Last Mass offered at St. Elizabeth Church in Washburn as community says farewell

The last Mass at St. Elizabeth Church in Washburn was celebrated on July 29. It has been relegated to “profane but not sordid use” by a decree from the Diocese of Peoria and closed. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

WASHBURN — For 87 years, Marie Beltramea Bond called St. Elizabeth Church here her spiritual home. So it gave her great joy to return with her extended family last weekend for one last Mass and potluck.

“It’s marvelous,” she said as she looked around at the basement parish hall that was filled with people and conversation.

This refurbished statue of St. Elizabeth graced the sanctuary of St. Elizabeth Church in Washburn. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

The church has been relegated to “profane but not sordid use” and closed. A decree issued May 3 by the Diocese of Peoria noted that “sacred objects shall be removed and treated in accord with their sacred nature. If the altar is to be relegated, a separate decree will be issued.”

The Washburn parish merged with St. Mary Parish in Metamora in 2015.

“Since that time, the church in Washburn has had only one Saturday vigil Mass every other month until 2020 when all services were suspended because of COVID. Since this time, no Masses have taken place in St. Elizabeth Church,” according to the decree.

“Over the past three years at St. Elizabeth Church there have been no Masses, no baptisms, no weddings, and no funerals. There have been no adults received into the Church,” it continues.

The decree goes on to say that the facility at St. Elizabeth Church, “once relegated,” might be better able to serve the needs of the community of Washburn and Woodford County, “rather than remain unused for divine worship by the faithful whose sacramental needs are already being met in other Catholic churches.”


Father David Kipfer, pastor of the Washburn and Metamora faith communities, said it was natural to feel some sadness, but emphasized that they had gathered to say “farewell” and not “goodbye.”

Father David Kipfer, pastor, joins family members of Marie Beltramea Bond (center) for photos after the last Mass at St. Elizabeth Church in Washburn on July 29. She had been a parishioner for 87 years. (Provided photo)

“Farewell” says until we meet again, he said. “Farewell until we get to the kingdom.”

Father Kipfer thanked the people who came with their memories of weddings, funerals, baptisms, Sunday Masses, devotions and Holy Hours with the diocesan priests and Franciscan priests who served there since 1878.

“You’re here in faith to stand with one another. That’s a tremendous gift,” he said. “You’re here because of faith. Thank you. You should look around and be proud of the gift you are to each other.”

He encouraged them to hold on to their memories and remember that what happened at St. Elizabeth will be kept in the heart and mind of God, too.

“Your faith is strong — I see it, I experience it,” Father Kipfer said. “I’ll never forget that. Nor will God, who is our hope.”


The first pastor at St. Elizabeth was a Franciscan priest, Father Angelus. Until 1878, Catholics had been attending Mass in Lacon, Metamora or Lourdes (Germantown Hills).

“Your faith is strong — I see it, I experience it. I’ll never forget that. Nor will God, who is our hope.” — Father David Kipfer

Bishop John Lancaster Spalding laid the cornerstone that year and returned to dedicate the frame church and belfry in 1882. Lightning destroyed the belfry in 1946 and the entire church was destroyed by a fire on Dec. 17, 1958.

The new church was completed and dedicated by Bishop John B. Franz in 1960. The church campus includes a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, which was constructed in 1959.

In 2001, the Franciscan friars ended 107 years of service in Washburn and diocesan priests assumed pastoral care for St. Elizabeth.

Father Kipfer reminded those present to continue to pray for the Washburn community — “All those who entered here or drove by and said a prayer or maybe made the sign of the cross, or maybe never came in here. We lift all of them up and their loved ones to God, who will always remember.”

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