The History of St. John Nepomucene
Railroads brought change to the Midwest in the late nineteenth century. Such was the case when the St. Louis and Southeastern Railway began to plan its line across southern Illinois. Most of the citizens of Lovilla, a small community located on the old stage line moved several miles north and west to the square mile section where the depot would be located. There they could take advantage of the new artery of commerce in their region.
The citizens originally called their little piece of heaven Cottonwood. When the Louisville & Nashville Railway bought out the St. Louis and Southeastern it was decided to rename the growing village Dahlgren in honor of one of the company’s Vice Presidents, John Dahlgren. Dahlgren, whose wife was a Catholic, was an Admiral in the Union Navy during the Civil War.
Charles Aydt and his four brothers, Thomas, Joseph, Solomon and Alphonse moved from Piopolis and were joined by other pioneers, trading farm produce for staples and hardware goods. A hotel was built near the railway station to accommodate the many salespeople who peddled their wares all over this part of Southern Illinois.
St. John Nepomucene as we know it today was part of the St. John the Baptist Parish in Piopolis until 1893 when its first church building was erected on West Main Street in Dahlgren under the direction of Rev. Johann Nepomuk Enzelberger. It may be that the Church chose its patron in honor of their priest. Father Henry Keuth, who had resided with Father Enzelberger for two years to attend to the needs of the parishes of McLeansboro and Dahlgren, became the first resident pastor by living in Dahlgren in a one story frame house built there in 1896. The first rectory was destroyed by fire on January 17th, 1936. In 1942 a new rectory was built by the parishioners under the direction of Fr. Joseph Frey.
A two acre cemetery plot which is located a quarter of a mile west of the Parish Church was purchased in 1900. Previous to that time the deceased were buried in Piopolis.
In the year 1903, the Pastor, Rev. Henry Muenster, built the thirty five by fifty foot two story brick structure which provided four classrooms on the main floor and living quarters for the Nuns in the upper story. The bricks for the building were made in a kiln in Dahlgren and were laid by parishioners who dedicated themselves to the project.
In 1952 Rev. William Brandmeyer made plans for the construction of a parish hall. Again, many interested parishioners sacrificed their time and labor to complete this project. Ground was broken for the present Church on August 24, 1958 by Msgr. Meinrad Dunn. Built with blocks and bricks in a contemporary modified Gothic design, measuring forty two by one hundred and thirteen feet, the church will seat three hundred and eighty. The open tower in the southwest corner houses the bell salvaged from the original church. The interior of the Church is furnished in a random pattern of St. Meinrad’s sandstone. The Altar and Communion rail are of St. Genevieve rose marble and Ozark rouge. The two inch yellow pine decking of the roof is supported by graceful laminated pine arches.
The bulk of the masonry and carpentry work was done by William Rapp and his four sons, Lawrence, Harold, Phillip and William Jr. Other parishioners worked on the project as well, including John Rapp, Robert Rapp and Ed Kreher as well as Linus and Wendell Kiefer who installed the low voltage switching and electrical fixtures.
Near the confessional is found a beautiful shrine in honor of the Saint chosen by the parish family as their patron, St. John Nepomucene, martyr and patron of confessors. This holy man was martyred in 1393 by the King of Prague, Czechoslovakia because he had refused to reveal the contents of the Queen’s sacramental confession. In one hand he holds a cross, the finger of his right hand crossed over his lips, ever a reminder of the secrecy and the unbroken seal of confession.
The spectacular stained glass windows which grace the main body of the church, came to us through the Sisters of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Belleville. Originally installed in their chapel in 1914, the windows were created by Emil Frei and Company of St. Louis. The company’s work adorns such famous structures as the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. These windows were refurbished and squared off with cobalt blue to fit the more modern structure.
With color and artistry these windows tell stories of our faith with many pictures relating to St. Francis of Assissi and St. Clare and the work of the Third Order of St. Francis. How many people have gained strength from these images through the many years?
The parish school was opened in 1903 and maintained until 1931 with the Benedictine Sister from Jonesboro, Arkansas. In 1931 the Adorers o the Most Precious Blood took charge of the school until 1965, when a CCD Center was established. This center then moved to Carmi, then back to McLeansboro.
The Parish Family is proud of the vocations to the Religious Life that sprang from their midst. These include: Rev. Henry Aydt, ordained June 22, 1920, Sr. Colletta Aydt, ASC, Sr. M. Irma Aydt, ASC, Sr. Irma Ewald,ASC, Sr. Mary Rapp, OSB and Mary Louise Degenhart, A.S.C; Sr. Theresa Kiefer, ASC.
The religious traditions of the Parish Family of St. John Nepomucene are expressed in its mission statement that “with a strong pattern of remembering and celebrating its beginnings, while continuing to respond to present and future goals for Eternal Redemption of all its members as well as new converts, may all focus their efforts be to the greater Honor and Glory of Almighty God.”