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November 30, 2022
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St. Rose was Kankakee’s 'Mother Church'

Santa Rosa era la 'Iglesia Madre' de Kankakee

By Jack Klasey

If you were a Catholic in Kankakee in the mid-1800s, there was no question about where you would attend Sunday Mass. You would be worshipping at St. Rose of Lima. Often referred to as the "Mother Church" of Kankakee, it was the only Catholic church in the city for many years.

By 1900, there were three other Catholic churches available; which one you attended usually depended upon your ethnic background. If you were German, you would most likely go to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception at Washington Avenue and Oak Street. Polish Catholics would attend St. Stanislaus at Dearborn Avenue and Birch Street and the Irish would, of course, go to St. Patrick at Indiana Avenue and Hickory Street.

But, if your family's roots were in French Canada, the only place you would consider worshipping on Sunday morning would be Kankakee's "French Church," St. Rose. The parish was founded in 1855 by the Rev. Louis Cartuyvels. At that time, the majority of Catholics living in the new town of Kankakee were French-Canadian.

The first services were held in the home of J.J. Guyotte on the southwest corner of Court Street and Washington Avenue. As the community grew, so did the church congregation, and in 1857, a small wooden chapel was built on Merchant Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. That structure was expanded twice in the 1860s.

By the time the Rev. Peter Paradis was appointed pastor in 1871, it was obvious the parish needed a larger church building. A fundraising campaign was begun, and by 1874, construction was under way. On June 24, 1877, an imposing new church, built of locally quarried limestone, was ready to receive worshippers. The building, 120 feet long and 56 feet in width, was capable of seating 1,000 people beneath its high vaulted ceiling.

Before the new church construction got started, however, St. Rose lost a portion of its congregation. German-speaking families in the parish had been trying for some time to form a parish with a priest who spoke their language. They succeeded in 1873, when St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception church opened at Washington Avenue and Oak Street.

Father Paradis served as pastor at St. Rose until his death in January 1894. In the final two years of his life, he had spearheaded a campaign to open the city's first hospital. He proposed a site on Fifth Avenue, just south of Soldier Creek, for the hospital. Unfortunately, it was decided the nearness of the creek made the site unhealthy.

After Father Paradis died, the effort to open a hospital continued under his successor, the Rev. Ambrose Granger. In 1895, land Father Paradis had donated, on the northwest corner of Merchant Street and Fifth Avenue across the street from St. Rose, was selected as the hospital site. Emergency Hospital (now Presence St. Mary's) opened its two-story brick building, with 12 beds, on March 30, 1897.

Although new parishes were established in Kankakee (St. Patrick in 1892 and St. Stanislaus in 1900), St. Rose continued to prosper. In 1907, the building was extended 30 feet to the south with the addition of a new sanctuary, and in 1910, all the windows were replaced with colorful new art glass.

A 1912, the St. Rose yearbook declared "St. Rose of Lima enjoys the honor of having been the mother of many other parishes that grew up around and about her," and noted the parish is "now composed of 550 French-Canadian families. It is quite conservative to estimate the number of souls at 3,000."

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, two additional Catholic churches opened in Kankakee: St. Teresa at Locust Street and St. Joseph Avenue in the Marycrest neighborhood, and St. Martin of Tours on the west side of the city at Charles Street and Ninth Avenue. By that time, the congregations at the city's Catholic parishes no longer had a distinct ethnic character.

Changing population patterns, economic factors and decreased availability of priests began to affect Kankakee's Catholic parishes in the final decades of the 20th century. St. Mary's Church closed its doors in 1989, and St. Stanislaus followed in 1994.

St. Rose, St. Teresa and St. Martin were placed under the administration of a single pastor in 2015. In early 2017, it was announced the three congregations would be merged into one later this year. The fate of the 140-year-old St. Rose Church building, and of the nearly 70-year-old St. Martin and St. Teresa church structures, is under discussion.

Jack Klasey came to Kankakee County as a young Journal reporter in 1963, and quickly became hooked on local history. In 1968, he co-authored “Of the People: A Popular History of Kankakee County.” Now retired from a career in the publishing industry, he remains active in the history field as a volunteer and board member at the Kankakee County Museum. He can be contacted at jwklasey@comcast.net.​

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Jack Klasey
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