2014 in Review: What made headlines in the Diocese of Peoria?

Photo Caption: In April of 2014, merged parishes in Kewanee (above) and Henry were named for newly canonized, beloved former popes St. John Paul II (Kewanee) and St. John XXIII (Henry).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is a month-by-month review of some of the news headlines of 2014 in the Diocese of Peoria. This review does not include several of the major annual events that take place in the diocese. A list of deaths in the diocese in 2014 was published in the print edition of The Catholic Post.



Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, opened 2014 by strongly urging Catholics to read the Bible. In his 12th annual Festival Letter to the Diocese of Peoria, titled “The Holy Bible,” the bishop said believers need the Word of God “to guide their lives, encourage their service, and inspire their prayer.” He also offered practical suggestions for those just beginning to study the Bible.

The polar vortex that brought heavy snow and record cold to the Midwest led to the bursting of a pipe on the night of Jan. 6 at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. The water quickly flooded most of the chapel floor and also gushed down a flight of stairs into the monastery’s dining room. Schools were closed and events were canceled around the Diocese of Peoria because of the frigid conditions.

The “servant leadership” of Laura Knapp, who teaches third- and fourth-graders at Holy Cross School in Mendota, was cited in her selection as the diocese’s nominee for the National Catholic Educational Association’s Distinguished Teacher Award.

Among the hundreds from central Illinois taking part in the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., and related events were delegations from Catholic high schools as well as a diocese-sponsored pilgrimage uniting youth groups from parishes in Kickapoo, Mendota, Hoopeston, Peoria, Normal, Pekin and Galesburg. Local observances of the abortion ruling anniversary included an open house at the new Family Resources Center in Peoria.

While in Rome with a delegation representing the University of Notre Dame, Bishop Jenky met Pope Francis for the first time. “He clearly has a common touch with the people,” said Bishop Jenky, who greeted the pope after the Holy Father’s general audience on Jan. 29 and again the following day when Pope Francis gave an address on Catholic education to the Notre Dame group.



Father Eugene Radosevich and Michelle Quandt of St. Luke Parish in Eureka, as well as Sheila Scherder of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria, were recognized with the Bronze Pelican award for their support of Catholic Scouting during the annual Scout Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. For the first time, girls from newly formed American Heritage Girls troops were welcomed at the celebration. Bishop Jenky urged Scouts from around the diocese present to receive religious medals to be “like a blazing light” to guide others toward Jesus.

Those continuing to recover from the Nov. 17 tornadoes that devastated communities including Washington and Gifford found new assistance — and hope — through the “House in a Box” program coordinated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Offering new household furnishings, the program operated out of the Catholic Charities warehouse in Peoria.



The beatification cause of Diocese of Peoria native Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen took a step forward when a team of medical experts convoked by the Vatican unanimously concluded there is no natural explanation for the survival of James Fulton Engstrom. The Goodfield boy was stillborn in 2010 and his heart did not start beating until 61 minutes after his birth. His parents credit Jesus with healing their son, now 4 and developing normally, through the intercession of the late radio and television pioneer. In June, a Vatican theological commission would agree that the reported miracle should be attributed to Archbishop Sheen’s intercession.

Saying her heart was filled with pride in as well as gratitude and love for the Bloomington Central Catholic High School community, Joy Allen announced her decision to retire after 23 years as principal. She would be succeeded in the summer by Sean Foster, associate principal and junior class theology teacher.

March Madness produced two state basketball champions from Catholic high schools in the diocese. The Lady Sabers of The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign capped a 33-1 season with a convincing 70-34 victory over Prophetstown in the Illinois High School Association girls Class 2A title game at Redbird Arena in Normal. Two weeks later, Bloomington Central Catholic defeated Nashville in one of the most thrilling games in the history of the boys’ tournament — a triple overtime win over Nashville for the Class 2A crown at Carver Arena in Peoria.

Children from St. Mary’s School in Pontiac became the first Illinois group in a lay movement known as the Children’s Rosary. Every first Friday the students join counterparts around the world in praying for the pope in a special way and for each other.

Women are “the solid rock that gives stability and purpose to family life and to all areas of the culture in which we live,” said Mother Assumpta Long, OP, a keynote speaker at the annual Behold Conference that drew 500 Catholic women to East Peoria. This year’s event included the first male keynote speaker, Jeremy Rivera, who also spoke to a gathering of men on the night before the conference.



St. Joseph Parish, one of the city of Peoria’s oldest faith communities with a history dating to 1852, was merged into Sacred Heart Parish. The landmark church at 103 Richard Pryor Place will continue to be “properly maintained and used for worship at the pastor’s discretion,” according to the diocesan decree. One parish council and one set of trustees will serve the faith communities in and just south of downtown Peoria.

With prayers for patients and staff and a belief that “God brought our two wonderful organizations together, Kewanee Hospital was blessed as a member of OSF Healthcare System and renamed OSF Saint Luke Medical Center.

Under an agreement reached by St. Bede Academy in Peru and Kinglee High School in Zhengzhou, China, St. Bede students will have an opportunity to study in China. The Chinese school will integrate the entire St. Bede curriculum, including religious classes.

Immaculate Conception Church in Manito, built in 1972, was razed to prepare for construction of a new church and parish hall. Parishioners have raised $1.45 million toward construction, according to Father David Whiteside, pastor.
Sister Rita Ann Bregenhorn, OSU, pastoral associate at St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington for 17 years, was installed as provincial leader of the Ursuline Sisters of the Central Province, now based in St. Louis.

Msgr. Ernie Pizzamiglio, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Galesburg and a U.S. Air Force veteran during the Korean conflict, accompanied 89 other veterans on an Honor Flight from the Quad Cities to the memorials in Washington, D.C.

On the same day that St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII were canonized, Bishop Jenky issued decrees naming merged parishes in Kewanee and Henry after the two former popes. St. John Paul II Parish in Kewanee resulted from the merger of the former St. Mary and St. Francis of Assisi parishes, while St. John XXIII Parish in Henry embraced the faith communities of the former St. Joseph and St. Mary parishes. Celebrations of the new names and unity took place in early summer at the two parishes.



Eighty-eight priests and consecrated women celebrating major jubilee years were profiled in the May 11 issue of The Catholic Post, including Father Dale Maloy, Father James Sheridan, OSA, and Father Michael Gould, MM (marking 60 years since ordination) and golden jubilarians Msgr. Dale Wellman, Father Patrick Collins, Father Duane LeClercq, and Father Luke Poczworowski, OFM Conv. Nine women with ties to the diocese celebrated 75 years of religious profession.

The transitions of Msgr. Dale Wellman, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline, and Father Michael Schaab, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, to senior status highlighted 43 clergy appointments announced by Bishop Jenky. The changes also affected leadership at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign and resulted in new vicars forane for the Bloomington-Normal, Pekin, Peoria, and Rock Island vicariates.

Challenging them to serve with “constant joy and genuine love,” Bishop Jenky ordained four new priests for the diocese: Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, Father Matthew Hoelscher, Father Corey Krengiel, and Father Kyle Lucas. They began their first assignments in early June.



Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria serving at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, was named president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.

St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Lacon kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Jenky under a tent on the home’s front lawn.

An open house celebrated the completion of a new convent at St. Jude Church and School in Peoria to house the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Among the Catholic school-related honors recognized at an end-of-the-year Mass and luncheon was the naming of Father Mark DeSutter as the Diocese of Peoria’s Distinguished Pastor of 2013-2014 and Jodi Peine as Distinguished Principal by the Office of Catholic Schools. Peine, principal of St. Philomena School in Peoria, received another round of applause for her selection by the National Catholic Educational Association as one of 10 Distinguished Principals in the United States.

Alleman High School of Rock Island celebrated a softball state championship following a 9-3 win over Teutopolis in the Class 2A title game at Eastside Center in East Peoria. It was the school’s sixth state championship in softball, second only to Casey-Westfield’s seven in state history.

Dana Brooks of New Windsor and Rose Roe of Colona were named regional directors of religious education. Brooks will help guide catechists, teachers, and directors of religious education in the Galesburg and Macomb vicariates, while Roe’s region embraces the Rock Island and Kewanee vicarariates.

More than 400 people took part in an outdoor Mass, eucharistic procession and potluck lunch at a park in Roseville. The “United in Faith” celebration was “a great inspiration for each and every one of us,” said Msgr. Thomas Mack. The first-time event was planned by the stewardship committee of Immaculate Conception in Monmouth, St. Patrick in Raritan, and St. Theresa Church in Alexis.

A June 30 tornado caused considerable damage to the roofs, porches, and trees of St. Theresa Church and rectory in Earlville. Mass returned to the church two weeks later, celebrated in the parish hall basement after it was determined the church sustained no structural damage.



A Mass and Family Festival at St. Mary Church in Rock Island began a yearlong focus by all parishes in the city on the life and contributions of missionary priest Father John George Alleman, OP.

A first-year parish garden at St. Mary Parish in Bloomington proved beneficial not only to the parish and school community, but the community at large through donations to the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen.


A group of Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy on a tour across the United States led a “Day of Mercy” in Rock Island that mobilized dozens of volunteers to assist at a local food pantry, visit those in area nursing homes and senior centers, and do door-to-door evangelization. Large crowds prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and heard talks that evening at Sacred Heart Church in Rock Island.

Members of St. Mary Parish in Westville put their hands into the wet concrete of a new sidewalk on parish property to celebrate a new beginning for the parish following a series recent improvements and to declare “we’re here to stay.”

While the ice-bucket challenge craze had people throughout the country dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise money to combat ALS, The Catholic Post carried the story of Father Benjamin Reese, a priest of the diocese who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a year ago. Father Reese officially retired in mid-July. Meanwhile, Catholics were urged to voice their ethical concerns with the ALS Association over its support for embryonic stem cell research, and consider donating challenge money to alternate organizations striving for a cure through morally acceptable research using adult stem cells.



St. Catherine Parish in Aledo celebrated 100 years of faith with a centennial Mass celebrated by Bishop Jenky.

The cause for beatification and canonization of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was suspended “for the foreseeable future” after the Archdiocese of New York denied Bishop Jenky’s request to move the body to Peoria. “Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time,” according to a diocesan statement, which described the bishop as “heartbroken” and urged prayers “that God’s will be made manifest.”

Bishop Jenky rejoiced with the people of Chicago at the news that Pope Francis had named Archbishop Blase Cupich to succeed Cardinal Francis E. George as archbishop of Chicago. Bishop Jenky called Archbishop Cupich “a zealous disciple of Jesus Christ” who “has always been a good Shepherd to those entrusted to his pastoral care.”

Fifty people from throughout the Diocese of Peoria took part in the first bus pilgrimage sponsored by the Bishop’s Commission on Women in the Church and in Society. The group visited Catholic sites in Chicago including the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

St. Mary School in Pontiac capped a 24-0 softball season with a 7-0 win over McNabb Putnam County to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class A state championship.

A newly constructed Gateway Arch extending over the sidewalk at the north entrance to St. Bede Academy in Peru called to mind an arch that spanned the lane leading to the abbey and academy for more than six decades. The arch was a gift from the St. Bede Class of 1964.

The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign was named a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School. It was one of only six private secondary schools in the nation to earn the designation. Saint Thomas More is the fourth diocesan school to be honored by the U.S. Department of Education in the last five years, and the first of the diocese’s seven high schools to be named a National Blue Ribbon School.



Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg broke ground for a $2.1 million expansion project. The first new building project in more than 50 years at Costa will house a technology room, music room, and a new cafeteria with a commercial kitchen.

Agnes Christman of St. Paul Parish, Danville, was welcomed as new president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women during the group’s annual convention in Peoria. Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, was keynote speaker on the topic of the coming mid-term elections.

In anticipation of the Year of Consecrated Life to open in November, The Catholic Post began a monthly series spotlighting religious communities and other forms of consecrated life around the Diocese of Peoria.

Evangelization and collaboration were topics when priests of the Diocese of Peoria gathered for their Assembly Days in Peoria. During the two-day conference, a corridor connecting the Spalding Renewal Center and the Spalding Pastoral Center was dedicated as the “Zube Corridor” in honor of the late Msgr. Joseph Zube.



“Friendship benches” will be placed in 17 Catholic schools in the diocese as part of an effort to combat bullying and low self-esteem. A friendship bench in every U.S. school is a goal of Acacia “Tiny” Woodley, 12, of Florida, who visited the diocese for the installation of the first three benches and to share her dream.

The first anniversary of the tornadoes that devastated several communities in the diocese on Nov. 17, 2013, was marked with prayers, displays of gratitude for help in recovery, and continuing service to those still in need. The priests of St. Patrick Parish in Washington, where more than 600 homes were destroyed, were kept busy blessing the rebuilt homes of dozens of parishioners.

Shirley Plaag was named coordinator of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Peoria. She is a former director of religious education at Corpus Christi and St. Patrick parishes in Galesburg and Sacred Heart in Abingdon.

The Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province announced they will withdraw from Sacred Heart Parish in Peoria next June after providing priests for the parish for 123 years. Diocesan priests will be appointed to serve as pastor and parochial vicar for Sacred Heart and nearby St. Joseph Church.

Ground was broken for a $5.2 million expansion at St. Patrick Church in Urbana. The project will double the seating in the 110-year-old church as well as add a gathering space and alower level for classrooms and meeting space. Parishioners have pledged $4.2 million to the campaign under the theme “Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future.”

Maryjeanne Gilbert of Peoria Notre Dame proved she is one of the Midwest’s elite distance runners by following up a 3,200-meter track and field state championship in the spring with a convincing Class 2A state cross country title, crossing the finish line a full minute ahead of the second place runner.

Representatives from nearly 20 religious communities ministering in the Diocese of Peoria were present at St. Mary’s Cathedral as the Diocese of Peoria opened a special Year of Consecrated Life being observed in the universal church. The Mass included a procession of the United Nations International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was in the diocese along with relics of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto for a weekend of veneration. More than 800 students from Catholic schools around the diocese attended an opening Mass celebrating the arrival of the statue and relics, whose visit was coordinated by Catholic Charities.

With the welcoming of eighth-graders for the first time, attendance at the 2014 Diocesan Youth Rally swelled to nearly 500. Keynote speakers Chris Stefanick and Megan Mastroianni arrived a day early to lead a pre-rally evening of training for about 50 young people from around the diocese seeking training to become “Teen Missionary Disciples.”



Greg Etzel, newly named diocesan director of sacred music, invited choir directors and members, music teachers, and singers from throughout the diocese to take part in an Advent Pilgrimage of Prayer and Praise at St. Mary’s Cathedral prior to the annual Sing-It-Yourself Messiah. Etzel succeeds Dr. Sherry Seckler, who continues as cathedral organist.

The retirements of two long-serving presidents resulted in changes in leadership at two Catholic hospitals in the Diocese of Peoria. Bradley Solberg was named new president for OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac, succeeding David Ochs, who guided the medical center for 26 years. And at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Dr. Michael Cruz was selected to succeed Keith Steffen, who served as president for 18 years.

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