THE HISTORY OF ST. MARY
HELP OF CHRISTIANS
CATHOLIC PARISH -
CHESTER, ILLINOIS

ESTABLISHED IN 1842
To try to capture the entire rich history of our parish in one web page is obviously
impossible.  Hopefully this will provide a brief overview of who we are as a parish and
how we have gotten to this point in time.  This web page will be a continuing work in
progress.  If you have any historic dates, photos, etc. that you would like to see
added to our history page, please e-mail
webmaster@maryhoc.org.  We hope you
enjoy this trip down memory lane.
A Brief Overview of our History

* 1842 - The first emigrant Catholics settle in Chester.
* 1847 - The first Mass is celebrated in Chester by the Rev. Nicholas Perrin, pastor of Kaskaskia.  He would offer
Mass once a month in a family home.
* 1850 - The first church was built, a 25 x 50 feet brick structure.  On October 6, 1850, the Most Rev. Oliver Van de
Velde, Bishop of Chicago (the only Bishop in Illinois at the time), laid the cornerstone.
* 1850 - A one-acre site was donated to the parish for a cemetery (located on what is now the Niermann farm).
* 1853 - On July 29, Bishop Van de Velde returned and blessed the church, dedicating it to Mary Help of Christians.  
Seven parishioners received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
* 1863 - The first parochial school opened.  A lay teacher instructed 40 pupils in the basement of the church.
* 1869 - Construction of the main body of the present church began and was completed in 1871.  The new church
measured 44 x 72 feet and was built at a cost of $10,000.  The first Mass in the new church was celebrated by Rev.
Clemens Rhode on August 15, 1873.  After the new church was completed, the original church was converted into a
two-room school and sisters' residence.
* 1876 - A five-acre site for a new cemetery was purchased for $450.
* 1894 - The Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality is established.
* 1904 - Enrollment in school climbs to 95 students.  Plans are made to build a new school building.
* 1905 - The new school opens in October (the brick structure currently in use).
* 1906 - The first six students graduate from 8th grade (students had attended Jr. High at the public school prior to
this time).
* 1913 - A major renovation of the church is undertaken, which included the addition of the transcept, a larger
sanctuary, and two sacristies.  The beautiful stained glass windows in the transcept and sanctuary were completed a
short time later.
* 1925 - The crucifixion group is erected and dedicated in the current cemetery.
* 1925 - Rev. Charles J. Eckert, who had served as pastor since 1892, died on November 24 as a result of a car
accident.
* 1930 - The current rectory is built.
* 1938 - Enrollment in the school reaches 178 students.  Two extra classrooms are built and the diningroom/cafeteria
is completed in the basement.
* 1940 - The ballfield known as "the bowl" was created.
* 1942 - Our parish celebrates its 100th anniversary.  On September 7 (Labor Day), this milestone was marked by a
pontifical field Mass at the high school stadium, a chicken dinner, and a sacred concert in church.
* 1942 - The Holy Name Society was established, and served the parish until 1991.
* 1946 - The building currently known as the Parish House (formerly the convent) was purchased and remodeled to
provide living space for the seven sisters serving the parish at that time.
* 1951 - The school gymnasium is built.
* 1952 - The Catholic Youth Organization is established.
* 1954 - St. Mary's Knights of Columbus Council is instituted.
* 1957 - The current Knights of Columbus Meeting Hall is built.
* 1963 - Rev. Anthony B. Lehmen, pastor for 37 years, passes away on May 13.
* 1964 - High school students participate in the May Crowning ceremony, a tradition which continues to this day.
* 1965 - School enrollment reaches 300, the largest in history.
* 1967 - The school library and recreation room is built.  The Parent Teacher Organization (P.T.O.) is formed.
* 1987 - Preschool and kindergarten classes are formed in the school.  The first Parish Council meeting is held.
* 1992 - The parish celebrates its 150th anniversary.  Year-long activities include a vespers service/parish dinner, a
parish mission, a prayer service at the original cemetery, a living rosary, and a Mass of Celebration with Bishop
Keleher.
* 2006 - A state of the art playground is built for the school.  The playground was built strictly with volunteer help.