New museum exhibit opens recalling Diocese of Peoria’s founding bishop

A banner welcomes visitors to the new Bishop John Lancaster Spalding exhibit at The Museums of the Diocese of Peoria. The centennial of Bishop Spalding's death will be observed in August. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The first Bishop of Peoria died 100 years ago, but visitors to a new exhibit honoring Archbishop John Lancaster Spalding at the diocesan museums in Peoria may leave with a sense of closeness and familiarity.

Maybe that feeling will be sparked by physical artifacts from the late 19th or early 20th centuries — the bishop’s vestments, copies of the dozen books he authored, photographs and portraits, his eyeglasses, and even his personal diary.

One of Bishop Spalding's diaries is opened in the exhibit. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

One of Bishop Spalding’s diaries is opened in the exhibit. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Perhaps it will come from learning the story of his remarkable life, told in a series of panels beginning with his birth in Kentucky in 1840 and describing how Bishop Spalding came to lead the fledgling Diocese of Peoria — which he guided for its first 31 years — and had influence well beyond, including being instrumental in the drafting of the Baltimore Catechism.

But Sister Lea Stefancova, FSJB, lead researcher and designer of the exhibit, hopes visitors will experience a kinship with Bishop Spalding by appreciating the fruits of his ministry, many of which are familiar today.  Just two examples include:

  • His role in the founding of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, whose health care ministry now touches thousands of lives daily and includes 11 acute care facilities and two colleges of nursing.
  • His passion for education.  Bishop Spalding was a key figure in the founding of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and during years as shepherd of the Diocese of Peoria (1877 to 1908) dozens of Catholic elementary and secondary schools were established across central Illinois.

“He was very broad-minded,” said Sister Lea, saying the challenge was to do justice to Bishop Spalding’s considerable legacy in a limited space. “Many things about him are so incredible.”

Bishop Spalding served the Diocese of Peoria from 1877 to 1908.

Bishop Spalding served the Diocese of Peoria from 1877 to 1908.

The new exhibit was created as part of the diocese’s plans to honor Bishop Spalding as the centennial of his death approaches on Aug. 25. Several photos from the 1916 funeral that drew thousands to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria adorn an exhibit wall, and visitors can read excerpts from the funeral homily given by Archbishop George W. Mundelein of Chicago.

The temporary exhibit is located on the first floor of the Spalding Pastoral Center, 419 N.E. Madison Ave., and is adjacent to the permanent display on the life of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.  It opened in time for the May 1 anniversary of his consecration as bishop at the age of 36 in 1877 and will remain open through September.

School and parish groups are welcome. The Museums of the Diocese of Peoria are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and by special appointment. There is no admission charge. For more information, call (309) 671-1550 or email

Related story: Seminarian creates bust for Bishop Spalding exhibit.



SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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