St. Joseph Parish History

 

St. Joseph Parish History

Contributed by Mona Kocher

From

St. Joseph Stringtown - 1841-2016

"Celebrating 175 years in the Jubilee of Mercy Year"

And From

The 150th Centennial Stringtown Book

 

     The earliest parishioners of St. Joseph Parish, Stringtown, did not arrive here until 1839-40.   Some of the early family names were Hahn, Klepher, Ginder, Schneider, Weiler, Oakes (Ochs), Sester and Spitz.  At this time the area was still part of Lawrence County.  Stringtown became part of Richland County when the county was organized in 1841 from parts of Lawrence and Clay counties.  It is said that the community became known as Stringtown because the first dwellings were built in a ‘string-like’ fashion, and that German Township received its name because of the large number of German families who settled in it.  During the early years of the parish, Stringtown was part of the Vincennes Diocese.  Due to state boundary lines, it was made part of the Chicago Diocese and then later Alton Diocese.  In 1887, the Belleville Diocese was established and Stringtown became part of it.  In 1936, Fr. Bernard Spors wrote a historical account of Stringtown.  In this account, he stated that the boundaries of the parish as “about four miles square: North three and one-half miles to the Jasper County line; South five miles to U.S. Highway 50; East four miles to Lawrence County line; West seven miles to Dundas.”

     The first Mass for the Stringtown settlers was offered in the home of Casmere Klepfer on November 5, 1841 by Father Mullins of Vincennes, Indiana.  The building of a log church was finished on February 15, 1842.  This church was located eight miles northeast of Olney and was later dedicated in honor of St. Joseph.  It had a seating capacity of about 150 people and cost $300.  This church was used for worship over the next 59 years.  Frequent expenses for the early St. Joseph congregation included lamp oil, beeswax, coal, and wine for Mass, and “Cathedraticum.”  Additionally, the parishioners paid for lodging and travel for the mission priests who would arrive every three to four weeks from Vincennes, Ste. Marie, and later Olney.  During the priest’s absence, the parishioners gathered for worship with prayers and readings.  They would bury their dead and have a blessing of the grave when a priest returned to the parish.

     In the early 1850’s, several Irish Catholic families were living in the Claremont vicinity working on the railroad.  Since Stringtown had the only Catholic church in the area, these families came for the purpose of worship.  As the railroad moved west, most of the Irish families moved with it.  Their presence here is memorialized with several gravestones in the old St. Joseph Cemetery, one of which, John Kelly’s states:

“Remember friends as you pass by

As you are now so once was I

As I am now so you must be

Prepare for death and follow me.”

 

     By 1879, the parish saw a need for a parish school and a building costing $300.00 was provided one-half mile south of the present church.  In 1900, this school was moved to the present church grounds and was later demolished in 1952.  In 1898, a rectory with a one and one-half story frame was built at a cost of $1000.00 under the leadership of Rev. J.B. Schnelton of Olney.

     In 1899, a Gothic style frame church with brick foundation was started one mile east and north of the original church.  The congregation was strongly divided over the location for the new church and the Most Rev. Bishop Janssen found it necessary to come to Stringtown to settle the dispute.  The cost of this church was $6,000, and it was dedicated in 1901.  In 1910, a sanctuary and two sacristies were added to the east end of the church, along with the replacement of the wood stoves with a coal furnace.

     In 1907, a Sisters’ house was built along with a second school that was built north of the church at a cost of $1500.  In 1908, Nuns from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Order, Ruma, began teaching at Stringtown.  On July 27, 1932, the Most Reverend Bishop Henry Althoff granted permission to change the parochial school to a school supported by public funds.

     In late 1935, the construction of a parish hall began and was completed in October, 1936.  Due to the donations of material and labor by parishioners, the coast of the hall was just over $1800.  It measured 64 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 12 feet high and included a concrete basement with a kitchen where dinners could be served.  It also included a 14 feet by 28 feet stage at the east end of the main floor.  The parish hall was demolished in 2005 after the construction of a new pavilion on the parish grounds.

     On July 5, 1950, the building of a third school with four classrooms and a basement began.  In 1960, two restrooms, a music room, and an entry room were added to the east side of the school.  By 1967, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ could no longer supply teaching sisters for the parish school and the school was staffed with lay teachers.  In early 1950, Stringtown became part of the East Richland School District (now known as the Richland County School District) and continued under its jurisdiction until financial problems resulted in the district’s decision to close the school in 1976.  St. Joseph parish elected to continue operation of the school as a parochial school and did so until 1987.  Over the next 20 years, the school building would still continue to be used for various parish activities:  picnic dinners, PSR classes, funerals, parish gatherings, etc.  The school was demolished in 2010 after the construction of a new parish center, which was completed in 2010.

     In 1966, a baby room and restrooms were added to the south side of the main entry to the church and a confessional room was on the north side under the stairwell.  Collections for stained glass windows were taken up and those were also installed.  In 1968, the parish demolished the rectory and used the Sisters’ house for the priest residence and office since it was a newer building.  The last resident pastor, Rev. Lucien Duesing, was transferred in 1977.  Due to a shortage of priests for the Diocese of Belleville, St. Joseph Parishes, Stringtown and Olney, had to share priests and later in 1997, a change was made to have St. Parish Stringtown and Holy Cross Parish, Wendelin share a priest.  Currently in the year 2016, an additional change will be taking place where all three of these parishes, St. Joseph Stringtown and Olney and Holy Cross Wendelin will begin sharing priests as they proceed into the future.