St. Pat’s parishioners celebrate place they call home
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org September 7, 2013 9:24PM
The Most Rev. R. Daniel Conlon (left), bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, blesses the St. Columba of Iona Room with Deacon Daniel Kelsey (right) at St. Patrick's Parish in Joliet on Sept. 7, 2013. | Larry Kane/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2013 7:36PM
Bagpipes and Irish dancers, Mexican hymns sung in Spanish, a Mass celebrated by the bishop and seven priests, a church that was overflowing, speeches by a congressman and state senator and homage paid to an era when St. Patrick’s Parish was formed for the sake of Irish and German canal workers.
All this and more made up the celebration of the 175th anniversary of St. Patrick’s Parish in Joliet on Saturday — a Mass followed by a party.
“This is a great occasion,” Bishop R. Daniel Conlon told the full church as the Mass started. “We celebrate God’s many blessings on St. Patrick’s Parish and the people who have been touched by St. Patrick’s Parish over 175 years.”
St. Patrick’s is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Joliet. It is the second oldest Catholic parish in northern Illinois, state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said while reading from an official Illinois Senate Recognition of the occasion.
“All of my life I’ve belonged to other parishes that are progenies and offspring of St. Patrick’s,” McGuire said.
The Rev. Peter Jankowski, the current and 17th pastor of the parish, during his homily listed the Joliet-area parishes that were created out of St. Patrick’s, including the Cathedral of St. Raymond’s.
“This parish seems to be perpetually splitting and perpetually growing itself back again,” Jankowski said.
What parishioners said repeatedly when asked what St. Patrick’s meant to them is that it is home.
“This has kind of always been my home,” said Jim Smith, meaning it literally. His mother worked at St. Parish’s, and after he was born, Smith said, the Dominican nuns who taught at the now-closed grade school would take care of him while his mother worked.
“My mom would come up and hand me off to a nun,” Smith said. “They raised me until I started kindergarten here. They were really, really wonderful people.”
Smith now is the maintenance man at St. Patrick’s and noted that he is only the third to hold that position since the church moved to its present location on Marion Street in 1918, an indication of the kind of loyalty people have in the parish.
“People travel 20 miles just to go to church here,” said Darlene Huston, also a lifelong parishioner.
Some who have moved out of state come back for their funeral Masses, she said.
Huston, who was baptized at St. Patrick’s in 1966, sings in the choir and wrote a short history of the parish, said: “It means everything to me. It’s been supportive when I needed support. It’s raised me up.”
Noel Gurrola, 13, said the church “means a lot” to him. “It’s like a family home,” he said. “Everyone loves each other.”
Grace Hoffman, also 13, who was helping Gurrola empty garbage cans during the party in the school gym, called the church “my second home. I grew up here.”
It looked like a family occasion Saturday as U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-11th, who will read a statement about St. Patrick’s history into the Congressional Record, chatted casually with people after Mass. Conlon went from table to table during to talk with the parishioners, priests loosened their collars in the hot gym and kids in costume performed dances to Irish music while people applauded like proud relatives.
Jankowski in his homily talked about how the parish now ministers to Hispanic immigrants in the neighborhood as it ministered to Irish and German immigrants who were building the Illinois & Michigan Canal when St. Patrick’s was formed in 1838.
Smith described St. Patrick’s as “a blue-collar parish.”
“We’ve always had our arms open,” Smith said. “Come and join us. We welcome anybody.”