Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We enjoy highlighting places of worship in each issue.
Country Church: Jefferson Prairie Lutheran Church • Est. 1844
23184 Bergen Road (Illinois Route 75), Poplar Grove, Ill., (815) 292-3226, jplchurh.org
Now celebrating its 175th anniversary, this rural church is about two blocks south of the Wisconsin state line and draws worshippers from Janesville and Beloit as well as Belvidere, Ill.
Norwegian settlers founded this church in 1844. Many of them lived in the Jefferson Prairie colony that once existed near modern-day Clinton, Wis. By 1848, the church was offering services both in English and Norwegian.
Congregants found themselves divided over the issue of slavery in the volatile years leading up to the Civil War. The factions eventually reunited and dedicated the current church sanctuary in 1903.
The church celebrated its 175-year milestone in May by hosting a big Scandinavian smorgasbord for the community, complete with lefse bread, fish balls and pastries made with ancestors’ recipes.
Today the church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and recently adopted the mission statement: “As a community called by Christ, we live our faith by loving and serving all creation.”
Along with worship, Biblical education and fellowship opportunities, church members support charitable efforts locally and across the globe, such as “Blessings in a Backpack” to feed local hungry children, and “Blessings in a Barnyard,” an international campaign that encourages entrepreneurship to help people feed their families by providing them with “starter” animals.
Jefferson Prairie Lutheran Church is led by Pastor Linda Winkelman, who answered the new call after 10 years of service to a church in Galva, Ill.
Sunday worship is at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.
City Church: St. Patrick Catholic Church • Est. 1854
612 Highland Ave., Dixon, Ill., (815) 284-7719, stpatrickdixon.org
Some 165 years ago, 25 Dixon-area families began meeting in the city courthouse to observe their Catholic faith together. In 1854, a Chicago bishop sent them their own priest and they built a frame structure on Highland Avenue.
By 1873, membership had grown to 200 families, who dedicated a new building with seating for 600. They soon opened a school in the former frame structure, run by Dominican nuns from Wisconsin.
In 1892, like so many churches of this era, the structure burned to the ground. Its hearty congregants lost no time rebuilding an even larger brick church, soon followed by a school building on the corner of Peoria and 7th streets. Today the parish is part of the Diocese of Rockford.
The congregation supports St. Mary Elementary & Jr. High School, led by Principal Jean Spohn and attended by about 220 students ages pre-K to eighth grade. Many of these students move on to attend Newman Catholic High School in Sterling, Ill.
The parish serves its community through ministries like Loaves & Fishes, an effort of the St. Patrick Church Peace and Justice Committee to provide free meals and fellowship to anyone who is hungry in the Dixon area. The parish also supports many global ministries, such as Hope for Haitians, which brings clean water, food, housing, education and medical services to people in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
About 800 families are registered in the parish, which is led by Fr. Keith Romke, a native of Elgin, Ill.
Mass is offered every day of the week. Times: Sat., 4:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 & 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Mon. 5:15 p.m.; and Tues.-Fri., 8 a.m. There is also an 8 a.m. mass on the first Saturday of the month.