In The Beginning…….
The history of our parish goes well beyond what is contained in these pages. We are a parish of friends and acquaintances first, with a special connection to one of the most historical churches in the state and perhaps the Midwest.
Our parish can be traced to 1838 when masses were held in a home in Upper Alton - a year after the death of Elijah P. Lovejoy. The most Reverend George Hamilton was the first pastor, sent by Bishop Joseph Rosati, C.M., of Chicago, head of the Illinois Diocese, which encompassed the entire state. In 1840 Reverend Hamilton’s parish, named St Mathew, consisted of 14 families, about 75 people. Masses were held at the home of Andrew Clifford, one of the prominent parishioners. Later a frame structure was built on his private property.
While Upper Alton had developed into a functional community in the early 1800’s the river port area of the city had been wide open and lawless. The presence of the church helped to stabilize the community and change its image, which was still reeling from the national attention brought by the riot and subsequent killing of Elijah P. Lovejoy. In 1837 The State of Illinois operated the state penitentiary west of the city. Just prior to the civil war the prison was closed and replaced by a new facility in Joliet. Benjamin Godfrey owned a thriving freight company with multiple warehouses and buildings in the area occupied today by the flourmill and west Broadway.
In 1843 the Reverend Michael Carroll, who had succeeded Rev. Hamilton, built a new stone church on north side of Third Street between Alby and Easton Streets. In 1853 a fire destroyed the building. For the next three years masses were held in a large hall over Harts Livery Stable at 310 State Street, blocks from the recently abandoned State Penitentiary. Father Carroll received $5,000 from fire insurance and $4,000 for the lot and the ruins; there was an indebtedness of $1,800. The site was purchased by the Unitarians and a church was rebuilt. Two slabs of stone from the original church were retained and can be seen today on the front wall with the inscriptions “One Lord, One Faith” and “One Fold and One Shepard”.
About this time a cemetery was established for the parish on a hilltop clearing northwest of the city on what is today Rosier Street. Edward Chouteau, grandson of August Chouteau one of the founders of St. Louis, was buried there and later moved to a mausoleum in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. There is a local legend that the pirate Jon LeFette is also buried there, he had died while visiting family that had migrated here. Later an area west of the cemetery was used to bury prisoners of the confederate prison and today is a national monument known as the Confederate Cemetery.
On April 7, 1854 a purchase agreement was signed between Peter and Harriet Wise and the Most Reverend Peter Richard Kenrich of St. Louis for a parcel of land “One Hundred and Thirty four (134) feet, on the South East Side of Lot No. (41) Forty One, on State Street, fronting thereon, and running back Two Hundred and Eight (208) feet----------“ … “In trust for and to the use and behoof of the Roman Catholic Congregation, of Sts. Peter and Paul, in the city of Alton, Madison County, State of Illinois and for no other use and purpose whatever.”(actual wording of original contract). The purchase price was $600.
The church building was started in 1855 and was completed in 1857. It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture constructed with local native limestone. A stone quarry was located in the rear of the church property along Belle Street at the foot of the present 9th Street. Reverend Michael Carroll was the pastor and supervised the construction. Architect Thomas Walsh designed the building for a fee of $200 with total costs of $35,000. On May 15, 1859 the Rt. Rev. Peter Richard Kenrick, D.D. Archbishop of St. Louis, solemnly consecrated the church. The original spires were built in 1866 and in 1931 the first clock was installed. The original altar was constructed of wood. In 1902 T.G. Schrader and Sons of St. Louis constructed a more ornate altar of marble, plaster and wood. The original altar was relocated to the lower basement church at St. Mary’s and later destroyed by fire in a barn near the Benjamin Godfrey Chapel while being restored.
The most significant part of the church’s history occurred during the construction of the building. On January 9, 1857 the Diocese Episcopal See was transferred to Alton from Quincy. The diocese comprised the southern half of the state while Chicago comprised the northern half of the state. The Most Reverend Henry Damien Juncker became Alton’s first bishop. The Most Reverend Peter Baltes became the second bishop of Alton in 1870 at the death of Bishop Junker. In 1886 Bishop Baltes died and both are buried in a crypt below the main altar. A third and last Bishop of Alton was appointed, The Most Reverend James Ryan.
The Daughters of Charity were sent by President Abraham Lincoln from Emmittsburg, Maryland to administer to the needs of the Federal Penitentiary housing thousands of Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. In 1857 the sisters established a parish school in the old Mansion House hotel on State Street named The School Of The Immaculate Conception. The school was established to teach girls and lasted only a few years. The Daughters of Charity later established St. Joseph Hospital on East Second Street (now Broadway) in a building known as Hunter’s Tavern.
The Ursuline Sisters of St. Louis, Missouri sent Mother Josephine Bruding and seven companions to Alton on March 19, 1859. They opened an Academy and Boarding School for girls at 506 State Street. On December 18, 1862 they moved the school to their newly erected convent at 219 East Fourth Street where both a “pay” and free school were opened.
On August 29, 1859 Bishop Juncker purchased the property south of the Cathedral and extending to the intersection of Eighth Street from Henry Weaver for the consideration of $3,000 as a site for a residence and school. A school for boys was completed first in 1860. The bishop’s house was completed 3 years later in 1862. Brothers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, took charge of the boy’s school and “gave good service” until they withdrew in 1888. To fill the void Bishop Damian Juncker asked The Ursuline Sisters to take charge of the Catholic Schools of Alton. In September 1888 they converted their school to a ‘free school’ for all boys and girls in the City of Alton who wished to attend.
THE BISHOPS OF THE ALTON DIOCESE
Below the main alter are the tombs of the first two bishops of the Diocese of Alton, Bishop Henry Damien Juncker and Bishop Peter Joseph Baltes. The third and last bishop, Bishop James Ryan, is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
Bishop Juncker was born in 1809 at Feretrange in Lorraine, France. He entered the diocesan seminary in Cincinnati upon his arrival in this country. He was ordained in 1834 and appointed pastor of the first German parish in Cincinnati. He later transferred to Alton and was consecrated as the first bishop of the new diocese in 1857. Realizing the need for priests Bishop Juncker traveled to Europe and returned with seven priests and twelve ecclesiastical students. In 1858 the Franciscan Fathers came to Illinois from Germany eventually establishing a college for boys and a monastery in both Quincy and Teutopolis.
Bishop Juncker died in 1868 after a long illness. At the time of his death the diocese had grown to 123 parishes with 100 priests. There were 2 colleges, 2 hospitals, 6 academies, 56 schools, an orphanage and a catholic population of 85,000.
The second bishop of Alton, Bishop Baltes was born in Enshein, Bavaria in 1827. He had come to America with his parents when he was six years old. The family settled in New York. Bishop Baltes attended college at the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts, and the College of St. Mary of the Lake in Chicago. He was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood by the Diocese of Chicago and completed his theological studies in Montreal. He was ordained in 1853. He was appointed the second Bishop of Alton in 1869. His consecration took place at St. Peter’s Church in Belleville making him the first bishop to be consecrated in Illinois.
Immediately after becoming the leader of the diocese he set out to establish uniformity in the parishes of the diocese, writing a three-part Pastoral Instruction. The chapter on the use of church bells and beeswax candles are characteristic of his organization. He died at the Bishop’s residence in1886. At the time of his death the diocese had 190 parishes, 100 parochial schools and over 11,000 students.
The third and last Bishop of Alton was Bishop James Ryan, born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1848. His family immigrated to this country in 1855 settling in Louisville, Kentucky. He attended St. Thomas Seminary near Bardstown, Kentucky. He was ordained in 1871 after a divinity course at St Joseph’s in Bardstown and at Preston Park in Louisville. After several assignments to different parishes in Illinois he was consecrated as Bishop of Alton in 1888.
Bishop Ryan was to have the longest tenure of any bishop in the history of the diocese, over 35 years. Surprisingly fewer documents survive from his episcopate than from any other. While this gives the impression that he was simply a caretaker bishop the record of institutional and parish growth proves otherwise. The diocese grew from 70,000 to over 87,000, 40 new churches were opened and 6 hospitals were founded. Bishop Ryan is especially remembered for his active role in expanding the Alton orphanage. In 1919 the bishop began raising funds for a new orphanage on a thirteen-acre site the diocese purchased at the 1400 block of State Street. The Catholic Children’s Home was completed in 1923, three months after Bishop Ryan’s death.
At the end of Bishop Baltes’s tenure on January 7, 1887 the Diocese of Alton was divided and the new See of Belleville was established. With this division Alton was now located on the southern edge of the diocese and its days of being the core of the diocese were numbered. After Bishop Ryan’s death in 1923, because it’s central location and being the state capital, the Episcopal See was moved to Springfield. On December 13, 1928 Reverend E.L. Spalding held a meeting of the members of parish where a motion was made by John F. McGinnis to change the name from “St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Cathedral of Alton” to “St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church of Alton”. Also during this meeting The Rev. E.L. Spalding was elected Chairman of the Board and M.G. Ryan was elected Secretary. During its life as the Diocese Cathedral our country experienced the Civil War, Spanish-American War, the St. Louis World’s Fair, paved roads, and revolutionary inventions: electricity, the telephone, the automobile and man’s venture into the air.
THE SCHOOL, ETC
In June 1870 five lots were purchased on the Southwest corner of State and Prospect Street for the construction of a school, which was never erected. On April 9, 1883 the lots were transferred to the Roman Catholic Orphanage at Alton, Illinois. A house located on the five lots became the Roman Catholic Orphanage and expanded many times. The Sisters of the Precious Blood cared for the children. Eventually a new orphanage was constructed further up State Street at Jefferson in 1923. The Ursuline Convent took over the orphanage building and named it Loretta Towers for sisters teaching at SS. Peter and Paul School. The Ursuline’s also built a new convent on Danforth Street when their home was razed to make way for the new Marquette High School, which opened in 1927. Two of the lots remain empty and are currently owned by the parish. Today the former orphanage/convent is the site of the Loretta Towers Condominiums.
An agreement was signed on October 10, 1902 to lease the 4th floor of the Spalding Building to the Knights of Columbus for use as a meeting hall. The building was located on the Northwest corner of 4th Street and Belle Street.
A cornerstone was laid on October 3, 1908 for the construction of a new school north of the church. The building was completed in February 1909 and dedicated May 26, 1909. Murch Bros. Construction of St. Louis and Memphis submitted a bid for $33,884; the final bill was $32,938.25. The school offered classes from 1st to 12th grades.
There are three bells in the tower of the Old Cathedral. The first and largest was purchased by parishioners through subscription and was solemnly blessed by Bishop Juncker on January 12, 1862. The second bell was donated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph by Peter and Harriet Wise and was consecrated by Bishop Baltes on September 11, 1870. The third bell was donated by Thomas and Elizabeth Biggins and consecrated December 2, 1871 by Bishop Baltes.
In 1915 to make the church more fireproof the entire floor surface of the sanctuary, aisles and vestibules were raised 3 inches with a covering of concrete overlaid with 1-½ inch hexagonal white tiles. The steps and risers of the altar, throne and communion rails were changed from wood to marble. The floor surface under the pews was also raised and covered in hard maple flooring. A firm of Italian artists from Louisville, Kentucky frescoed the walls and ceilings. Total cost of the renovation was $4000.
The Sisters of the Precious Blood opened a home for young women in the former orphanage building on Prospect Street in 1925. Subsequently the facility was taken over by the Ursuline Sisters teaching at SS Peter and Paul School.
In 1930 a new Parish Hall was constructed at a cost of $40,000. This was made possible by bequest of Anthony Benoist of $37,000 at his death in 1929. The new auditorium seated 600 people and contained a heating plant for all buildings in the parish complex.
A new clock tower was installed in the fall 1931 in the belfry of the church. The cost of the four-dial clock was $2,024. Openings for clocks were made when the spire was built in 1886 but were boarded up until this time.
On June 16, 1941 a service was held for the centennial of SS Peter and Paul parish. Bishop James A. Griffin of Springfield celebrated pontifical solemn mass. In attendance were Bishop Henry Althoff of Belleville, Bishop J. H. Schlarman of Peoria, Lieutenant Governor Hugh Cross and his wife and Secretary of State Hughes and his family. “A procession headed by Boy Scouts carrying the American and Papal flags and the crucifer. Then followed alter boys and priests, in black cassocks and white surplices, followed by the monsignori in purple cassocks and caps of their rank, then the bishops, each accompanied by twp priests.” (Alton Evening Telegraph)
On July 21, 1949 at 3:00 a.m. a terrific lightning bolt struck the steeple shattering the organ. A valiant effort by Captain James Lewis and the Alton Fire Department saved the church from complete destruction. A fire resulted in with over $75,000 damage. On September 25, 1950 mass was celebrated in honor of reconstruction of the church. The Bishop’s tombs were also remodeled and redecorated.
Our physical buildings have been through many planned transformations. In May of 1965 the former Bishop’s residence was razed due to prohibitive insurance costs for insuring the structure. The 52-room residence was built in 1862 for the first Bishop of Alton, Bishop Henry Juncker. An auction was held for mementoes and $3000 was raised from parishioners. A new rectory was completed and occupied on May 15, 1966. Parking facilities were also expanded.
One of the most dramatic changes came in 1983 when the interior of the church was transformed. The main alter and many of the statues were removed. The confessionals were replaced with an expanded area. Accent lighting was added along with a new color scheme.
Our parish celebrated with the entire St. Louis area when Pope John Paul visited. More than 90,000 jammed the Trans World Dome to celebrate mass while the pope spoke of “new evangelization” that places special emphasis on families.
In 2003 the interior of the church was again transformed. Colors were brightened and lighting improved. The Stations of the Cross were redone, many accents were added and the sanctuary was restored to its former glory.