History of St. George Catholic Church


St. George Catholic Church

     Originally St. George, and most of the surrounding territory, was part of the Archdiocese of Chicago and thereafter the Diocese of Peoria.  In 1948, with the formation of the Diocese of Joliet, St. George Church of  Melvin and Our Lady of Lourdes of Gibson City became the southern most parishes of the new Diocese.                                 

     Prior to 1881, the Catholic priests from St. Joseph's church in Loda, Illinois cared for the spiritual needs of the Catholics in the Melvin area.  In those days Catholics had few or no buildings for Mass or services.  Mass was first celebrated in Melvin at the home of Barney McTernan, who was a railroad section boss.  Thereafter, the arrival of the priest from Loda, usually once a month, was dependent on the weather and the condition of the few roads of that time.

     In 1881 the St. George Parish of Melvin was officially founded. The Bishop (John Lancaster Spalding) and the people of the new parish purchased a church building, formerly owned by the Zion Methodist Congregation and re-located it on the present site of  131 South Hunt Street.  The present frame structure of the church was actually built in 1889.

     In 1885 St. George had become a mission parish of Immaculate Conception Church.  Barney McTernan, when weather would permit, would take the railroad hand car to Gilman on Sundays to bring the priest to Melvin for the Mass at St. George.

     Then in 1891 Fr. John P. Barry was named the first resident pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Gibson City, Illinois.  It was at that time that St. George, Melvin, became the mission parish of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Fr. Barry's parishioners consisted of 135 families scattered over 900 square miles and encompassing 22 small towns.

     Fr. James T. Fitzgerald, in 1910, published a commemorative booklet called "Annual Report of Our Lady of Lourdes and Missions".  At that time, St. George, Melvin and Immaculate Conception, Roberts were the Missions.  In this report Fr. Fitzgerald states: "(This Report) .... will serve also for the parishioners of St. George Church as a souvenir of perhaps the most epoch-making event in the history of the parish, namely, the remodeling, or I might say, the rebuilding of their parish church...."It was at this time that considerable work was done on the church building and the present stained glass windows were installed.

     Prior to 1961, when Fr. Kirk Memorial Hall was built in Gibson City, the youth of St. George attended religious classes in a variety of places: the church, the rectory, homes of parishioners both in Melvin and Gibson City, a country school half-way between Chatsworth and Melvin, and at St. Rose Church in Strawn, Illinois. The classes were taught by pastors, nuns, volunteer parishioners, and the parents themselves.  Classes were held a variety of times: Saturdays, Sundays, after school, in the evening, and even during summer vacation.

     St. George is grateful to have had one young man enter the priesthood: Fr. Alphonse M. Freehill, a member of the Benedictine Order, and the son of Michael A. and Mary (Egan) Freehill.  Three of our women parishioners have entered Religious Orders: Emma Matt, who became a nun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was then known as Sister Mary Maurina; Sister Linda Hatton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John (Ford) Hatton, professed her vows in the Order of the Holy Heart of Mary; Sister Catherine Wisthuff, with the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, was a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes when she entered the convent, but was formerly a member of St. George parish during her childhood years.

     Our St. George Parish has been blessed with Cooperative organizations.  The CCW, since its establishment in 1942, has been a great help to the women of the parish and the parish as a whole.  For years almost all of our social activities and their planning came through the generous efforts of many CCW members.  Our religious education teachers were not only cooperative but had to be dedicated through some very difficult times in our history and with considerable effort.  The Parish Council, which was formed soon after the Second Vatican Council, has also been a great help to a number of pastors and the people.  Late in our present history, the Ford Knights of Columbus founded in 1979, is the official men's organization of St. George.  Its present work and action in the Parish is very promising for our future.

     We have sided the church, painted it inside and out, installed new carpeting, new pews, new Stations of the Cross, a new Room of Reconciliation and re-decorated.  But the spirit of Vatican Council II (1962-1965) is alive and in our attitude! We have a renewed Liturgy of the Mass, the Sacrament of Penance, and other Sacraments.  We also have new ways of relating to our non-Catholic brothers and sisters because of ecumenism, such as, Thanksgiving Worship Services together and so many ways of sharing ideas.

     St. George Parish has been blessed by the steadfast faith, love, concern, and generosity of all those thousands who have heard The Word of the Lord in this small prairie church for the last one hundred thirty plus years.  We shall not break faith with them!

     In our own way, perhaps, we've come a long way since early days.  As people of faith, we see things, untold deeds of love, known only to God, countless blessings received...and so much forgiveness given and accepted.  It is the same MIGHTY and LOVING Lord of the Universe who will raise up all things bright and beautiful far beyond a small prairie town and church in Illinois.   We know.....and He knows!