Parish Goes from Bratwurst to Tacos
Elgin St. Joseph
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
May 6, 2021
ELGIN—Over more than a century, the languages of the faithful at St. Joseph Parish here have changed. 
But, “Most importantly is what has not changed: Christ’s presence in the Mass, the sacraments and the teachings of the Church,” said parishioner Willis Weiler.
Worshiping in their own language and with their own hymns has been a natural desire of immigrants. 
In 1887, German residents of  Elgin were no exception. They sought permission from the Archdiocese of Chicago for a new parish in what would become the Diocese of Rockford.
Over time,  the church has been home to Filipinos, French, and many other Catholic immigrants, including Spanish-speakers who make up the majority of the parish today.
Martha Martínez has been a parishioner for more than 50 years. She remembers that at St. Joseph School there were “several minorities” although there were “more Anglo than Latino (students) and little by little it was changing.”
She thinks the fact that St. Joseph is more “Hispanic” now is because, “It was the first parish in Elgin with a Spanish language Mass.
In 1986, when Willis Weiler and his wife, Linda, “joined the parish, the Hispanic community made up about 20% of the parishioners,” he said. “Today they make up over 90%.”
The appearance of the church  has changed to reflect the culture of the new parishioners, for example with the introduction of a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 
And festival menus changed from the bratwurst-filled October Fest to the tacos of Mexican Independence Day. 
“Priests who once spoke English and some Latin now speak Spanish and some English,” Weiler said.
Patricia Clark, who was raised in the parish, went to St. Joseph School and St. Edward Central Catholic High School.
“Over the years we experienced so much change to St. Joe’s,” she said. “It was so vibrant. It was so alive, so much activity. There was an ice-cream social that the church had every single summer, which it was so lovely to be part of.  It was family oriented, the school and the parish.”
She called it “a very beautiful atmosphere to grow in,” adding, “It was a gift to see the blend of cultures together.”
Highlights remembered
On June 14, 1987, Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill celebrated the parish’s 100th anniversary Mass.
“The church (was) packed with people,” Weiler said. “At that time St. Joe had no air-conditioning. The temperature was 105 degrees outside. It was much hotter inside. The bishop almost collapsed from heat exhaustion, but he made it.” 
Some notable parishioners from St. Joseph include Father Robert Camacho; the late Judge Manuel Barbosa, and Elgin Councilwoman Rose Martinez.
Father Roberto Camacho received almost all his sacraments at St. Joseph with the exception of ordination, which took place at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rockford in 1979.
He is an Elgin native and  the only Hispanic from the parish ordained to the priesthood for the Rockford Diocese.
“It is an honor to me to be one of the sons of St. Joseph Parish and celebrate Mass there,” he said.
Now retired, Father Camacho resides at St. Laurence Parish in Elgin and helps with Spanish Masses there and in other parishes. 
“After my ordination I had two Masses, one in English, one in Spanish,” he said. “And to celebrate the Hispanic culture, also during the Mass in the cathedral and in the parking lot there in Rockford, there was a mariachi band.” 
Later at St. Joseph, Elgin, “We had dance and dinner, a lot of celebration and food that people brought,” Father Camacho remembers.
Presently, Msgr. Arquimedes Vallejo, diocesan Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, was appointed pastor on July 1, 2020. 
Honoring their saint
To celebrate the Year of St. Joseph — Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021 — several parishioners have prepared and prayed for 33 days to consecrate themselves to their patron saint. 
“Every Wednesday, which is St. Joseph’s day throughout the universal Church, at 6:30 p.m. and on the 19th of each month we celebrate Mass for him,” said Father Eliserio Palencia, parochial vicar. 
The parish is also planning a retreat for those consecrated  to St. Joseph and are considering more activities for the year.
Shop Religious items at HOLYART.COM