“Keep your faith in all beautiful things; in the sun when it is hidden, in the spring when it is gone.” -Roy R. Gilson
Organized religion plays a major role in the culture of our Northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin region. Check out these unique places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Est. 1857 • 8315 S. Massbach Road, Elizabeth, Ill. • (815) 598-3367, stjohnmassbach.org
This is the oldest Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Jo Daviess County, and one of the oldest in the United States whose roots are in the former German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa.
The sturdy German pioneers who founded St. John settled here before nearby communities of Elizabeth or Massbach were established, when the area was called “Rush Creek.” They held services in each other’s homes until they decided to construct a church.
The first house of worship was a log structure erected just south of Massbach in 1859, where the church’s cemetery is now located. The first marriage was performed that same year. The congregation met here until 1900, when swelling membership required the construction of a larger building. This first frame church was struck by lightning and burned in 1913; the second, built just north of Massbach and dedicated in 1914, was destroyed by a tornado in 1922. Undaunted, the congregants built a third, on the foundation of the old one, and that building still stands.
Services were conducted in German until WWI, when the mother language was largely replaced by English. However, it wasn’t until 1940 that St. John discontinued its once-a-month German-language service altogether.
St. John celebrates in a “high church” style, with a crucifix-led processional, use of kneelers and worshippers making the sign of the cross along with the celebrant. The pastor wears formal vestments and chants much of the historical liturgy. Holy Communion is celebrated on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month.
Pastor Steven Andersen, now on leave, leads a confirmed membership of about 200. An interim pastor holds Sunday service Sept.-May at 9:30 a.m., followed by Sunday School. and June-Aug. at 9 a.m. (no Sunday School).
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
Est. 1846 • 822 Grand Ave., Beloit • (608) 362-1034, faithwebsites.com/stthomasbeloit
This church began in the same year the village was incorporated, with members meeting in the home of Capt. Thomas Power, Beloit’s first elected village president. He and wife Lucy hosted the area’s Catholic families from then on, moving services into their cobblestone barn in 1848, as membership continued to grow.
In 1851, the barn, by now called “Power’s Chapel,” was moved to the end of Pleasant Street, on St. Paul Avenue, becoming the first Catholic church in Beloit. By 1854, with her husband gone, Mrs. Power agreed to deed the parcel of land that is the church’s present location, provided that she and her husband be buried within the building.
The new stone church was completed in 1856, with Capt. Powers interred inside; the church was named after him, because of his dedication, and to honor his memory. Following a fire in 1884, a second stone church was dedicated, and in 1886, Mrs. Power was interred next to her husband.
The parish opened a school, held in the church basement from 1864 to 1878. Plans to build a separate school building were thwarted by the Great Depression and world wars, however. Finally, in 1950, St. Thomas School opened, at 1221 Henry Ave., with a mix of junior high and high school students from St. Thomas and St. Jude’s Brother Dutton.
Elementary grades were added, and by 1952, it was renamed Beloit Catholic High School. Elementary students attended Brother Dutton until 1964, when a larger building, St. Thomas the Apostle Grade School, opened at 916 Bushnell St. By 2000, both schools had been closed, due to declining enrollment.
At 840 E. Grand Ave., the former convent, is now Helpful Hannah’s House, selling antiques and treasures to benefit the church’s charities.
The congregation is led by Father John Hedrick, with Mass on Tues. at 5 p.m.; Thur. at 7:15 a.m.; Sat. at 5 p.m.; and Sun. at 11 a.m.