Celebrating the storied history of Catholicism in central Illinois

Cause of Our Joy l Katie Faley

It’s no secret that Central Illinois has a pretty rich Catholic history. I mean, Fulton Sheen is our hometown boy, after all. Born in El Paso, and raised in Peoria, his Irish immigrant ancestors were some of many who helped establish a thriving Catholic community here.

And while the Irish Catholics of Illinois were prolific, it was the French who first brought Catholicism here. Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Illinois region, ministering to Native Americans along the way. Another Jesuit, Father Jacques Gravier, then established a Catholic mission in the region in the 1690s.

We even have ties to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She started Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1855, a group of these Sisters traveled to LaSalle and opened a Catholic school in the area.

German Catholic immigrants made Central Illinois their home after experiencing religious persecution in their home country. From building St. Joseph Church, which still stands in downtown Peoria, to St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Peoria, which is decorated with the marble angels created by German immigrant John Merkle who arrived here in 1854, traces of German Catholicism are everywhere.

It’s also German Catholic immigrants that we have to thank for the first hospital in the Peoria area — which now includes locations throughout much of Illinois.


A group of religious Sisters was forced out of Germany in the 1870s. They settled in Iowa City, where they cared for orphaned children.

Mother M. Frances Krasse, OSF

Known for farming, mining and river transport, Peoria often had workplace accidents that needed medical attention. Father Bernard Baak, a German priest and pastor at St. Joseph, knew it was high time Peoria got a hospital. So, he asked the Iowa City sisters to come to Peoria to open one, and they did.

After having been a part of the Chicago diocese until 1875, Pope Pius IX declared Peoria its own Catholic diocese and appointed John Lancaster Spalding the first bishop of the new diocese in 1877.

Seeing the need for the hospital to be a permanent fixture here, Bishop Spalding and Sister M. Frances Krasse asked for permission to establish their own religious order of Sisters who would continue to serve the medical needs of the area. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis were founded on July 16, 1877, and Sister M. Frances Krasse became Mother M. Frances Krasse, OSF.

The Sisters acquired a house on Glen Oak Avenue from Lydia Moss Bradley. In 1878, the doors to the newly renovated hospital were opened and the Sisters quickly filled all 35 beds with people in need of care.

The Sisters relied on God to provide. Their mission was to simply trust God and care for the mind, bodies and spirits of their patients.


One of my favorite stories of OSF history is about a time when the Sisters knew they didn’t have enough food to feed the patients. They stopped by the chapel and ardently prayed for a miracle, knowing it would take nothing short of one to feed all the patients.

The Sisters relied on God to provide. Their mission was to simply trust God and care for the mind, bodies and spirits of their patients.

That very day, a truck full of fresh food appeared outside the hospital, only there was no driver in sight.

Assuming the driver would come back, the Sisters waited a day. When they returned the next morning and the food was still there, they decided to take it for fear it would quickly go to waste. They were able to feed all of their patients. When they returned later, the truck was gone. They knew this was God answering their prayer.

Now, as an employee of OSF (or Mission Partner, as we’re styled), I feel especially close to this history. As a ministry, we recently celebrated the 146th anniversary of the founding of OSF. All Mission Partners were invited to a Mass celebrated in the chapel at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria — the same chapel that was dedicated in 1909 with a Mass attended by many of the founding Sisters.

I feel very attached to the mission of OSF HealthCare, which is to serve with the greatest care and love. This sentiment comes straight from the last words of Mother M. Frances Krasse. It’s the storied Catholic history of Central Illinois that makes me feel a part of something much larger than myself.

KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at katiefaleywriter@gmail.com.

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