CHURCH HISTORY

 
Welcome to Saint Mary Parish!  We’re glad you’ve decided to make Saint Mary Parish your spiritual home.  New parishioners and guests are often intrigued by the unique layout of St. Mary Church.  The “old” church (the chapel), with its landmark steeple, beautiful stained glass windows and antique pipe organ, was built in 1899 by German Catholic settlers.  It actually was the third church to be built on that site.  The first church, built in 1853, was first vandalized and later set on fire and burned to the ground.   The second church, a modest chapel serving the parish for 43 years, was demolished to make room for the current structure.

In 1978, the “new”, larger, church was added on to the chapel to meet the needs of a growing Catholic population.  This 1,000-seat worship space was configured with the unique “see-through” altar to retain the existing beauty of the old while accommodating a larger congregation.

Although our church is large, Saint Mary Parish offers many opportunities for individuals and families to have a personal, faith-filled experience.  We invite you to explore the numerous educational, social and service opportunities.  If you have any questions about the parish or how we can serve one another, please contact the Parish Office at 847-541-1450. 

 

In The Beginning

Tradition has it that in the early pioneer days, deer and buffalo roamed over the territory around Buffalo Grove. In the early morning, the buffaloes started from the Wheeling woods on their way to Deer Grove, now known as Long Grove. At Buffalo Creek, they took their noon rest under the grove of trees and drank water from the creek that was never dry. In the evening, they returned to the Wheeling woods without stopping at the grove.

It is believed that this habit of the buffalo was instrumental in the naming of Buffalo Grove. It may also be attributed to the skeleton of buffalo that was found in the grove beside the creek which now bears the name Buffalo Creek.

Buffalo Grove, located in the northeastern section of Illinois, is a part of the territory once occupied by the American Indians who, by right of possession, were the owners of North America.

When the French explorers came to the Mississippi Valley, they found five tribes of Indians grouped together under the name Illini. The leading tribes in this confederation were the Sac, Fax, Pottawatomi, Winnebago, and Chippewa.

The Pottawatomi occupied the whole northeastern part of Ilinois. The Ottawa and Chippewa were associated with them.

The French, who possessed Illinois until 1765, were successful in dealing with the Indians. Friendship was promoted by traders, explorers, and missionaries. The Pottawatomi were faithful allies of the French until after the death of Pontiac. At the close of Europe’s Seven years War, the French holdings were ceded to the British. For a few years, the British flag flew over Illinois until George Rogers Clark liberated it from British rule.

Through the Revolution, the Indians were hostile to the Americans until after General Wayne had been victorious over the Western Confederates in 1794.  This eventuated in the treaty of Greenville, concluded August 3, 1795.  This treaty, the Indians ceded an immense tract of country including the sites of all the Northwestern posts.  It was in 1812 that the Pottawatomi perpetrated the Fort Dearborn Massacre.  Later, they transferred their allegiance to America.

In 1816, the chiefs of the Sacs and the Fox tribes had agreed to move their people west of the Mississippi.  The Pottawatomi in 1827 refused to join the Winebagoes against the Americans.  Black Hawk, leader of the Sacs, resenting the exile of this people, recrossed the Mississippi River in 1831.  Several battles followed before he was captured.  The Pottawatomi tried very hard to serve and protect the whites during this time.  In 1833, the Government closed a deal for about fiv million acres from the Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies.  A treaty, the last between the United States Government and these Indians, was signed whereby this acreage was ceded to the government by the Indians at a price of less than fifteen cents per acre.  After this deal, the Indians, for the most part, abandoned this territory.  Later, in 1835 and 1836, they were removed by the government and sent to Indian reservations.  The land was then opened to homesteading.

 

Early Settlers

Pioneers from New England and the East traveled across the country with their possessions in covered wagons drawn by horses or oxen, driving their stock before them.  The trip was dangerous and full of hardships.

When they reached their destination, food and shelter had to be provided.  Birds, game and wild growth made nourishing food.  Soon these energetic people had raised crops from which they ground their meal.  Homes were made of logs; furniture was homemade, stoves were unknown, clothing was made from flax-woven cloth; wool was spun and carded; and socks were knitted by the women.

They were industrious, thrifty, and progressive people.  Claims were staked out; forests were cut; wood was used for building and for fuel.  Mills, log school houses and villages soon appeared in northeastern Illinois.

Indian trails served as the only roads.  As the settlements increased, the pioneers made their own trails.  All travel was done on horseback or in wagons.  The railroads did not appear for several years.  The Northwestern came as far as Des Plaines in 1833 and Barrington in 1854.  Grain was carried on horseback to the horse mills and later to the water mills erected by the settlers.

The healthful climate and extensive prairies, natural resources, and relief from heavy taxation attracted home seekers from the Old World, as well as from New England and the East.  The Illinois exhibit at the Paris exhibition called the attention of Europe to the resources of the States.

 

Coming of the Foreigner

At the close of the Napoleonic wars, political, religious and economic conditions in Germany were bad.  Poverty caused by crop failures, overproduction, and over population in industrial areas led thousands of peasants, laborers, tradesmen, students and professional men to come here.  Many highly educated Germans, leaders in their country, left the Fatherland.  They brought to Illinois an element of culture and education that affected the life of the community.  The Germans furnished themselves with new and better homes, flowers, fruit trees, books and music.  Churches and schools appeared at an early date.  They adapted themselves to the simpler standards of people about them and gradually elevated the ideals of western life.  They were grateful that Illinois had so liberally providd a haven in a land of freedom where religious persecution did not exist.

The history of St. Mary Parish is an interesting example of this German immigration movement.  The first German Catholic settlers came to this vast wilderness because they loved God and desired to serve Him as they wished.  They had come to find liberty in a free country.  America was a “land of opportunity” where even the poorest had a chance to make a living.

The region, of which Buffalo Grove is the center, was settled toward the middle of the last century chiefly by non-Catholics.  Many of these people received free or low-priced land from the government.  Such lands were often bought for speculation and quickly resold to German Catholics who built a new homestead for little money.

 

Buffalo Grove – A Catholic Settlement

Encouraging letters from some of these settlers gradually brought a circle of new enterprising settlers to this region.  It was in this way that Buffalo Grove became a Catholic settlement.

Since 1845, the Germans of Trier had settled the region of Gross Point (New Trier) fifteen miles east of here.  They had a resident priest, The Reverend J. N. Fortmann.  From there, he ran a mission church, the parish of Johnsburg, which included all of the Catholics around the present site of McHenry.  The distance from Gross Point to McHenry was about thirty –five miles, and the journey was made on horseback.  The Reverend Father used to stay the night in Wheeling or in Wauconda.  In “Old Wheeling”, on one such occasion in the fall of 1847, Father was informed of the presence of Catholics living in Buffalo Grove.

On his next trip, he stopped at Buffalo Grove which brought great joy to the settlers who had been longing for the coming of a priest.  Word of his arrival was quickly passed around to the few Catholics of the neighborhood.  The First Mass was celebrated in Buffalo Grove the next morning in the fall of 1847.  The spot was the block house of Mr. John Simon Hennemann built on the division line of Cook and Lake Counties.  Mr. Hennemann was an immigrant from Schederndorf, near Bomberg, Bavaria, since 1846.  In this house, and also in the Schoeneberger dwelling, exceptional hospitality was always reserved for a the priest.

During the following months, a large number of Catholics from Bavaria, the Saar region, Rhineland and Trier arrived.  Among them were the first Weidner, Sebastian, Schoeneberger, Pfister, Horcher, and Raupp, Jacob Weidner, nicknamed “Klein Jake,” who died in 1912 at the age of 92, came as a sort of scout sent to the promised land.  When he found everything satisfactory, his parents and five brothers, Jacob “gross Jake”, John Jr., George, John George, and Bonagratius (Pankratz) came and settled here along with their Uncle John Weidner.

After the small Christian Community had been founded and organized, the missionaries stopped every month to celebrate the divine sacrifice and to administer the sacraments.  The records were kept in the rectory at gross Point.  In 1847, three couples were married in the Hennemann blockhouse; namely, Adam Pfister and Cunigunda Lang, John Schoeneberger and Anna M. Weiland, and A. Hennemann and Catherine Schoeneberger.

The First Building Fund

At this time, there were about 25 families of the Catholic faith living within a radius of approximately ten miles.  The desire was strong to have a church of their own.  The memory of the churches was called to make plans for this undertaking on February 15, 1852.  It was resolved to build a church in Buffalo Grove.  The contributions toward a building fund amounted to $88.00.  This was a considerable sum at that time and indicated their strong determination to have a church.  Within the year, a collection of $300,000 was taken up; much of it coming from the ancestors of those who have since contributed to our many building funds.

At a meeting, held May 23, 1853, it was decided to build the church on the borderline of Cook & Lake Counties west of what is now Buffalo Grove Road.  Seven acres of land were obtained.  John s. Hennemann donated two acres and another two were bought from him.  Tow acres were bought from Pankratz Weidner and one from John Weidner.

It was about this time that Father John Fortmann was transferred from St. Joseph at Gross Point.  That parish became a mission of St. Hanry in Chicago.  But the Buffalo Grove congregation was not left an orphan.  Father John Jacomet, the pastor of St. John Baptists Church in Johnsburg, took care of it as a Mission.  The plans fort eh new church were finalized.  A carpenter from Gross Point, Andreas Hoefer, agreed to do the work on the building for the most sum of $75.00.  The men of the parish did much of the work themselves. 

An entry in the Diary of William Schoeneberger dated Monday, June 14, 1852 states, “We drove to Chicago for the first time with five wagons to haul building wood”.  The distance from Buffalo Grove to the center of Chicago is about 34 miles.  There were no roads at that time.  The hardship and sacrifice endured by these hardy Catholics can only be imagined.  They were committed to have a fitting place where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be offered.

The work on the new church progressed rapidly through the summer.  On September 16, 1852, Mass was said for the first time in a building built for the purpose of Divine Worship.  This Mass was most likely said by Father John B. U. Jacomet who was pastor at Johnsburg, and was still taking care of Buffalo Grove as a Mission.   The Dedication of the church did not take place until the following summer when Bisiop James Oliver van de Velde, the second bishop of Chicago, came to Buffalo Grove from New Tire where he had confirmed 84 people.  This was noted in his Diary as “confirmation at Buffalo Grove (July 26,), and blessing of the new church with assistance by Rev. Messrs. A. Kopp, N. Stauber and J.B.U. Jacomet.”  Father Kopp was caring for the parish at New Trier at the time Father Jacomet was pastor of Johnsburg.  The church was dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Immaculate Conception.

 

St. Mary Church is Built

The parishioners were prepared spiritually for the coming of this bishop by a Mission which was opened on July 12 and preached by the earnest and learned Jesuit Father F.X. Weniger.  It was at this Mission that a large wooden cross was erected in front of the church.

The small flock of faithful Catholics of Buffalo Grove and vicinity were well pleased with their new place of worship.  There is no doubt that God was well pleased with the results as well.  Impressive efforts and self denial went into the building of this church.  But just as our Lord had said to the apostles that they would be persecuted for His sake and just as the Jews of old clamored for the crucifixion of the God Man Himself; so there were those who were not well pleased when the little church was completed.  Those not of the faith and especially those who would have liked to forget about God did not like this reminder to prick their conscience.

The church was robbed, before the dedication in January 1853, of some of the necessary accessories needed for divine worship.  After the dedication, February 22, 1854, the mission cross was so weakened at the base of these vandals that it was feared it would be blown over by the wind.  On the night of February 19, 1885, this house of worship was set on fire.  The church that has caused the people so much labor and hardship and of which they were justly proud was burned to the ground.
 
To find their beautiful church in ashes was very disheartening.  Their hopes, however, were not destroyed; difficulties and misfortunes did not conquer them.  With even greater courage, and a renewed spirit of sacrifice, they were spurred on to start rebuilding the edifice.

Church services were held, during this time, by Rev. John P. Carolus O.S.B., pastor of McHenry and Buffalo Grove, in the little log school house until the new church could be rebuilt.  Father Carolus, who was of a companionable and sociable disposition and was highly regarded by the people, very likely did much to strengthen them in their determination.

This second church served the spiritual needs of the parish for forty-three years.  During this time, the pastorate was held by many secular and religious priests from Johnsburg (St5. Michael and Holy Family,l Chicago), Gross Point and Naperville.  This frequent change of spiritual directors made the people realize their need for a resident pastor.  With this end in view, they built, in 1866, a suitable rectory which stood to the right of the old convent.

It was three years before their hopes were fulfilled in the appointment of Rev. Joseph Goldschmit, in April of 1869, by the Most Rev. James Duggan.  His stay among them was of short duration.  March 10, 1870 marks the day of his death.  He was succeeded by Father Goebels who remained among his beloved a\farmers in the quiet surrounding of Buffalo Grove for 21 years.  From July 1891-June 1897, Father Orth administered the parish until ill health forced him to accept the parish at Maple Park.

 

The Parish Grows

It was Reverend Anthony Royer, an able and energetic young man eager to work who, in 1897, saw the need of a fitting parsonage for the pastor and a larger, more substantial church for the growing parish.  Father Royer quickly endeared himself to the people and won their confidence and good will.  With their wholehearted cooperation and enthusiastic interest in his plans, the new rectory was erected at a cost of $2,854.  The following year, in spite of the hard times, the people set about building the present brick church.  A house-to-house visit by the priest brought in voluntary contributions amounting to $14,500 from the seventy families in the parish.  An additional $3,000 resulted from fairs and similar benefit festivals.  The remainder of the debt was covered by a loan of $11,500.

Special gifts for the decoration of the new church, the stained glass windows, the high altar, the Blessed Virgin altar, and that of St. Joseph, as well as the big bell, were donated by various individuals.

This beautiful Gothic structure towers above the surrounding country.  Its pleasing architecture with its miniature spires, veritable prayers in wood tending heavenward, are a touching and constant reminder to all people to lift their hearts upward to God.  There is much symbolism in the beautiful stained windows.  Still to this day, parishioners are justly proud of the bells which send out over the surrounding countryside messages of devotion, joy, or sorrow as the various occasions require.  The rectory and church are a lasting memorial to Father Royer and to the members of his flock who were so devoted to him.  That his memory is held in veneration can be seen by the picture of him which meets the visitor’s eye at the church entry.

It was with real regret that the people of Buffalo Grove saw him depart from their midst when he was transferred to McHenry in the fall of 1907.  A worthy successor came, Reverend N. J. Otto, formerly of Franklin Park.  During his pastorate, a new two-story brick school building was erected.  Father Otto was well-liked.  He was at home in every farmhouse and took a great interest in all that concerned the material and spiritual life of his rural people.   Traveling about by horse and buggy, and later by car, he acquired so thorough a knowledge of the past history of Buffalo Grove as to enable him to write an interesting account of the succession of events which took place in the first years of this Parish.

At the time of his transfer to Holy Trinity Parish in Chicago, in June 1916, the debt of the Parish was practically wiped out.

 

 

Early Pastors

Reverend Frank G. Mattes succeeded him on the fifth day of July.  He was a priest who was loved and held in the highest of esteem by the parishioners.  He continued the good work of his predecessors until 1928, devoting his energy toward building the spiritual growth of the people.  He is remembered for his eloquent sermons.  Father Mattes is also credited with putting a new roof on the church.  On July 21, 1929, he died at the age of 45, and was buried next to his Reverend brother in St. Mary’s cemetery.

Reverend Charles J. Mertens was the next pastor of St. Mary Parish until 1934 when he was transferred to St. Joseph Parish in Waukegan.  The Sisters of St. Mary were indebted to him for building the upper porch at the rear of the school which gave them a place to enjoy the fresh air.

Reverend F. J. Schildgen carried on the work of St. Mary Parish from April until October of 1934, at which time he took a leave of absence due to illness.  Reverend A. J. Boecker, who wanted to retire from active service because of heart trouble, offered to fill the vacancy until Father Schildgen’s return in the not too distant future, as he supposed.  Days lengthened into weeks, weeks became months; Father Boecker was destined to remain at St. Mary Parish until his death on November 16, 1945.  When Father Schildgen had finally recuperated enough to continue priestly duties, he was assigned to St. Mathias in Chicago, It was some time before Father Boecker learned of it, and only then did he sign his name as pastor of St. Mary Parish on church documents.

Father Boecker was a fine priest and very prayerful.  In the early morning, when the Angelus call sounded at noon, and again at sunset, he was often found on his knees.  Before and after his daily Holy Hour in the afternoon, people passing by would see him reverently turn toward the cemetery and bless the dead of whom he would say, “We must help them.”  Many said he had the heart of a Francis who was content to be poor that others might live.  His virtuous life and inspiring words were an encouragement to the people to keep alive the generous Catholic faith brought from overseas by honest and God-fearing settlers and nourished through the years so carefully in the hearts of the people.  To see many at Communion was a time of joy for him.

Before Father Boecker, the pastor was manager of all that pertained to the cemetery.  Sickness, death, or transfer of a priest would leave the parish without much information regarding the little graveyard.  To prevent that inconvenience and provide for a beautiful cemetery, Father Boecker appointed a committee of five to identify, measure and chart the lots.  This committee was in charge of the sale of lots, receipts and expenses, cemetery regulations, records of the deceased, care of the graves, and general upkeep.  This committee, under the supervision of Father Boecker, was responsible for building the fence, putting gravel around the circular approach to the cemetery, seeding the lawn, and planting elm trees.  Father Boecker is buried in this cemetery.

 

The School Is Built

Father George Balleweber endeavored to continue the work begun by so many priests before him.  Under his administrative ability, the “new” school was built.  The beautification of the church property while he was pastor was due to his passion for landscaping and gardening.  He provided the Sisters with a comfortable and convenient home.  His untiring efforts for his congregation, the young people and children made him a true leader of the parish.  He held a special place in his heart for the children in the Parish.  In fact, it had been said that when he died he would to go “Children’s Heaven”.

He always tried to instill in the children of the Parish a realization that “we are here to know, love and serve God so that someday we can be happy with God hereafter.”  He would say that “we are in a world of material things but the things of the spirit must balance it.  It would be better to be a dismal failure in this world and save our souls than to be a brilliant success and lose our souls.”  He was known to say, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?  The most important thing is how they form their character and fashion their souls as God would have them doing what God wants them to do to gain Heaven.”

He intensely wanted children to receive Holy Communion daily.  In prayer, he begged God to give his children the grace to carry on.  He did not spare himself in providing every opportunity for the spiritual advancement of every member of his Parish in the hope that they might lead exemplary Catholic lives thinking more of their external salvation that of their material well-being.