Maytown’s ‘New Church’ Marks 100 Years
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
April 11, 2019
MAYTOWN—St. Patrick would be proud! The people of the church named for him in Maytown have kept faith with the founding families and maintained the church building through thick and thin for 100 years.
Although the population in the area has thinned in recent decades, today 48 families keep this parish alive and vibrant. While others have moved on to larger communities for work, some have stayed working as farmers here on the southern edge of the Rockford Diocese south of Amboy.
“This is an awesome church,” said 90-year-old LaVerne Klein, who has been part of the parish for most of her life. She attended the centennial celebration March 30 with her son Gerald Klein and friend Sylvia Leffelman from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sublette.
About 200 parishioners attend Mass here every weekend in the glow of the  church’s many stained glass windows. 
Even the worst wintry weather almost never keeps them away — men of the parish plow country roads leading to the church when the snow gets deep, keeping the way clear for the faithful from surrounding communities and farms.
Following the centennial celebration Mass, offered by Father Randy Fronek, pastor at St. Patrick, a dinner was held at the hall next to the church at 1336 Maytown Road. The corned beef and cabbage and ham dinner was catered by Kevin Malach, of Malach’s Catering in Sublette, with a little help from a lot of his friends, including his brother David. 
The event would have been held on St. Patrick’s Day, but that would have clashed with the annual farmer’s toy tractor show and convention in Sublette, said Father Fronek. So Laetare Sunday weekend, the fourth weekend of Lent, was chosen because traditionally this Sunday has been a day of celebration within the austere Lenten season, he said.
Parishioners Rick Cardot and Chris Klein provided the music for the Centennial Mass. They have sung and strummed their guitars in the choir loft for countless Masses. They started singing together in kindergarten, Klein said. 
The parishioners here share a solid, simple faith, she says, which keeps the community together.
“My great-grandfather was here. I married into this church, so it is very important to me,” she said. “The parishioners are just hardworking, simple people that love their God.”
Cardot agrees that the parish has stayed alive and active because of the faith of the people who take pride in performing all the usual chores of upkeep themselves. 
“There is a lot of pride put into this church when it was built. I have received every sacrament in this church. I hope it is here 100 years from now,” Cardot added.
Since the founding families were of Irish decent, it is no surprise that the St. Patrick stained glass widow is located in a place of honor on the east wall of the church building, where the morning sunlight adds dramatic color to the interior. 
Each window depicts a saint with the same Christian name as the parishioner who donated each window, including St. Ann, St. Thomas, and even one of Pope St. Cornelius, a Bishop of Rome from 251 to 253.
“I think we have the only Pope St. Cornelius stained glass window,” Father Fronek said.
Father Fronek is also the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sublette, and St. Mary in West Brooklyn. He said founders of those parishes were of German and French ethnicity, unlike the Irish settlers who founded the parish in Maytown in the mid-1800s in a log cabin chapel dedicated to St. Michael.
“Everyone wanted their own church in those days,” Father Fronek said.
The building’s upkeep has remained a paramount concern of the families here. They care for the buildings and grounds themselves with no staff, and there has only been one weekend in the past five years when Mass had to be canceled because of a blizzard, he said.
“The people are very zealous about the church. This is not the priest’s church; this is not the bishop’s church. This is the people’s church,” he said. 
“We don’t have any hired staff. The people take care of it. Their parents took care of it and their grandparents,” Father Fronek said. “And they are so glad the bishop still sends a priest here.”
He added they are grateful to Bishop David Malloy and his predecessors for keeping a priest available through the decades.
When a recent wind storm blew down many trees in the church grounds, the men of the parish swung into action and brought in equipment to chop up the wood and remove tree trunks to keep the area in good shape, said Kathy McLaughlin, a parishioner for 51 years. “We take care of things,” she said.
A few years ago the men put a new roof on the hall, McLaughlin added. 
“The women of the parish hold bazaars to raise money to help fund the upkeep of the buildings,” she said.
The parish has also produced a number of priests over its 179 year history. The late Father Anthony Becker, born in May Township in 1922, wrote two books about the area including one about Maytown. 
He wrote that small communities like Maytown are, “places of intense activity in the heart of vast agricultural areas.” 
The intense and devoted activities of this little parish on the prairie certainly have proved that point.
Jim Travi, who attended the celebrations, said people here are noted for being friendly. 
“When we started here a year ago we were welcomed with open arms,” he said. “This parish should be around a lot longer than 100 more years,” he said.
And the hope is that this year’s activities will be remembered for a long time. 
The parish is now planning to create a centennial book. Photos may be emailed to Names of those in the photographs, as well as dates and recollections are also encouraged.
The next centennial event is planned to coincide with the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer in May, and the conclusion of the centennial celebrations will be in October.