Catholic Church - History of Kankakee County
ILGenWeb Project

History of Kankakee County

Kankakee County, Illinois

Return to the index for History of Kankakee County

Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois
Edited by Newton Bateman, LL.D. and Paul Selby, A. M.
and History of Kankakee County
Edited by William F. Kenaga and George R. Letourneau
Volume II, Illustrated
Chicago, Middle-West Publishing Company, Publishers, 1906


Catholic Churches and Institutions - First Church Established at Bourbonnais - Notre Dame Academy Established in 1862, St. Viateur's College in 1865 - History of Other Churches and Parochial Schools.

[By E. L. Rivard, C.S.V., D.D., Bourbonnais.]


The Catholic faith came into the territory now known as Kankakee county with the first French Canadian settlers, Noel LeVasseur, who founded the town of Bourbonnais, M. Menard, who founded Manteno, and M. Granger, who established St. George. Francois Bourbonnais, an adventurer, who had preceded them and had become identified in his mode of life and dress with the Pottawattomies, does not seem to have figured in the least as an apostle of the faith which one would naturally link with his name. Noel LeVasseur, who had been an Indian fur trader for John Jacob Astor, and afterward government agent for the Indian reservations of this part of Illinois, conducted to Council Bluffs caravans of Indians who had sold their Illinois lands of which he purchased large tracts from the government, and finally established his home near the site of old François Bourbonnais' original log cabin in 1836. In a few years large numbers of Canadian colonists arrived and settled on out vast and rich prairies, which soon became dotted with the prosperous villages of St. George, St. Anne, Manteno, and Kankakee, each bearing aloft a cross-tipped spire that marked the faith of those pioneer builders.

The earliest missionaries who came to minister to the wants of this scattered flock were the priests and the saintly bishop of Vincennes, Ind. Father Crevier was the first priest to visit Bourbonnais, which is the oldest of the French Canadian settlements of this county. Bishop St. Palais stopped here several times on his missionary journeys, making the house of LeVasseur his home and church. Father Pontavisse built the first log church in this county, on the site of the present pastoral residence in Bourbonnais. It was soon found necessary, however to provide a large and more substantial frame building. This second church falling prey to the flames under the administration of the Rev. C. Chiniquy, in 1853, was replaced by the stone edifice which still attests the firmness of that deep rooted faith brought hither from New France by the early colonists.

The name of Father Badin, a famous French missionary, figures at the head of the oldest records of the parish of Bourbonnais, but the date of his ministrations is not given. Immediately after him we find the following list of the builders of Catholicity in Bourbonnais, which in these days meant the whole of Kankakee county and a little more. In 1847 Father Courgeault was the first resident pastor of what was then called the church of St. Leo, of Bourbonnais. On the 17th of October of that year there is recorded the visit of Bishop Quarter, of Chicago, who administered confirmation. We next note, in 1849, the cornerstone laying of the frame church which preceded the present building.

From 1849 to 1852 the book shows the names of a Father Conolly and Father Wieg, who were apparently missionaries, lending their services temporarily to Father Courgeault. November 4, 1852, Father Charley Chiniquy took charge of the congregation of Bourbonnais. In 1853 a class of eight-one was confirmed by Bishop Van de Velde, of Chicago. That same year fire destroyed the church. September 17, 1853, Father J. Maistre succeeded Father Chiniquy who went to establish himself in St. Anne. In 1854 came Father Isidore Lebel who gave plans for a beautiful church to replace the frame edifice lately burned. Owing to the unfortunate conditions the prevailing, neither Father Lebel nor his successors could succeed in their efforts to realize the plan. The most willing among the people took in their own hands the building of the church, which they cut twenty feet shorter than the plan called for, making the walls several feet lower, and omitted all architectural embellishments as being matters of too great expense. The church was building during the successive pastorates of Father Cortuyvels (1855), Father J. Desaulniers (1856), Father Mailloux (1857), and was completed under the administration of Father Gingras in 1858. This new church was called Maternity church.

Evidently it was felt that much was to be done at the same time. Father Mailloux urged the building of a Catholic college in Bourbonnais, but, as the proposition to build a private institution did not appeal to a great number a public school was erected at the expense of the township in spite of Father Maillous'a protest. This school was opened in 1859, during the pastorate of Father Gingras, and was taught by sisters and laymen, among the latter being a young teacher who afterwards became Judge Starr, of Kankakee. Father Gingras, however, built the main part of Notre Dame academy, which he placed in charge of the Sisters of the congregation in 1862. Bishop Duggan confirmed a large class here in November, 1860. In 1863 we find Father Gingras temporarily replaced by Father Ducroux, who was succeeded by Father James Coté, in 1864, during which year confirmation was again administered by Bishop Duggan, Father Coté, realizing the necessity of providing larger educational facilities for the growing needs of the congregation of Bourbonnais, and having in mind a Catholic college, generously gave up his parish to the priests and brothers of the community of St. Viateur who came here in 1865. Father P. Beaudoin, C.S.V. and A. Martel, C.S.V., in charge of the village school for boys, which soon grew in importance and attracted a large number of students from outside the limits of the parish. In 1868 Father Beaudoin purchased the school building from the town board, and in 1869 the first half of the main building of what is now St. Viateur's college was erected. Father Thomas Roy, C.S.V., was placed at the head of the new institution, and courses in business, classics, philosophy and theology were inaugurated. Such had been the success of the college that, in 1874, it was found necessary to build the other half of the main body. The same year the institution received its charter form the Illinois state legislature, and was thereby empowered to grant degrees in arts, sciences and in letters. Upon the death of the devoted Father Roy in July, 1879, St. Viateur's college was fortunate in securing as its second president, Rev. M. J. Marsile, C.S.V., a man of scholarly attainments, broad views and progressive spirit. Under his administration the faculty of the colleges was strengthened by a number of specialists in English literature, science, theology and philosophy, and the number of students increased to an average attendance of 250. In 1889 the Roy Memorial chapel was built by alumni of the college. Recently a magnificent gymnasium has been added to the group of buildings, and a new edifice id in progress of erection to supply room for increasing attendance.

One may gain a fair idea of the nature of the education imparted at St. Viateur's college from a glance at a partial list of the members of the faculty of 1904 and '05. Theological department: Rt. Rev. Monsignor G. M. Legris, D.D., professor of dogmatic theology, scripture, canon law, and sacred eloquence. Philosophy department: Rev. E. L. Rivard, C.S V. D.D, professor of philosophy, literary criticism and oratory; Ref. W. J. Bergin, C.S.V. A. M., professor of philosophy of history. Academic department: Very Rev. M. J. Marsile C.S.V., professor of belles letters and dramatic art; Rev. J. P. O'Mahoney, C.S.V., professor of higher math and prefect of studies. C. T. Morel, M.D., professor of natural sciences; Rev. W. Surprenant, C.S.V., professor of Greek; Rev. W. J. Bergin, C.S.V. A.M., professor of Latin; Rev. L. Goulette, C.S.V., and Mr. G. Martineau, professor of music; Col. B. Shiel, instructor in practical tactics; Rev. A. St. Aubin, C.S.V., instructor in swordsmanship. St. Viateur's college counts among its alumni one bishop, The Rt. Rev. A. J. McGavick, D.D. Upwards of one hundred and fifty priests went forth from their halls, and hundreds of eminent lawyers, successful physicians and progressive business men obtained their college education at St. Viateur's. These men, as well as the young ladies who receive their education in the many Catholic academies of Kankakee county, are every day proving the tenor of their lives that the ideals which guide and inspire them are the best safeguard of the individual, the family and the nation.

From its humble beginnings in the sixties Notre Dame academy has grown into a noted school of music, of domestic economy and the various branches of academic courses. In the last few years there has been an average attendance of eighty-five pupils yearly at Notre Dame of Bourbonnais. Besides these two educational institutions of higher learning, Bourbonnais has two parochial schools taught by Brothers and Sisters, having an average attendance of one hundred and ten children.

Father Beaudoin, who is still living and enjoying the quiet of well earned rest in Bourbonnais, resigned his charge in 1900 and was succeeded by the Very Rev. C. Fournier, C.S.V., who is now pastor of Bourbonnais and provincial superior of the community of St. Viateur's.


Bourbonnais was a flourishing village when Kankakee was little else than a sylvan wilderness. With the arrival of the Illinois Central railway, in 1855, dates the establishment of a colony on the hill of Kankakee, and to founding of the parish of St. Rose, of which Rev. Louis Cartuyvels was the first pastor. The parish of St. Rose for a long time embraced all the territory not only of the city, but of Goodrich, Pilot, and Irwin, and the pastors of Kankakee attended these growing outlying congregations until they were assigned pastors of their own. The order of succession of pastors in St. Rose parish is as follows, after Father Cartuyvels: Epiphane Lapointe, 1857; A. L. Mailloux, 1860, Jacques Coté, 1862; Jos. M. Langlois, 1864; A. Marechal, 1866; P. Pardis, 1871; A. D. Granger, 1894. The present spacious and substantial stone church was built by Rev. P. Paradis. The parish of St. Rose has a flourishing academy for young ladies with a yearly attendance of one hundred, and parochial schools for boys and girls, taught by Sisters, with an attendance of four hundred and fifty.

Immediately in front of St. Rose's church, on ground donated by Rev. Father Pardis, stands the Emergency hospital, also in charge of Sisters. This prosperous institution is the outgrowth of the religious thought and civic enterprise of the people of Kankakee.

About twenty-eight years ago, when the German Catholics had become numerous enough, they founded the parish of the Immaculate Conception which, after the burning of the first church, replaced it by the present appropriate edifice under the pastorage of Rev. Father Sixt. The parish is now in charge of Rev. Father Danz. The parochial school for boys and girls, which dates from the establishment of the parish, is in charge of Sisters and has an attendance of eighty-four pupils.

Fourteen years ago the Irish Catholics built St. Patrick's church, under the pastorate of Rev. Father Darcy, who was succeeded by Rev. Fathers Hackett, Whalen and Aylward, all of whom are deceased, and finally by Rev. Father Bennett, the present pastor. The pastors of St. Patrick's church, with their assistants, have had charge of the Catholic inmates and attendants of the Illinois Eastern hospital, and also attended the Catholics of Bradley until 1904, when a new congregation was formed there and placed in the hands of Rev. F. Milot. A new church for this parish is to be erected in the summer of the present year; also within the summer of the present year; also within the limits of the city of Kankakee is the newly organized congregation of Polish Catholics who worship at St. Stanislaus' church. This parish separated from the German parish of the Immaculate Conception in 1900, and erected a handsome frame building which serves the double purpose of church and school. The parish was organized by Father Kotecki and remained for two years in his charge and was succeeded by Father F. Nowacki and he in turn by Rev. Father Kowalewski, the present pastor. The parochial school is taught by a lay teacher and has an attendance of forty pupils.

The Catholics of Kankakee display remarkable activity in their literary and dramatic clubs, and in their social and religious organizations for men and women. The Club Français and the Knights of Columbus are two very thriving societies. The Union of St. Joseph, the Foresters and the Lady Foresters are also successful religious and charitable organizations, and have courts in all of the important parishes of the county. The college and convent education which a large portion of the younger generation enjoy in Kankakee and Bourbonnais renders them amenable to promoting and actively participating in dramatic and musical entertainments of the highest order, as well as keenly appreciative of the monthly lectures in English or French given yearly during the winter season.


The first Catholic church in St. Anne was built shortly after the arrival of Father Chiniquy, who in 1856 separated from the Catholic church. Thereafter there was no resident Catholic priest in St. Anne until 1871, and the faithful were attended either from Kankakee or St. Mary's, in Iroquois county, by the following priests: Rev. Fathers Lapointe, Coté, Ducroux, Gauther, Maréchal, Boisvert, Kerston and Demers. Rev. M. Letellier became the first resident pastor in 1871, and built a stone church in 1872. The pastors who succeeded him were the Rev. M. Michaud, C. Goulet, A. Martel and Z. Berard, the present pastor. In 1893 the church was destroyed by fire and rebuilt the same season. Notwithstanding the losses sustained on the outgoing of the Chiniquy secessionists, the congregation of St. Anne numbers upwards of one hundred and seventy-three families, and has, besides an academy for young ladies, a parochial school in charge of the Sisters of the congregation of Notre Dame, with an attendance of a hundred and thirty. As if in pious reparation for the unfortunate defection of many of their brethren, the French Canadian Catholics of Chicago and Kankakee county have, for the last fifteen years, made the shrine of "La Bonne St. Anne" a rallying point, meeting there in large and enthusiastic pilgrimages every year, on the 26th of July.


Humble, as were most undertakings in those days, was the beginning of the now prosperous Catholic congregation of St, Joseph, at Manteno. The worshipers met in a very small frame chapel, and were attended by the priests from St. George, and occasionally by missionaries from Kankakee and other localities, The priests who earliest ministered to the Manteno Catholics were Fathers Lapointe, Mailloux, Paradis and Chiniquy. In 1876, Father Kertsen came as first resident pastor and under his administration a handsome frame church was built. Succeeding Father Kertsen in 1875 was Father C. Goulet who remained until 1879; Father Mevel was succeeded by Rev. A. L. Bergeron. Rev. F. X. Chouinard took charge of Manteno parish in 1884, and after the destruction of the church by fire in 1899, he was succeeded by Rev. O. R. Bourdeau, who built the present edifice in 1900, Father Bourdeau now proposes to endow the congregation with a fully equipped parochial school, to be erected the present year.

For a time attached to both Manteno and St. George, the once thriving congregation of Sumner was located seven or eight miles from either place. The well-to-do Irish farmers, who formed this parish of about fifty families, gradually sold off or rented their lands and moved into the nearby town. There remaining but a dozen Catholic families in the parish in 1900, it was found necessary to close this church.


The Sacred Heart church, of Goodrich, was erected in 1895 by fifty Canadian and Irish families, who of their own accord, withdrew from St. James' church, since 1860 located midway between Goodrich and Irwin. After the transfer of St. James' church to the town of Irwin, the newly formed congregation of Goodrich was attended at intervals by Rev. Fr. Simard from Irwin. In July, 1899, Father J. Meyer became the first resident pastor of the Goodrich parish, having as an out-mission the German congregation of S.S. Peter & Paul in Pilot township, which, before this date, was attended by the pastors of the German Catholic Church in Kankakee. St. James of Irwin, which also at one time was a part of the congregation of St. James of Pilot, is a large and prosperous country congregation, which had for its first pastors the Rev. Fathers Goulet, Kertsen, LeVasseur, Therrien, and Simard. It was during the pastorate of Father Simard that a new church was built at Irwin, and the pastoral residence transferred thither. Thereupon that part of the original St. James congregation which resided on the Goodrich side decided to build Sacred Heart church at Goodrich. St. James church of Pilot then had no further cause for existence.


St. George parish was one of the earliest centers of Catholic activity to become autonomous after detaching itself from the mother church of Bourbonnais. The fertile lands of St. George were settled by French Canadian colonists who, emigrating from St. George d' Henriville, Canada, gave to their pretty village and district the name of their mother country town. Mr. Hilaire Lanoue donated the site of the present church, which had for its earliest predecessor a small chapel. This humble edifice was replaced by a substantial cement structure which was destroyed by a cyclone in 1869, the very year of its dedication. The present beautiful stone church, which bespeaks the generosity of this sorely tried congregation, was built by Rev. Father Beaudry, who succeeding Rev. Father Paradis in 1871, had his church ready for dedication in 1872. During the pastorate of Rev. J. Lesage a parish school was built in 1889, and placed in charge of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1893 Rev. A. Labrie built the large entertainment hall, and in 1897 Father O. Bourdeau replaced the old parochial residence with the handsome "presbytere" which now completes the group of St. George's church buildings. In 1904 Rev. Father Tardiff, C.S.V., made extensive and needed repairs in the church, which, thus renovated, has become one of the ecclesiastical gems of Kankakee county. Previous to 1854 the parish of St. George was attended by Father Mailloux and other priests from Bourbonnais. In 1854 Father Epiphane Lapointe came as resident pastor, and after him came the following in their order of succession: Father Paradis, 1860; Father Beaudry, 1871; Father Martel, 1879; Father J Lasage, 1879; Father A. Labrie, 1889; Father Bourdeau, 1896; Father Chouinard, C.S.V., 1898; Rev. A. J. Tardif, C.S.V.,1903.


St. Patrick's congregation, of Momence, now numbering one hundred and sixty-five families, consisting of French Canadians, Irish and Poles, was organized in 1859 by Father Lapointe, the pastor of St. George, and remained a mission alternately attached to St. George and to St. Anne until 1890. The early missionaries made bi-monthly visits to Momence at first conducting religious services in the home of Catholic families. In 1863, under the direction of Father Paradis, then of St. George, the thirty families of eager Catholics scattered over the prairie resolved to build a church, for which logs were hewn from the woods lining the river, and used for the foundation of their unpretentious frame structure. When Father Paradis was called to S. Rose of Kankakee in 1872 the mission of Momence passed into the hands of Rev. M. Letellier, pastor of St. Anne, who, having secured the good will of the C. & E. I. railway authorities, enjoyed the luxury of a hand car on which to make his monthly visits to the faithful of St. Patrick's mission. From 1878 to 1886 the Momence mission was attended from St. George by Rev. P. Beaudry and Rev. J. Lesage, but when, in 1886, Rev. Z. Berard was appointed pastor of St. Anne, he was also given charge of Momence, and immediately commenced the erection of present church, which was completed in 1887. In 1890, the number of Catholic families in and around Momence having increased to one hundred, a resident pastor was appointed. Father George Kertsen, who resigned on account of sickness and old age in 1895. He was succeeded by the present incumbent, Rev. A. Labrie, who, beside building the fine parochial residence, has purchased a spacious site for the immediate construction of a Catholic school. The parish now numbers one hundred and sixty- five families, and it will not be many years before the present church will be replaced by a larger and better one, to meet the need of the growing population.

Owing to the brevity of space allowed him, and the stress of other occupations, the writer has been obliged to confine himself to a bare statement of the names and dates presented here. This summary document, however, may be of interest to outsiders as well as to Catholics themselves, and will be of historical value to future students of the conditions accompanying the rise and early developments of catholicity in these parts. It would be easy to write a book of amusing and edifying incidents, of important facts, of hardships, and of quaint customs connected with the earlier days of Catholic life in Kankakee county. But all these attractive themes, among them the elaborate celebration of religious festivals, of patronal feasts, the practice of family prayers, the total absence of divorce, the large families, the low percentage of crime, the civic virtues that distinguish Catholics in public and private life, must of necessity here be denied their deserved permanent recognition. So must such unfortunate events as the suspension of Pere Chiniquy , and his excommunication by Bishop O'Regan, the subsequent imprisonment of the too outspoken missionary, Father Brunette, in the Kankakee jail, and the permanent loss to the church of several hundred families which followed their own self appointed leader. Time heals many things, and the fifty years which have elapsed since these events transpired have restored the peace so favorable for the perfect development of religious possibilities and the full success of religious enterprises. The following resumé is submitted with the view of offering the reader, at a glance, the information he may desire. There are in all thirteen parishes whose population is chiefly French, with a sprinkling here and there of Irish, German and Polish Catholics. There is only one distinctly speaking parish in the county. There are two German congregations and one exclusively Polish church. Fifteen priests perform pastoral duty in these thirteen parishes, which comprise two thousand and fifteen families, or a total Catholic population of about ten thousand. The nine Catholic schools have a yearly attendance of about nine hundred children, and are taught by fourteen teachers, who, with two or three exceptions, belong to religious communities. In addition, there are three academies for the higher education of young ladies, and one college with prepartory, academic and university courses for young men. There is a yearly attendance of five hundred at these several institutions, and fifty teachers are employed in the work of superior education.

Return to the index for History of Kankakee County