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St. Fidelis Catholic

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St. Fidelis churchA history compiled by Molly Daniel 2022

An account of the parish history compiled by Molly Daniel and self-published in 2022 can be purchased online. For more information see this link:
http://mollydaniel.net/fidelis.html

Over the past 160 years, the Arenzville Catholic community has been served as a mission from nearby Catholic churches in Beardstown, Virginia, or Jacksonville. On occasion, when the church lacked a permanent pastor, the Franciscan Fathers from Quincy College (now Quincy University) attended the parish in the interim.

Religious education in the parish was supported through the work of the Dominican Sisters. In 1950, Bishop William A. O'Connor, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, launched an initiative to provide religious instruction for children who did not attend Catholic elementary schools. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) specifically targeted the rural communities and supported the work of the Springfield Dominicans to travel to the parishes to provide catechism lessons.

The Catholic community at Arenzville was first served by Father Roderick Heimerling, who was born in Bavaria, and ordained in Chicago in 1850. He arrived in Beardstown in the fall of 1859, after having founded a parish of German Catholics in Galena, IL, and attending other communities in the region. From the time of his arrival until 1902, the Arenzville Catholic community was affiliated with St. Alexius Catholic Church in Beardstown.

In Beardstown, Father Heimerling made various improvements, including purchasing land for the Catholic cemetery for St. Alexius. He made arrangements to say Mass several times a year for the growing Catholic community in Arenzville. He died in 1866 after he fell ill while making calls to his parishioners during cold weather. He is buried in the St. Alexius Catholic Cemetery at Beardstown. For a brief period after his death, the people in Arenzville were without a priest to say the Mass.

In 1867, Father Aldophus Jacque was appointed pastor at St. Alexius, and he also served the people in Arenzville until 1868. He was born in Buriville, Lorraine, France and studied at seminaries in Pont--Mousson and Nancy, as well as at All Hallows College in Ireland. He was ordained in 1859 by Bishop Henry Damian Juncker, the first Bishop of Alton.

In 1868, Father Albert C. Busch arrived in Beardstown, where he served as the pastor at St. Alexius and also served the people in Arenzville until 1873. He was born in Neheim, Westphalia (now Germany) in 1844, arrived in America in 1866 entered the seminary in Milwaukee. He was ordained in 1868, and his first appointment was in Beardstown/Arenzville. At St. Alexius, he built a front addition to the old church, purchased a parsonage and lots adjoining for the sum of $2,100 and erected a small school house. He received a new appointment in 1873 and left Beardstown/Arenzville. It was during Father Busch's pastorate in 1872 that the Arenzville Catholics formally established their church as St. Fidelis Roman Catholic Church (articles of incorporation executed on May 20, 1872 and filed in Cass County on June 27, 1872.) John Adam Herbert and Joseph Baujan were named as trustees.

After the departure of Father Busch, the Beardstown and Arenzville Catholic communities were served by Father Henry Aloys Hellhake, from 1873 to 1875, followed by Father Sylvester Wegener, from 1876-77.

In 1878, Father William Weigand was appointed to St. Alexius in Beardstown and also served the affiliated community at Arenzville. He was born in Zanesville, OH, and attended seminary at St. Joseph's College in Milwaukee. In Beardstown, he oversaw the completion of a new church building, a brick structure with a cornerstone laid in 1889. In Arenzville, the Catholics purchased property in 1881 for a permanent location of their church. Until that time, the Mass had been said in various private homes on an infrequent basis. One of these was the home of John Adam Herbert, pictured below.

home used for the Catholic church in 1882

Home of John Adam Herbert, one of the homes in which Catholic Mass was read before the permanent church was built in 1899-1900.

The purchase of land in 1881 (a 100x100' lot at the corner of W. North and Adams Street, purchased for $95.00 on December 28, 1881), was the location of a two-room house (see the image below of the house at 108 Adams Street) that the Catholics used for meeting for the next several years.

Father Weigand served the Beardstown and Arenzville parishes until 1895, when he was called to a new assignment. He was succeeded by Father Henry Ader, born in Borken, Westphalia (now Germany) and ordained at Mechelen, Belgium in 1879, served St. Alexius and Arenzville from 1895 to 1899.

In August 1899, Father Herman Gesenhues arrived in Beardstown and took charge of the parish. He was born in Saint Louis, MO, studied at seminaries in Teutopolis, IL, and Milwaukee, and was ordained in 1881. At the time of Father Gesenhues's arrival in Arenzville, the parish had outgrown the two-room house used for its services, and construction began for a new church building.

Local tradition holds that Valentine Hahling donated land for the establishment of a permanent home for the parish, and indeed records show evidence of his generosity. The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois: Diamond Jubilee History states, "In 1882, a few Catholic members arrived from Germany, including one Valentine Hahling, who proved a very valuable addition to the church. He was instrumental in buying a home, consisting of two rooms, which was situated on the site of the present church. It was well calculated to provide a house of worship for the little congregation."

Two-room house which sat where the church is now

A two-room home, now located at 108 Adams Street, once sat on the lot presently occupied by St. Fidelis Catholic Church and was used for Mass until the parish outgrew the space.

Parish members contributed funds and labor to complete their new home. The two-room house was moved north several yards on the lot adjacent to the church. St. Fidelis Catholic Church was dedicated on October 13, 1899, and building was completed the following year. Records show that Valentine Hahling loaned money to the congregation to pay for the building of the church. Susie Shannon Nikolai, granddaughter of William Herbert, a recent immigrant and skilled carpentered, confirmed that he helped build the church. John Adam Herbert and Joseph Baujan, both trustees of the church as well as brick masons, were also likely involved in the building. The parish will soon celebrate the 125th anniversary of its dedication.

St. Fidelis, 2003, Arenzville

St. Fidelis Catholic Church in 2003

In 1902, the Bishop of Alton, Rev. James Ryan, attached the parish of St. Fidelis to St. Luke's in nearby Virginia, IL, where Father Michael J. Davis assumed the role of pastor for the Arenzville Catholics. He served the community until 1906.

During the years that St. Fidelis was affiliated with St. Luke's in Virginia (1902-1976), the parish was served by the following priests:

Fr. Michael J. Davis 1902-1906
Fr. Jeremiah Cronin 1906-1915
Fr. Joseph O'Dwyer 1915-1931
Fr. Patrick J. Malloy 1932-1933
Fr. Victor C. Goyke 1933-1939
Fr. Frederick Neveling - 1940-1942
Fr. Michael P. Henehan 1942 -1952
Fr. Albert Ettelbrick 1952-1953
Fr. Eugene F. Griffin 1953 - 1958
Fr. Henry Kozak 1959-1966
Fr. Roger Simpson 1966-1968
Fr. John Moore 1968-1970
Fr. Peter Paul Bertaldo 1970 1976
Msgr. Irvin Will - 1976

In 1976 Bishop Joseph McNicholas of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois changed the affiliation of St. Fidelis to again join with St. Alexius in Beardstown.

During the second period that St. Fidelis was affiliated with St. Alexius in Beardstown (1976-present) the parish has been served by the following priests:

Fr. Henry Mack 1976 1977
Msgr. Cullen O'Brien- 1977 1978
Fr. Robert Meyer (temporary administrator)
Fr. William Maul 1978 -1980
Fr. George Radosevich 1980-1985
Fr. Alan M. Hunter 1985-1989
Fr. Eugene J. Weitzel 1989 -2006 (retired as pastor in 2006 but continued to serve the parish as part-time sacramental minister until 2011)
Father Kenneth J. Venvertloh 2007-2008 (parochial administrator for St. Fidelis and St. Augustine [Ashland], while also serving as dean and pastor at Our Saviour)
In 2008, a planning process resulted in cooperative arrangements for a "parish cluster" to provide services for several parishes in the region, incorporating parochial vicars shared across several churches in the Jacksonville deanery to assist the pastors in serving a growing population of parish members from international communities. The parish cluster initially grouped St. Alexius, St. Fidelis, St. Luke and St. Augustine (Ashland) and included the following appointments:
Fr. Christopher Brey 2008 -2014 (pastor of St. Alexius, St. Luke, St. Fidelis and St. Augustine)
Deacon Paul E. Koch 2012 to ? (assistant to pastor at St. Alexius and St. Fidelis)
Fr. Carlos Bohorquez 2014 to 2015 (parochial administrator for St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Hyland Smith 2014 to 2016 (parochial vicar for St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Samuel Bagyo, Jr. 2015 (parochial vicar for St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Thomas C. Meyer - 2015 to 2019 (pastor of St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Rafal Pyrchla 2017 to 2019 (parochial vicar for St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Joseph Braden Maher - 2018 to 2019 (parochial vicar for St. Luke, St. Alexius, St. Fidelis and Our Saviour)
Fr. Wayne Stock - 2019 2022 (pastor of St. Luke, St. Alexius, and St. Fidelis)
Father Pio Caliente, located in Beardstown, is the present pastor. The schedule for the celebration of the Mass varies. Call the parish office at St. Alexius in Beardstown for information about services: 217-323-4345 or check the St. Alexius Facebook Page.

Sources consulted:

Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois 1892, by Biographical Review Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1892.

Catholic Times, magazine for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, online edition various archived articles describing official appointments, retirements, etc. Accessed 9/15/2021.

History of the Diocese of Springfield, accessed on 9/15/2021.

Newspaper archives for Beardstown and Jacksonville.

Rothensteiner, J. "Northwestern Missions in Illinois," Illinois Catholic Historical Review, October 1919.

Rothensteiner, J. "The Northeastern Part of the Diocese of Saint Louis Under Bishop Rosati," Illinois Catholic Historical Review, Volume 3, July 1920, 61-72. Accessed 9/15/2021.

Sacramental Records, U.S. Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, 1853-1975 (via Ancestry.com).

Zurbonsen, A., Clerical Bead Roll of the Diocese of Alton, Ill., Jost & Kiefer, Quincy, IL, 1918.

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This page last modified: 08/23/2022