Pecatonica Parish Celebrates Two Big Milestones
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
December 8, 2022
PECATONICA—The parishioners at St. Mary Parish here paused during the beginning of a busy holiday season to celebrate two important milestones in their long history. 
First, the parish marked the 150th year of the establishment of their parish in 1872. 
Second, they celebrated the 100th birthday of the construction and dedication of the brick and cut stone church where they currently worship.
The celebration was held Dec. 3, exactly 100 years from the day the first Bishop of Rockford, Peter J. Muldoon, dedicated the church. And just exactly like 100 years ago, a dinner was served to all in the church hall (basement) of the church. 
But in this year of 2022, Bishop David Malloy, the ninth bishop of the Rockford Diocese, celebrated the Mass and delivered the homily. In 1922 the dedication sermon was preached by Bishop Francis J. Tief of Concordia, Kansas. Current pastor at St. Mary Parish, Father Dennis Morrissy, concelebrated. 
Bishop Malloy centered his remarks about the dual anniversaries during his homily and at the reception later around the song sung at the Mass, “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.” 
Bishop Malloy told those gathered that it was “right and good to come together to honor such a beautiful place in which to live out their lives of faith” and to honor all those who worked for the past 150 years to keep the parish “indeed, a lovely dwelling place.”
Parishioners enjoyed a hot buffet diner after the Mass and perused a special historical display compiled by Jill Stites, a member of the Pecatonica Historical Society and member of St. Mary Parish. Many of the items in the display were donated from the estate of her parents, also lifelong parishioners at St. Mary. Attending the dinner and having the honor of being one of the longest members of the parish was Mr. Jim Owens who was baptized at the parish 87 years ago. 
Others enjoyed some “open mic” time where they shared stories of when and why they joined the parish.
In addition to the Masses marking the opening and closing of the anniversary year, parishioners are looking into another project to refurbish the old rectory. Other activities marking the anniversary included donuts and coffee, Catholic trivia night, a new light display representing the parish during the Pecatonica holiday festival of lights at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds and a pancake breakfast by the Knight of Columbus on Dec. 10 from 8 to 10:30 a.m.
Brief History of St. Mary Parish, Pecatonica
In 1872, Father Peter Birch began serving the Catholics of Pecatonica, Seward, Irish Grove and Durand. 
The present site of St. Mary Church was purchased in 1874, and a small house on the property served as church and rectory.
The first frame church there was built by Father John E. Shannahan who served there from 1879-1883. A rectory was built in 1894.
Bishop Peter J. Muldoon, first bishop of the new Rockford Diocese, separated the parishes, assigning a pastor to Durand and Irish Grove and Father Hercules E. Ouimet to Pecatonica and a mission at Seward in 1909. Four acres for a cemetery were purchased in Pecatonica. In the fall of 1919, plans began to replace the frame church. When the rectory was destroyed by fire in January 1922, rebuilding started.
The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Peter Muldoon on May 7, 1922, and the church was dedicated that year on Dec. 3 at 10:30 a.m. 
The church was built at a cost of $60,000 and was 100 feet long and 40 feet wide with a seating capacity of 350 persons. 
A broad program of renovation of the church, rectory and cemetery began in 1954. In 1958 radiators were removed and air conditioning as well as new lighting was added. The parking lot was paved south of the church rectory. In 1965 Father William Meyers contracted parishioner and construction contractor Rudy Kraut to update the sanctuary and add a garage and two rooms to the rectory. The interior of the church was also painted at that time. In 1975 the parish got its first permanent deacon when Warren Lamont of the parish was ordained in 1975 with the first class of deacons after the reinstitution of the diaconate under Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill. 
Renovations to paint the interior of the church and install new carpeting were completed in the late 90s.
Then in 2007 an addition to the parish was built to add a new elevator, and restrooms in the church basement below the new addition were expanded and remodeled. The most recent renovations were completed in 2016 when the entire parish hall and kitchen were remodeled with its southeast entrance reconstructed. Renovations were made possible with money left to the parish from the estate of Laverne and Adele Hayes who were tragically killed in an auto accident. The parish hall is named in their honor.
In its 150-year-history there have been 22 priests who have served as pastors and three associates. The two longest serving pastors were Father William Reedy (1918-1954) and Msgr. Robert Sweeney (1991 to his retirement in 2017).
The parish is probably best known for its Turkey or Ham Dinner served in October for the past 69 years.
There are currently 188 registered families at the parish. Religious education classes are held in the parish hall, former rectory and local grade school. Three Masses are celebrated each weekend; 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 and 11:15 a.m. on Sundays. The parish has an active women’s Guild and Knights of Columbus Council #4941. More information can be found at and on the St. Mary Catholic Church Facebook page. 
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