‘Living stones’ bid difficult farewells to five beloved churches

It’s not easy to put a century of Catholic parish life on hold.

Just ask any member of five faith communities in the Diocese of Peoria — totaling more than 500 years of collective history — who last weekend took part in the final regularly scheduled Masses in their familiar, tradition-laden churches.

“God knows the sacrifices you’ve made and also knows the pain that is in your hearts,” said Father Michael Monclova, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Spring Valley. The 11 a.m. Mass there on Sunday marked both the 100th anniversary of the construction of the brick church at 220 N. Terry and the parishioners’ farewell to it, at least for now.

It was Father Monclova’s second difficult homily of the morning. At 8 a.m., he offered the final regular Mass at St. Gertrude’s Church in Seatonville, located about five miles to the northwest.

Also affected by suspension of Masses announced in late May are two other parishes in close proximity to Spring Valley — St. Benedict’s, Ladd, and St. Thomas More, Dalzell — as well as St. Mary’s Parish in East Moline.

In letters detailing the changes at each parish, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, said the affected parishes and mission are not being closed. The needs of the areas’ Catholics are being studied during the period of suspension, and the churches may still host weddings, funerals, and other important church celebrations.

“It is a most difficult time for all of you, but I am sure that the blessings of God will continue to rain on this parish,” said Father Henry Fritz, OSB, pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish in Ladd.

Father Robert Rayson, newly appointed pastor in Dalzell, said in a letter read at the conclusion of Mass that area pastors are already discussing “more opportunities for Eucharistic adoration throughout the area.”

“I know these times are very difficult for the people of this parish,” wrote Father Rayson in his letter, which was read by Father Michael Calhoun, OSB, a priest from St. Bede Abbey who offered the final Mass in Dalzell. “You sit at the threshold of Good Friday. But remember, Easter is always on the horizon.”

“May our prayer be, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,'” he said, closing the letter with the prayer of Divine Mercy found in the adoration chapel.

In East Moline, the suspension of Masses at St. Mary’s Parish will have both English and Spanish-speaking members looking for a different Mass site.

Father Walder told members of St. Mary’s last weekend that the 102-year-old parish will always live in their hearts, “not just bricks and mortar.”

“We’re what make up the body of Christ,” he said. “We are the church.”

Father Monclova echoed a similar theme in Spring Valley and Seatonville.

“As beautiful as our church is, it is not made with bricks and mortar, paint and gold leaf,” he said at Sts. Peter and Paul, Spring Valley. “You are the living stones who make up the beauty of our church — a beauty found in the faith, hope and love of our members.”

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