In 1789, the territory that is now the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois was absorbed by the newly formed Diocese of Baltimore. Since then it has passed under the administration of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky (1808), St. Louis, Missouri (1826) and Vincennes, Indiana (1834). In 1843, the entire state of Illinois was formed into a single diocese with the see city in Chicago.
In 1852, American bishops and archbishops met in Baltimore for their First Plenary Council, where they addressed organizational, educational, liturgical and sacramental issues. They also discussed the advisability of creating more dioceses in the United States. They recommended that Illinois be divided and on July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Quincy, which was comprised of what is now the Dioceses of Springfield in Illinois and Belleville.
Pope Pius IX appointed Joseph Melcher, the Vicar General of St. Louis, to be the first bishop of Quincy, but he declined the honor. Almost immediately, a few Catholics in the new diocese agitated to move the see to a more central location. On January 9, 1857, Pope Pius IX moved the see to Alton. Alton, like Quincy, is located on the western edge of the diocese, but it was more central to the Catholic population in the southern half of the Illinois. Henry Damian Juncker, a parish priest from Ohio, was appointed as the first Bishop of Alton and in the spring of 1857 he took possession of the diocese.
Bishop Juncker was born on August 22, 1809 in Fenetrange, Lorraine. He immigrated to the United States as a young man and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. He completed his theological studies in that city and on March 16, 1834 he was ordained by Bishop John B. Purcell. Juncker served at parishes in Cincinnati, Canton, Urbana and Dayton before being appointed as the Bishop of Alton. He was consecrated on April 26, 1857 in Cincinnati by Bishop Percell and shortly afterwards he departed for Alton, where he took up residence at Ss. Peter and Paul Church.
Shortly after his installation, Bishop Juncker set out on a six-month tour of the diocese, which consisted of fifty-eight churches, thirty missions and twenty-eight priests. After his return, he issued his first pastoral letter, which expressed concerns about Catholics who left the Church because there were not enough priests to provide the sacraments. In the fall of 1857, he travelled to Europe in hopes of attracting ordained priests and seminarians who desired to minster in America. Foreign priests filled the ranks of the Alton clergy and by the time of his death in 1868 the number of clergy swelled to eighty.
While in Europe, Bishop Juncker visited the Recollect Franciscans of Paderborn, Germany. He wanted to establish a friary in the diocese, because the community could provide both pastors and educators. He convinced Fr. Gregory Janknecht, the minster provincial, to send nine friars, including two theologians, to Teutopolis. The Franciscans quickly became indispensible as they provided pastoral care to forty-eight missions in nineteen counties. In 1859, the Franciscans opened St. Francis Solanus College in Quincy and three years later they established St. Joseph’s Seminary in Teutopolis.
Bishop Juncker was also responsible for bringing several communities of women religious to the diocese, seven of whom specialized in education and three in nursing. The sisters helped created the institutional infrastructure of the diocese by establishing numerous schools and hospitals.
Bishop Juncker died on October 2, 1868. In the eleven years of his episcopacy, he had created a firm institutional and spiritual foundation that made it possible for the diocese to flourish under the next bishop.
The second Bishop of Alton, Peter J. Baltes, was born on April 7, 1824 in Ensheim, Germany. When he was six he came with his family to the United States and settled in Oswego, New York. He attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Chicago and the Grand Seminary in Montreal before being ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Chicago on May 21, 1853.
Baltes served at parishes in Waterloo and Belleville before being appointed as the vicar general for the diocese in 1866. That same year he also served as Bishop Juncker’s theologian at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore. When Juncker died in 1868, Baltes became the administrator for the diocese and on September 24, 1869, Pope Pius IX named him the bishop of Alton. He was consecrated at St. Peter’s Church in Belleville on January 23, 1870.
Baltes’ first official act was to bring diocesan policies and practices into conformity with the decrees of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore and the First Vatican Council, especially in regards to parochial schools. He wanted every parish with a sufficient number of children to have a parochial school. Parishioners who refused to support a school were not to receive the sacraments. He also regulated building projects so that parishes would avoid overwhelming debt and he insisted that all new buildings be constructed of brick to prevent destruction by fire.
As administrator and bishop, Baltes actively recruited women religious for the diocese of Alton. Three of the communities – the Springfield Dominicans, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood – founded motherhouses.
Several important institutions were also established during Baltes’ episcopacy, including the Catholic Orphanage in Alton, precursor to the Catholic Children’s Home, and St. Vincent’s Home in Quincy, which served the elderly and infirm.
The diocese experienced a period of significant growth from the time of Bishop Juncker’s installation in 1857 until Bishop Baltes’ death on February 5, 1886. In 1857 there were 58 churches with 30 missions, 28 priests, 3 women religious and no colleges, hospitals or orphanages. By 1886 there were 210 churches with 10 missions, 177 priests, 418 women religious, 2 colleges, 100 parochial schools, 13 hospitals and 3 orphanages. Juncker and Baltes had created an institutional infrastructure of schools, hospitals and orphanages that was secure and poised for continued growth.
During the interim between Baltes’ death and the appointment of the next bishop, Father John Janssen, the vicar general, served as administrator. In 1887 Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Belleville from the southern portion of the Diocese of Alton and Janssen was selected as the new diocese’s first bishop. That same year, Father James Ryan from the Diocese of Peoria was appointed as the third bishop of Alton.
James Ryan was born in County Tipperary, Ireland on June 17, 1848. At the age of seven, he immigrated to the United States with his family and took up residence in Louisville, Kentucky. He attended the minor and major seminaries in Bardstown, Kentucky and completed his theological education at Preston Park Seminary in Louisville. He was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Louisville on December 24, 1871. Ryan served at several country parishes and taught for a time at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown before transferring to the Diocese of Peoria in 1877. He spent the next decade working at various parishes and at Wataga, Danville and Ottawa he supervised the construction of new churches and raised money to cover the debts. He was selected by Pope Leo XIII as the third bishop of Alton and was installed at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Alton on May 1, 1888.
Bishop Ryan had the longest tenure of any bishop of our diocese, serving a little over thirty-five years. Yet, surprisingly, few documents survive from his episcopate than from any other. The lack of documentation tends to give the impression that Ryan was a caretaker bishop who took little initiative, but the record of institutional and parish growth suggests otherwise. The estimated number of Catholics rose from 70,000 at the beginning of his tenure to 87,000 at the time of his death. During his episcopate, forty new churches were opened and six hospitals were founded. Enrollment in Catholic schools increased from 7,000 to 12,911, although the number of parochial schools increased by just eleven.
Bishop Ryan is best known, however, for his active role in expanding the Alton orphanage. In 1919 he began raising money for the construction of a five-story building that could house 500 children. By the time of his death in1923, he had helped raise $300,000 for the orphanage.
Another significant accomplishment of Ryan’s episcopacy was the Diocesan Synod of 1889. The bishop convened the assembly of diocesan and religious clergy to adopt rules and regulations that would bring the diocese into compliance with the decrees of the three Plenary Councils of Baltimore. Among other things, the synod addressed issues of church and school building projects, finances, and the behavior of priests.
Ryan’s tenure as bishop coincided with the biggest wave of immigration in American history. Between 1880 and 1920 millions of immigrants, predominantly from southern and eastern Europe, came to the United States. Thousands of these immigrants settled in central Illinois and Ryan had to contend with providing religious services to more than a dozen ethnic groups. He recognized the desirability of offering preaching and confession in the native tongue of the faithful and tried to supply priests who spoke the various languages. He was, in fact, the first bishop of the diocese to monitor systematically the languages within his jurisdiction by including a language category in the annual parish reports.
Bishop Ryan died on July 2, 1923. He had steered the diocese through a period of growth and change, but it would be the next bishop, James A. Griffin, who awoke the social conscience of the diocese and ushered it into the twentieth century.
James A. Griffin was born on February 27, 1883 in Chicago. He studied at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis and the North American College in Rome before his ordination on July 4, 1909 in Rome. After returning to Chicago, he served for seven years as an assistant pastor in urban parishes. In 1917 he moved to Coal City to become the pastor of Assumption of Mary Church. His fluency in Italian helped smooth the way with the numerous Italian immigrants, but he also managed to work successfully with the eighteen other ethnic groups to begin a parochial school. He occasionally served as a mediator between coal miners and operators, experience that proved invaluable when he dealt with the mining crisis of the 1930s.
On October 26, 1923 Pope Pius XI announced the transfer of the see from Alton to Springfield and a few days later, on November 10, he named Griffin as the first bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Griffin was consecrated at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, on February 25, 1924.
Bishop Griffin’s first task was to move the chancery from Alton to Springfield and to establish a new cathedral. St. Mary’s Church in downtown Springfield became the pro-cathedral, but the building, which was built in 1859, was showing its age. In 1927, Griffin launched the Cathedral Campaign to raise money for the new building and within a month the campaign had reached its goal of $750,000 and shortly thereafter, it topped the million-dollar mark. Griffin had timed the construction of the cathedral so that it would be completed in time for the celebration of the diocese’s Diamond Jubilee. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated on October 14, 1928 as the highlight of the four-day jubilee festivities.
On a day-to-day basis, Griffin administered the diocese much as a businessman would run a company. Monsignor Michael A. Tarrent, former secretary to Bishop Ryan, worked with Bishop Griffin to centralize the administration of the diocese by creating a number of new offices. A director of parochial schools, for example, coordinated textbook selection and organized teachers’ institutes. A comptroller assumed responsibility for fiscal affairs.
The creation of Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities) in 1925 exemplified the new management style. The priest director, trained in social work, coordinated the effort of Catholic institutions and lay organizations. For example, during the Depression, Catholic Social Services, in cooperation with St. John’s Hospital, began a program to feed the hungry. St. John’s Breadline for some time operated directly from the kitchen of the hospital, but eventually became a freestanding operation. The office also helped families and individuals apply for relief and take advantage of many New Deal programs. The centralizing trend was consistent with the progressive philosophy that well managed programs could improve social conditions.
Griffin was a strong proponent of Catholic Action, which consisted of lay organizations that were devoted to promoting the mission of the Church. One example of a Catholic Action group is the Catholic Youth Organization, which employed a variety of social, religious, cultural and athletic programs to enhance the development of Catholic youths. Griffin appointed priest moderators to oversee Catholic Action organizations, such as the Holy Name Society, Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the Legion of Mary and the Legion of Decency.
Out in the countryside Father Charles Nell, working in the Effingham deanery, began an innovative and successful program to reinvigorate the diocese’s rural parishes. With the help of Edith Feldhake, a parishioner of St. Anthony’s, he set up the Co-op Parish Activities Services, a non-profit organization that served rural churches and schools throughout Illinois. Participating parishes paid a subscription fee that entitled them to information, catechetical aids, film strips, charts and other supplies for parish and school.
Nell, Feldhake and the Co-op were part of a larger movement, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. The organization was established in 1923 with an aim at improving the lives of rural Catholics. In this regard, Fr. Nell addressed the social needs of rural communities by organizing picnics, baseball games and other activities. He also consulted the Effingham county farm agent to work out a plan for crop rotation and he organized study clubs so farmers could learn more about the benefits of modern farming techniques. Illness forced Nell to discontinue the Co-op in 1956, but the organization did a lot to improve the life of rural Catholics and it is truly one of our diocese’s contributions to the American church.
The death of Bishop Griffin on August 5, 1948 marked a turning point in our diocese. He ushered us into the modern era, but he could not have imagined that his successor, Bishop William A. O’Connor, would participate in the sweeping changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
William A. O’Connor was born in Chicago on December 27, 1903. He attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary and from there proceeded to St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. After his ordination on September 24, 1927, he was sent to Rome for additional studies at the College of the Propaganda Fide. He returned to Chicago in 1930 and for the next five years he taught Latin at Quigley Preparatory Seminary. In 1935 he was sent to study at the New York School of Social Work and a year later he was appointed as the superintendent of the St. Mary’s Training School in Des Plaines. Two years later he was appointed as the director of the Archdiocesan Catholic Charities. On December 28, 1948 Pope Pius XII appointed him to be the next bishop of Springfield in Illinois. He was consecrated at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago on March 7, 1949 and was installed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the next day.
One of O’Connor’s first priorities was the education of diocesan priests. The diocese had never produced enough homegrown vocations to meet the pastoral needs of the diocese and O’Connor believed the problem was lack of fluency in Latin, which was not offered in most schools. To rectify this problem, he opened the Latin School, located on a farm in New Berlin, in September 1949. In 1956, O’Connor dedicated a new facility for the Latin School, which was located on Lake Springfield. In 1961, the school was renamed the Diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception to reflect the change in status to a minor seminary. Unfortunately, declining numbers and changed attitudes towards priestly formation led, in 1986, to the closure of the Diocesan Seminary.
In 1950 Bishop O’Connor introduced the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in the diocese to provide religious instruction to children who did not attend Catholic elementary schools. In 1953 the first Rural Confraternity Center was opened in Arcola to meet the needs of children living in underserved rural areas. Eventually three other centers opened in Carlinville (1955), Hillsboro (1957) and Beardstown (1959). Students did not come to the centers, instead the catechists – all Springfield Dominicans – traveled to the pupils. In this manner hundreds of children received religious instruction that otherwise would have been difficult to obtain.
Pope John XXIII took the world by surprise when in 1959 he announced that he would convene an ecumenical council, the purpose of which was to reassess the relationship of the Church to the modern world. Bishop O’Connor was able to attend all four sessions of the Council. He arrived in Rome on October 3, 1962 and served as one of the five co-presidents of the American Bishops Council. In this capacity he helped to coordinate and promote the study of subjects pertinent to the council.
After Vatican II, O’Connor began to execute the mandates of the council. The bishop expected compliance with duly authorized changes even though he personally lacked enthusiasm for some of them. He established the Office for Worship and the Office for Catholic Education in 1969. They were the first of many curial agencies that opened to assist parishes and other Catholic institutions to implement the changes resulting from the council.
In 1975, Bishop O’Connor retired, due in part, to ill health. Ironically, he outlived his successor, Joseph A. McNicholas who died in April 1983. O’Connor died just seven months later, on November 14, 1983.
Joseph A. McNicholas was born in St. Louis on January 13, 1923. He attended Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis and was ordained on June 7, 1949. During his first assignment at the New Cathedral he began working towards a Masters degree in social work at St. Louis University. Before completing the degree, he began a fourteen-year term as secretary of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He also served as the chaplain for St. Joseph’s Home for Boys and served on a number of state and local welfare organizations. In 1969, he was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis and in 1975 Pope Paul VI selected him to replace O’Connor as the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. He was installed on September 3, 1975.
While working in St. Louis, McNicholas had established a reputation as a staunch civil rights advocate. One of his first acts as bishop of Springfield was to help organize the Martin Luther King Day breakfast, which was the first time our diocese participated in an event that specifically honored an African-American.
McNicholas also took an active interest in school desegregation cases throughout the diocese. Desegregation battles erupted in Alton, Decatur and Springfield, each of which had a sizable African-American community. Many white families moved out of the city to all-white suburbs and others, wishing to avoid integration, turned to private schools, including Catholic institutions. Bishop McNicholas, felt strongly that Catholic schools should not become havens for those avoiding desegregation. To prevent this, he issued a Notice of Nondiscriminatory Policy, which stated that Catholic schools in the diocese must admit students of “any race, color, national or ethnic origin.” He also cautioned Catholic schools against accepting transfers – Catholic or otherwise – from public schools.
In 1976 Bishop McNicholas implemented a diocesan-wide pro-life program in response the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision, which legalized abortion. Each pastor was required to appoint one woman and one man to be the pro-life coordinator of the parish. Their task was to rally support for political solutions as well as taking steps to raise awareness about the evils of abortion. In parishes, the pro-life coordinators raised awareness, mobilized support for pro-life legislation, held baby showers to aid pregnancy centers and engaged in numerous other activities.
One of McNicholas’ best remembered initiatives was the “Come Home for Christmas Campaign.” He created the program, which was launched just before Advent in 1977, to reconcile Catholics who had fallen-away from the faith with the Church. The campaign called for a two-pronged approach of prayer and personal contact. Active Catholics were asked to pray for the reunification of their non-practicing sisters and brothers. He also encouraged Catholics to send in the names and address of the inactive so he could reach out to them with a personal invitation to return to the Church. The first year alone he sent out of 1,500 letters.
Unfortunately the Come Home for Christmas Campaign and McNicholas’ other endeavors were cut short by his unexpected death, which occurred on April 17, 1983.
Daniel L. Ryan was born September 28, 1930 in Mankato, Minnesota. He attended the Passionist Preparatory High School in St. Louis and entered the novitiate after graduation. He discovered that life as a religious was not for him and was accepted as a priest candidate for the Diocese of Joliet. He completed his education at St. Procopius College in Lisle, Illinois in 1952. He was ordained in 1956 at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus. He served at various parishes and held a number of positions in the chancery, including notary, assistant chancellor, chancellor and vicar general. In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Ryan as an auxiliary bishop for Joliet. He was ordained on September 30, 1981 and on January 18, 1984 he was installed as the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.
Parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Ste. Marie had learned that their pastor was going to be transferred. With no priest to replace him, the parish pastoral council came up with an innovative plan use a lay leader to run the parish. Bishop Ryan accepted their proposal and on August 1, 1986 Sister Phyllis Schenk, a Dominican sister, assumed duties as the pastoral leader (later titled parish life coordinator). The parish no longer had a resident priest, but continued to operate as an independent parish. Sr. Phyllis administered the day-to-day operations of St. Mary’s and provided a number of pastoral services, while priests from other parishes celebrated weekend Masses and other sacramental functions. The program was successful and the diocese continues to use parish life coordinators in several parishes.
In 1986, Ryan opened the Office for Campus Ministry, which recognized the importance of adult faith formation in a college setting. The diocese operates two such ministries, one at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois University, Charleston. Three years later, in 1989, the diocese implemented the Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA program prepares adult and children of catechetical age for the sacraments of Christian Initiation into the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1991, Ryan announced the opening of the Office for Lay Ministry. The creation of the office and the Lay Ministry Formation Program it administered, were the culmination of several years of planning by lay, religious and ordained leaders. Ever since Vatican II it had become apparent that many adult Catholics desired further faith formation. Increasingly, tasks once performed by clergy and religious were now carried out by lay women and men. The Lay Ministry Formation Program allowed Catholics to become more active participants in their church by specializing in pastoral care, family life, liturgical ministry, tribunal advocacy Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) or social concerns. The program is still successfully operating today.
On November 28, 1993 the revised Code of Canon law went into effect. Ryan led the implementation of the revised code’s provisions. He appointed a diocesan finance officer, a diocesan finance council and parish priest consultors and issued statues for the establishment of the presbyteral council. He centralized and restructured the diocesan curia and greatly expanded the pastoral ministry of the diocesan tribunal. He also directed that workshops on the revised code be offered throughout the diocese to familiarize the faithful with its provisions.
On October 19, 1999 the Vatican announced both the retirement of Ryan and the appointment of his successor, George J. Lucas.
Bishop George J. Lucas was born on June 12, 1949 in St. Louis. He attended Cardinal Glennon College and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis before his ordination on May 24, 1975. He served as an associate pastor for several parishes, before joining the faculty at St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, North. He taught history and religion and worked as vice-principal and dean. Lucas was appointed as chancellor for the Archdiocese in 1990 and after a short stint as vicar general from 1994-1995, he assumed duties as rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. In 1999, Lucas was named as Bishop Ryan’s successor and on December 14, 1999 he became the first Bishop of Springfield in Illinois to be ordained a bishop in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
In January 2002, Bishop Lucas launched an endowment/capital campaign called Harvest of Thanks, Springtime of Hope, the first campaign of its kind in the history of the diocese. The program raised over $22.1 million which was used to establishment endowments to promote Catholic education through tuition assistance and continuing education for Catholic school educators. The endowment was also used to support the work of Catholic Charities, to assist in the formation of seminarians and deacon candidates and for the care of retired priests of the diocese.
In 2001, Lucas announced the establishment of a diaconate formation program for the diocese. Men prepared for the diaconate by going through a five-year formation program through the diocesan Office for the Diaconate, in cooperation with Quincy University in Quincy. On June 24, 2007, Lucas ordained the first class of eighteen men to the Order of Deacons. Since 2007 permanent deacons have been serving at parishes throughout the diocese by assisting at liturgies, where they proclaim the Gospel and preach at some Masses. They are also baptizing, witnessing marriages and presiding at wakes and graveside services.
Jubilee 2003, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, officially began on December 9, 2002. The highlight of the year-long Jubilee was the day-long celebration at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. On Saturday, June 28 an estimated 20,000 Catholics from all over the diocese enjoyed the day’s activities, which included exhibits, rides on a living rosary, Eucharistic adoration, food, concerts and fireworks. The highlight of the day was a Mass attended by 15,000 people. Lucas welcomed seventeen bishops from all over the country to celebrate with him. Participants in a procession carried banners representing each of the parishes up close to the altar, which was situated on a stage in front of the grandstand. The Jubilee closed with a Mass celebrated on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Lucas also spearheaded the Built in Faith campaign to raise the $11 million dollars needed to restore the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. For 80 years the Cathedral served as the mother church of the diocese, but it was beginning to show its age. Lucas was promoted to the Archbishop of Omaha before the renovation was completed, but he was able to return for the Cathedral dedication, December 2, 2009.
On June 3, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Lucas as the new Archbishop of Omaha, making him the first bishop of Springfield in Illinois to be promoted to an archbishop. He was installed on July 22, 2009.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki was born on August 5, 1952 in Chicago. He attended Niles College of Loyola University in Chicago and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein before his ordination on May 10, 1978 in the Achdiocese of Chicago. After ordination, he studied law at DePaul University College of Law and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1981. Working as a parish priest at St. Michael Church in South Chicago, Fr. Paprocki co-founded the South Chicago Legal Clinic to help answer the need for legal services for the poor. He still serves in a volunteer capacity as President of the organization, which is now known as the Chicago Legal Clinic. In November, 1985, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin appointed Fr. Paprocki Vice-Chancellor to assist in the administration of the Archdiocese of Chicago. To further prepare for these responsibilities, in 1987 the Cardinal sent Fr. Paprocki to do post-graduate studies in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He completed his doctoral degree in 1991. Father Paprocki then returned to his previous position in Chicago as Vice-Chancellor and was appointed Chancellor in March, 1992. Francis Cardinal George retained Father Paprocki in his position as Chancellor when Cardinal George became the Archbishop of Chicago in 1997, following Cardinal Bernardin's death in 1996. Pope John Paul II appointed him to serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago on January 24, 2003. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Parocki as Bishop Lucas' successor on April 20, 2010 and on June 22, 2010, Bishop Paprocki was installed the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.