Parishes Celebrate Centennials
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
December 2, 2021
Two parishes will start celebrating centennials  this month with special Masses.
Bishop David Malloy will celebrate Mass at 4:30 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, 1400 Kiwanis Dr. in Freeport to help the parish mark its 100th anniversary as a parish. Centennial organizers have invited former pastors to concelebrate in the special Mass along with inviting current and former parishioners. An open house reception will be held after the Mass in O’Neill Center.  
The Centennial observance at St. Thomas Aquinas will continue into 2022 with events planned in March and June.
The next day, Dec. 5, Bishop Malloy will travel to St. Mary Parish, Pecatonica, to open their year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1922 dedication of their church at 126 West Fifth Street. A Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. with a continental breakfast served immediately following in Hayes Hall there.
Other events are being planned throughout the next year with a closing Mass in December, 2022, to mark the 150th anniversary of the parish establishment in 1872.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Freeport
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish was established Dec. 4, 1921 by Bishop Peter J. Muldoon with Father William G. McMillian as the first pastor. The cornerstone for the one-story church building was laid in May 1921 with the building completed the following year and dedicated May 28, 1922. A residence for the pastor was purchased in 1923 at the corner of Harlem Ave. and West Stephenson St. A second floor was added to the church providing classrooms for the Dominican sisters of Sinsinawa where they would teach for the next 20 years. 
In 1932, the rectory was sold and a new one purchased at 11 North Harlem Ave. immediately adjacent to the parish property. In 1956 it became necessary to erect temporary classrooms in the parish hall. School enrollment continued to increase so four classrooms and a gymnasium were constructed in 1963.
In 1967 the parish paid off its debt and began considering the possibility of constructing a new church on a site west of Freeport. Then in 1970, the three parishes in Freeport consolidated their educational programs, with St. Mary and St. Thomas Schools retaining grades 1-5 and St. Joseph School taking over grades 6-8.
In 1971 a new church was designed and plans put out for bid. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new church took place on Oct. 21, 1973 and the corner stone was laid June 30, 1974. On Dec. 15, 1974, Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill and former pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas came back to dedicate the church and the new adjoining parish center and rectory. A new rectory was built in 1988.  A large expansion and remodeling project took place and was completed in 1995. Among many other improvements, a 11,332 square foot addition was built including an education wing and fellowship hall. In 2000, Dick Edler and his family donated a building for Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Adoration Chapel in memory of his late wife Jeanne. Other parishioners donated funds to furnish the 95-seat chapel and to complete the stained glass windows. Approximately 824 families are registered at St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Mary, Pecatonica
In 1872, a Catholic parish was established comprising four missions in the communities of Pecatonica, Seward, Irish Grove and Durand. The present site of St. Mary Church was purchased in 1874 from Irvin French, and the small house on the property served as both church and rectory. At that time there were about 12 families making up the parish. In 1879 the first frame church was built followed by a rectory in 1894.  Bishop of Rockford Peter J. Muldoon separated Pecatonica and Seward from Durand and Irish Grove in 1909. Pledges totaling $22,000 were collected in the fall of 1919 to replace the old frame church, too small for the growing parish. 
In January 1922, the rectory was destroyed by fire and rebuilding was started immediately. The cornerstone for the new church was laid by Bishop Muldoon in December of 1922.  In 1954 the St. Thomas of Canterbury Church in Seward was closed and its members joined the congregation at St. Mary’s. The current church has been remodeled several times, adding new interiors and an elevator.
The most recent project was the complete renovation of the parish hall and kitchen thanks to a bequest from the late Virgil and Adele Hayes. There are approximately 191 families registered at St. Mary.
Source: Diocesan Histories


Shop Religious items at HOLYART.COM