Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We highlight two places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
Country Church: St. Paul Church of Epleyanna • Est. 1847
8800 E. Epleyanna Road, Davis, Ill., (815) 865-5314, stpaulchurch-davis.org
The village of Epleyanna was founded in 1847, along Rock Run Creek, between Davis and Rock City, by a small group of immigrants from the Lippe-Detmold area of Germany. It was named for the Epleys, one of the 15 founding families. Three Epley brothers purchased a mill already built on Rock Run, and later built another, which they called Epleyanna, after one of their daughters.
The families took turns holding worship services in their homes until 1849, when they built a church with stone cut from local quarries. They completed a larger, wooden-framed church in 1886, that included a 40-foot steeple. Services were conducted services in German. The German school at Epleyanna, with bilingual lessons, was built in 1861 and stayed open until the 1920s. By the 1940s, German-only services were abandoned. The wooden church burned in 1959, and the congregation built a new structure, still used today.
The church is surrounded by meadows and framed by tall pines, with the original cemetery adjacent, bounded by a white wrought iron fence. St. Paul offers a Senior Choir, Women’s Choir, Men’s Choir, Jr. Choir (1st grade and up), Bell Choir and Chime Choir.
The congregation, led by Pastor Scott Naevestad, holds Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. and traditional/contemporary worship at 10:30 a.m.
City Church: St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church • Est. 1846
822 Grand Ave., Beloit • (608) 362-1034, faithwebsites.com/stthomasbeloit
Begun the same year the village was incorporated, members met 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.
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, and the church was named after him. After an 1884 fire, a second stone church was dedicated, and in 1886, Mrs. Power was interred next to her husband.
The parish opened a school in 1865, with classes held in the church basement. World events prevented the building of a separate school building. 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 4 p.m.; and Sun. at 11 a.m.