serve the needs of the German speaking members of the community and appointed Father Franz Tousch as pastor of the soon to be established St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Ottawa, Illinois, the year being 1858. Father Tousch had been ordained December 23, 1833 and he not only knew the language of the migrants, but also their way of life. Therefore, working with the people of Ottawa was second nature to him. Under FatherTousch’s guidance, plans for the first church were formed, and the church structure was built on the corner of Sanger and Jackson Streets at a cost $2415. Father Tousch lived but a few years after establishing the parish, as he died in 1860 at the age of 60 years. His mortal remains were buried in front of the church, to remain there until 1916 when they were disinterred and placed in St. Francis Cemetery. This disinterrment was necessitated when the new, and present, church structure was built.

The successors of Father Tousch were priests from the Chicago Diocese, with the exception of two periods, 1865 and from 1874 until 1877, when priests from the Archabbey of St. Vincent’s, Lathrobe, Pennsylvania, who had come to Peru, Ill. to serve the German speaking people of the area, were put in charge of the parish. In 1877, when the Diocese of Peoria was founded, Diocesan priests were placed in charge, a fact which remained until 1902 when the Benedictine Fathers of Latrobe, Pa. were again placed in charge of the parish. 1910 St. Bede in Peru became an independent abbey. Bishop Spaulding, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, entrusted the care opf the parish St. Bede Abbey.. On August 1, 1912, the priests from St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Ill. took charge and the parish remained in their care until 1966 when Diocesan priests were again appointed to St. Francis.

Father Casimir Miller, OSB served three different periods in the parish history. Records indicate that Father Casimir was a man of great energy and leadership. Under his first term as pastor, an new electronically operated tubularpneumatic pipe organ which was installed in December of 1912. The new organ replaced the old hand – pumped organ which had been in the church since 1858. In February of 1913 construction of a brick structure school building used at the time. The new school was ready for use for the opening day of school in September of 1913.

The original church structure served the paish well until 1916, when a larger structure was needed. On Sunday morning, March 19, 1916 at 10:00 A.M., the final Mass was offered in the original St. Francis of Assisi Church. It was a solemn high pontifical Mass with Abbott Vincent of St. Bede as celebrant and Father Casimir Miller, OSB, the then pastor of the parish as deacon. The original church structure was sold for the $3000 and was subsequently moved across the street and remodeled into an apartment house. The structure remained that way substantially until December of 2004 when the apartment building was destroyed by fire.

Bids for the new church were opened March 20, 1916, the lowest being that of Sinnott brothers, a local contracting firm, for the sum of $24,452. This bid was for construction of the building only, and it was expected that contracts for plumbing, heating, electric lighting, art glass windows, sanctuary furnishings, organ and decorating would be awarded by the end of the week. During the time of construction, the people of the parish used St. Parick Church for weekday and Sunday Mass as well as for funerals and weddings. This was but the first of many working agreements with St. Patrick’s Parish, when one or the other was without facilities. During the renovation of St. Patrick’s Church in 1984 the people of the parish used St. Francis Church for weddings and funerals and they in return extended their hospitality to St. Francis for weddings and funerals during our renovation project of 1986.

News reports at the time of construction stated the exterior of the building would be of Streator brick, with rough finish somewhat similar to those in use in the new high school. Trimings would be of Bedford stone and the roof of slate. Steel beams would be used to support the roof, and stately twin towers would give the church something of cathedral effect.

Building of the new structure apparently went well, as the new edifice was dedicated on October 15, 1916. The final coast was $37,000, which included the building was well as contracts for plumbing, heating, electric light, art glass windows, sanctuary furnishings, organ, and decorating.

Records indicate the dedication ceremonies began in front of the building, and following the ceremonies, the Mass began. Abbott Vincent of St. Bede was the celebrant, Father Justice Wirth, OSB (later to become Abbot of St. Bede) and Father Bernardine OFM were deacons to the Abbott. Father Wencel Scholar, OSB, was deacon of the Mass, and Father Maurice Toole was subdeacon., Father Casimir Miller, OSB (then pastor of the parish) and Father Alexander Monnee, OSB were Master of Cermonies.

Father Casimir remained as pastor until 1923, then returned again in 1928 to remain on his second assignment to the parish. It was during that time that the present rectory was built. This structure has served as the offices and living quarters for the priests since that time.
In 1969, to comply with the directives of Vatican II, a temporary alter was placed in the sanctuary so the priest could face the people. Two side altars and some statuary were removed and two side entries to the church were installed. The entry to the north included a heated ramp for easier accessibility. This work was done under the pastorate of Father Robert Barnett.

Shortly after the arrival of Father Barnett’s successor, Father L.H. Gildner, the new pastor assembled together the paish trustees along with others who had expertise in the construction field and an interest in the parish, to evaluate the situation of the old tree story school building and the building used as a convent. Both buildings were over 60 years old, deterioating, and too expensive to repair. It was determined to demolish the old buildings. The old school building was replaced with a one story building used for the C.C.D. classes, athletic program, office space, and meeting rooms. The former convent was demolished and replaced with a garage/storage area.
In 1985, Father Gildner led a major renovation of the church. Father had seen this need when he first came to the parish, but felt the Parish Center/Garage area project more vital at the time as maintenance costs were very high and going higher very quickly. After many meetings with several different groups, it was decided that air conditioning would be installed in the church, a baby room would be installed as well, a new roof would replace the seventy year old slate roof, and new church pews would be installed. Other decorations and improvements were made to bring the church in line with the decrees of Vatican II and the statutes of the Diocese of Peoria.

In 1998, Father Gerald J. Meyer was appointed pastor of St. Francis Parish. Father Meyer had also worked to keep up the buildings and grounds of the parish. Some of the improvements done to the church include relocating the Tabernacle to the center of the Sanctuary, two new side altars, new statues on Tabernacle Altar, new statues on Side Altar, Stations of the Cross and bases returned to natural colors, new carpeting, center crucifix returned to natural color, new bell system, and a new roof. The rectory had received new carpeting, new wiring throughout, new air conditioning, and a computer system installed. The Parish Center had new bleachers, new lights, new gym floor, new furnace, and a new roof. Improvements to the parish grounds included new landscaping and irrigation system, new parking lot across the street with fence enclosure, Our Lady of Fatima Shrine on corner of Jackson and Sanger, brick garden with names of past and present pastors and parishioners.

In 2009 Msgr.Jerome Ham became pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church. He served the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi for two years, until 2011.
Also served the parishioners of St. Francis were Rev. Jules Adator, SMA as the adminstrator and Rev. Michael Adrie, SMA, Parochial Vicar.
Rev. Jules Adator, SMA became adminstrator in 2011. Under Father Jules’s guidance St. Mary’s of Naplate and St. Francis of Assisi were united as one on July 1, 2013.

Rev. Anthony Fevlo, SMA, Adminstrator and Rev. Augustin Kassa,SMA, Parochial Vicar, have come to serve the praishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
Fr. Tony K. Fevlo was born on October 11, 1967 in Ghana. He belongs to the religious order called the Society of African Missions (S.M.A) founded on December 8, 1856 in Lyon, France. He was ordained on August 8, 1998 and after serving as parochial vicar in Lome, Togo for 5 years. In 2003 he became Vocation promotion and director of SMA house of studies in Dedham, MA for 5 years. Since 2008 he has been Pastor of St. Joseph parish in Nigeria until his recent assignment as Administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Parish.

Fr. Augustin Kassa was born on April 1, 1981 in Togo. He also belongs to the same religious order called the Society of African Missions (S.M.A) founded on December 8, 1856 in Lyon, France. He was ordained on July 21, 2012 and since then has been serving as parochial vicar in Accra, Ghana till his recent assignment as Parochial Vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Parish.