St. John Paul II Parish in Kewanee celebrates new name

Photo Caption: As Bishop Jenky and others enter Visitation Church for Mass on June 15, a new marquee tells passers-by on Kewanee’s Central Boulevard that the parish in now under the patronage of St. John Paul II.

By: Text and photo by Tom Dermody

KEWANEE — The placing of Kewanee’s merged parish under the patronage of newly canonized St. John Paul II marks “a new step in the history of our faith in this community,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, during a celebration here June 15.

“The title of St. John Paul II should become a challenge, not only to maintain what you have but to grow and expand,” said Bishop Jenky, whose decrees on April 27 — the day that two modern popes, St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, were declared saints by Pope Francis –
– officially created the first parishes in the diocese named for them.

The faith community in Henry will become St. John XXIII Parish when St. Joseph and St. Mary parishes officially merge on July 1.

Last Sunday, it was Kewanee’s turn to celebrate. A newly designed marquee on the grounds of Visitation Church (photo above) announces the parish name in English and Spanish to all passers-by on Central Boulevard. The sign also includes an image of St. John Paul II as well as the Mass schedule.

Visitation Church is the primary worship site for St. John Paul II Parish, which also utilizes St. Francis of Assisi Church. The two faith communities merged last July, and those attending Sunday’s 10 a.m. Mass and reception with Bishop Jenky believe the new name will help further unify the parish.

“We’re finally going to become one community that worships what we all believe in, the one, holy, Roman Catholic Church,” said Maria Torres, Spanish ministry coordinator for St. John Paul II Parish.

Bishop Jenky ended the June 15 Mass with a surprise announcement that united the parish in sustained applause. The bishop told the assembly that Father Johndamaseni Zilimu, who has served as parish administrator since the merger, had been given the title of pastor that morning.

Father Zilimu smiled broadly at the news, just as he had at the start of the Mass when Bishop Jenky presented a framed image of St. John Paul II on behalf of the Diocese of Peoria to the parish. Father Zilimu has a special devotion to St. John Paul II, who served as pope from 1978 until his death in 2005.

“I always ask St. John Paul II to help me with youth ministry,” said Father Zilimu, who established a parish youth group in March. Teenagers served in a variety of roles at last Sunday’s Mass.

In his homily, Bishop Jenky noted that Catholics of Kewanee have historically — though “not always without difficulty” — come together to share their faith. He pointed to the “devout and excellent” Visitation School as well as OSF Saint Luke Medical Center, which became a Catholic hospital earlier this year, as examples.

He urged members of St. John Paul II Parish to do in their community what their new patron did around the globe: share the good news of Jesus Christ.

“We all know there are fallen-away Catholics who need to be invited by you, and then welcomed home by you to this, their Father’s house,” said Bishop Jenky. The poor, the sick, and the elderly need to be visited and assisted, the bishop continued, “and as always there are hymns to be sung, prayer groups to be promoted, committees to be staffed, and meals and gatherings to be enjoyed.”

Following Mass, Bishop Jenky greeted members of the parish at a reception in the Visitation School gym.

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