HISTORY OF OUR PARISH
Back in the 1880's dissatisfied Europeans were flocking to the shores of America in search of freedom of religion, steady employment and a suitable location in which to raise a family. A number of these families, caught up in the westward movement, discovered a small valley in southwest Illinois set between rolling hills, rich in coal deposits and surrounded by fertile farmland. Some of the families, seeing a great potential in this valley, settled down and began farming the land.
This was the beginning of Glen Carbon - "Valley of Coal." Soon, two coal companies were incorporated and residents found work in the coal mines. The Nickle Plate, Clover Leaf and Illinois Center Railroads built their lines through Glen Carbon; a Brick Company started a business and the village began to expand rapidly. In 1892, with a population of 1200, the village was officially incorporated.
Czechs, Italians, Irish - diverse in nationalities and cultures, but sharing one common Roman Catholic faith, these residents made many sacrifices to practice their religion. Since Edwardsville was the nearest community in which a Catholic Church was to be found, the Catholics from Glen Carbon found it necessary to travel seven miles to attend Mass. The trip was made by horse an buggy, train and streetcar, and later by bus. Many times the entire trip took from four to six hours, and usually part of it had to be made on foot.
In 1925, Father Charles A. Meagher, a young Irish priest, was assigned to Father Charles A. O'Reilly (his uncle) who was then pastor of St. Mary's Church in Edwardsville, IL. Filled with enthusiasm to spread God's word, Fr. Meagher began offering Mass at Glen Carbon on Sunday mornings in the old frame school house. He began to envision a small church to serve the needs of the people and he set about to accomplish this dream. Taking a census of the Catholic population, the resulting figures indicated to him that there were both sufficient need and financial support to maintain a Church here. He then petitioned Bishop James A. Griffin for authority to start a parish and, In January 1926, the Bishop granted his approval. The site elected was on the highest spot at the south entrance in the village. The dream of this young priest and the Catholic families of Glen Carbon became a reality when the small Spanish style Church was completed and dedicated on June 24, 1927. At this time the parish consisted of 62 families. It has been told that the name of St. Cecilia was suggested by Father Meagher after he had heard the first choir perform. (St. Cecilia is the Church's patroness of Liturgical music.)
In Addition to the parish choir, Altar and Holy Name societies were organized and the Church became a nucleus for parish and community life. The tradition of the parish Chicken Dinner was begun - the first being held under a tent. Fr. Meagher began holding instructions for the children on Saturday mornings from 9:00 until 12:00 noon. Very soon the Sacraments were being celebrated regularly in the parish. St. Cecilia's was growing and well. On June 13, 1937, Bishop Griffin saw fit to name Father Ernst Eckhard as Administrator of St. Cecilia Church and the parish became a mission church of St. Boniface in Edwardsville. With Father Eckhard as spiritual advisor, the Legion of Mary was established - an organization which served the parish for many years. During the ten years following the appointment of Fr. Eckhard, the following priests served as associate pastors: Msgr. A.B. Schwartz, Fathers Thomas Davenport, Aubert Keuter, L.A. Zimmerman, James R. Collins and Christo Jelenic.
In 1940 the old Odd Fellows Hall was purchased for $2000 and served as a meeting hall and place for social events for both parishioners and community residents. Later three other small building were purchased and the parking lots expanded.
As the village grew in population, so did the parish family. By the mid 1940's it was quite evident that St. Cecilia parish was in need of a full-time priest. On July 29, 1947, Bishop Griffin appointed Father Charles A. Muskus as the first pastor. Mr. Muskus, in his usual good natured way, bore the inconvenience of living in two small rooms on the second floor of St. Cecilia's Hall for two years until such time as the seven room brick rectory was completed. The new, modern home was blessed by the new Bishop of the Springfield diocese, Bishop William O'Connor on May 1. 1949. The 140 families were proud of the new parish rectory and continued holding fund raising events to reduce the debt. Fr. Muskus initiated the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in the parish and adult study groups began meeting in the homes of the parishioners.
On March 2, 1951, the priestly duties of Fr. Muskus were cut short by an auto accident which caused severe injury to his brain and he was retired to St. Joseph's Hill Infirmary in Eureka, Missouri until his death on July 22, 1980. (Divine Providence willed that the burial of Fr. Muskus on July 25, 1980 be the first to take place in the new St. Cecilia Church.)
From March until July of 1951. Father Leo McDonald, a retired Army Chaplain, served as administrator. When it became apparent that Fr. Muskus would not fully recover from his accident, Bishop O'Connor appointed Father Paul Hebenstreit as second resident pastor. In the spirit of the liturgical movement of the time, Fr. Hebenstreit took steps to encourage group participation in both the liturgy and singing of the Mass. He had practice sessions with the parishioners 10 minutes before each Mass in order to familiarize them with the songs. He often formed outdoor processions along the circular driveway in front of the rectory - the parishioners following behind the priests, servers and choir. At this point in time, the bells, which now hang in the new belltower were donated to the parish from Our Lady of Czestochwo in St. Louis. Fr. Hebenstreit supervised the construction of the belltower and the new entrance along with the installation of the bells in 1960.
Father Hebenstreit also enrolled four lay persons in the Confraternity Teachers' Course which was held at Sacred Heart Church in Granite City. Upon completion of that course, these adult were honored at a special Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connor and then began teaching religion to grade and high school children on a regular weekly basis. In 1963, Father Hebenstreit was transferred to St. Joseph's in Carlinville and Father John Morris was appointed third resident pastor.
The six years that Father Morris spent at St. Cecilia's were prosperous ones. One of the accomplishments of his administration was the remodeling of the sanctuary so that the priest faced the people while offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. The parish family bad now grown to approximately 240 families and St. Cecilia was much in need of a larger Church. Fr. Morris had plans drawn up for remodeling and expanding the church building to provide more seating capacity, however, before the renovation could be put into action, he was transferred to St. Peter's Church in Quincy, IL. One of the highlights of Fr. Morris's pastorate was the celebration of his Silver Jubilee as a priest. On that day in June of 1968, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated and a reception followed for priests and parishioners.
In 1969 Father George Hobbs was named fourth resident pastor. Though advanced in age, Fr. Hobbs was responsible for introducing Vatican II changes into the parish. With his abundance of energy, he proceeded to have the interior of the Church redecorated. It was at this point in the Church's history that the decision to discontinue the annual Chicken Dinner was made. Free of debt, the people decided that this large fund raising event was unnecessary - the practice of tithing provided sufficient financial support. In 1973, Father Hobbs decided to retire and on June 18, 1973, Bishop O'Connor appointed Father William J. Stanley as fifth resident pastor of St. Cecilia Church.
Father Stanly proceeded to carry out the changes of Vatican II and began using lay people as lectors in the celebration of the Mass. The children still continued to receive religious instructions, the parish organizations were still active, and things proceeded in a normal fashion.
During the late 1950's and early 1960's much of the farm land surrounding Glen Carbon was purchased by the Southern Illinois University Foundation for the purpose of establishing a university. By 1965 some of the buildings were completed and classes were being held at SIUE. With the influx of new faculty and students, the population increased rapidly. The parish had now grown to 280 families. To alleviate the crowded conditions, Father Stanley began the practice of Saturday evening Masses. It was at this time that Fr. Stanley arranged for the services of Father John Garvey of the Lasalette Order to assist on weekends and Holidays. Father Garvey was followed by Father Ron Foshage, a newly ordained priest who then was teaching at St. Henry's Prep School in Bellville, IL. In addition to offering Mass, Father Ron gave much of his time to caring for the needs of the sick and elderly of the parish. He endeared himself to the people and continued to serve them until he was appointed pastor of a Church in Louisiana. He will long be remembered by the parishioners for his kindness and self-service.
In 1976 the Church of St. Cecilia, having survived the problems and growing pains along the way, celebrated the 50th anniversary as a parish. Bishop O'Connor had retired and Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas was appointed and installed as Bishop of the Springfield Diocese. It was a happy day for all, when on November 28, 1976, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated by Bishop McNicholas with neighboring priests, parishioners and friends in attendance. Following the Mass. Father Stanley hosted a dinner for priests and clergy while a reception for parishioners and friends in the parish hall.
By the late 1970's Bishop McNicholas, cognizant of rapid growth in the area, instructed Father Stanley to set the wheels in motion for a new St. Cecilia Church. With the collaboration of the parish advisory board, a 14.5 acre tract of land along Glen Carbon Road, just north of 1-270 was purchased. Plans were drawn up and approved and the groundbreaking ceremony took place. Construction progressed rapidly and on May 24, 1980, Father Stanley offered the first Mass in the new Church. The formal dedication of St. Cecilia Church took place on May 31, 1981 with Bishop McNicholas acting as Celebrant of the Mass. The old Church which had served its people so long and so well, was finally dismantled in December of 1980. It will be held in fond remembrance by many of the older parishioners.
Having guided the parish through the construction period. Father Stanley took his retirement in June of 1981. Father Joseph McCarthy was then appointed sixth pastor and served as a brief interim while Bishop McNicholas evaluated the situation before making the next appointment.
During the next seven years Father Vigil Mank pastored St. Cecilia Parish. With his shepherding and leadership St. Cecilia Church became a well organized, active faith-filled community. The debt of the new church was paid off during Fr. Mank's pastorate. Sr. Mary Frances, O.P. and Sr. Elise Silvestri, S.S.N.D. assisted Fr. Mank in the ministries of religious education, liturgical music, and formation and renewal of all aspects of parish life. Under the temporary administratorship of Fr. Donald Mehling and the Pastorate of Fr. William Houran from 1988 until May of 1991, St. Cecilia Parish continued to grow in members and in spirit as people of God.
Under Fr. Houran's leadership, St. Cecilia parishioners adopted parishes in Haiti and continue to provide financial and prayer support for Catholic people living in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1991, the parish welcomed Fr. Steve Pohlman as their new pastor. In the fall of 1991 Ms. Judy True began working as the director of faith formation and in January, 1993 Mr. Rick Byers joined the pastoral staff as director of liturgy and music. The Parish School of Religion, Adult Education, the Rite of Christian Initiation for adults and children, Liturgy of the Word with Children, Parish Missions, liturgical music at church and at our St. John Neumann grade school, and seasonal decorating of our church have all flourished with Judy and Rick's involvement in these pastoral ministries. During this same period, the daily mass chapel was created in the parish hail, utilized for daily mass, liturgy of the word with children, and adoration of the blessed sacrament. The old hail and catechetical center (old rectory) were sold and replaced by the Family Life Center Building. Most recently, the church sanctuary was remodeled and updated with the addition of the baptismal pool and expanded choir space. Also the church interior and vestibule were redecorated and ten new stained glass windows were added to the side windows of the church. During 1996 the population of the Parish Family reached 700 families and St. John Neumann school reached a record attendance of over 300 children. Our St. John Neuman school also celebrated the addition of the new multi-purpose room, four new classrooms, and the introduction of a pre-school program. During 1996, new ministries such as Renew groups, Bible study, M.O.M.S. (Mothers support group), and Elizabeth Ministry (Outreach to expectant mothers) have been introduced to the parish community. In June, 1997, the parish family celebrated its 70 th anniversary and in 2002, it celebrated its 75 th anniversary. Rick Byers left the parish in 2002 and his duties of director of liturgy and music were picked up by Jim Harris. In 2004 Lugene Miller assisted with liturgy and music directing and moved to full time in mid-2004 when Jim Harris retired.
In 2004, the parish said farewell to Fr. Steve Pohlman and welcomed Fr. Joe Kerber with open arms.