The History of St. Clements Catholic Church
McLeansboro, Illinois
Veronica Voss

The first Catholic services in the McLeansboro area were in 1846 in the home of James and Mahalia McGilley.  Mr. McGilley immigrated from Ireland and located west of McLeansboro in 1840.  The McGilley’s home was a large log house located near where the city reservoir now stands.

Father Elisha Durbin was the first priest to say Mass in this part of Illinois.  He was born in 1800, ordained to the priesthood in 1822.  He administered to small groups, and journeyed as far north as Taylorville, St. Elmo, and Olney, from his home mission at St. Vincent, Kentucky.  He rode horseback, holding services not only in McLeansboro, but Carmi, Belle Prairie, Piopolis, and Enfield.  To many he was known as affectionately as “Daddy Durbin,” but also called “The Apostle of West Kuntucky,” and “Patriarchal Priest of Kentucky.”   His missionary career of over 60 years is hardly paralleled in the United States.  He rode a total of 500,000 miles on horseback.  He would stop at farmer’s homes and hear confessions all morning.  Often his only food was cornbread, salt pork, and water.

Father Durbin passed away in March, 1887, and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

During the interim, the parish of Piopolis became a reality; and in 1864 the Rev. Edward Herman came there, but did not remain long.  He was followed by the Rev. J. Blase Winterhalter-he too riding horseback, ministering to Catholics within a radius of 30 miles, which included McLeansboro.  He left Piopolis in 1870.

In 1871 Father John B. Neuhaus came, celebrating Mass at a number of small parishes, riding horseback on his faithful horse named “Brownie.”  He journeyed to Mt. Vernon, Carmi, Fairfield, Flora, and at times served at St. Patrick’s at Enfield.

In 1876 Father John N. Enzelberger came to Piopolis, and it is presumed he still served McLeansboro.

In 1880 the Bishop commissioned a church to be built at Mt. Vernon, Illinois with McLeansboro to be its mission, at which time McLeansboro was separated from the services of Piopolis priests.  In 1880 the Rev. L. Hanseen came to Mt. Vernon, followed in 1881 by Rev. Henry Becker.  He came to McLeansboro saying Mass in the Lawrence Paul home every fourth Sunday.  He came by way of the L&N Railway on Saturday, returning to Mt. Vernon on Sunday.

In November of 1880 the ground where the St. Clements’ parish church was to be built was purchased from Richard W. Townshend and wife.

The first recorded baptism at St. Clement’s was January 7, 1881, administered to Mary Scarbroug Pentecost.  Mary Pentecost was later married to James McGilley’s son, James Jr.

In doing the history of Father Elisha Durbin, it was learned that one of the present members of St. Clements parish is a direct descendant of the family of Father Durbin, namely Carl Rexing.

Father Henry Hagen replaced Father Becker in 1882, and at this time the decision was made to build a church.  The Hyatt Lumber Company was contracted to build a church with members donating labor.  At first it consisted of the main body, with the choir loft at the rear of the building.  The original building cost was $2,914, completed in 1884 with a seating capacity of 100.  The sacristy was added in 1888 at a cost of $865.

The church was dedicated by the Right Rev. Bishop P. T. Baltes, D.D., of Alton on October 2, 1884.  He then went to Piopolis to dedicate their church on the same day.

Each month when services were held in the church, the Lawrence Paul family loaded the organ in a wagon and brought it to the church for use during services.  The confessional was located behind the altar.  The pastor and altar boys changed vestments there also.

The altar itself, was a small wooden one, painted white.  The first stove was a big box type with the opening at one end, and it burned wood.  Later a big pot-bellied grocery store-type stove was installed.  It too burned wood.

The stained glass windows in the Sanctuary and the first organ were donated by Dr. and Mrs. A.S. DeFoe.  Felix Campbell gave the bell.  The church was covered with plain white weather boarding, and a white picket fence surrounded the front yard.

On the first windows, donors names were placed at the bottom of each window were…Campbell, Poss, Graf, Mitchell, McGilley Brothers, and Paul.

As time went by, the altar of white wood was replaced with one of ornate design, with statues occupying prominent places in the altar.

Some of the first families mentioned as members of St. Clement’s in its early days were:  Lawrence and John Paul; Wolfgang Poss; Anton Graf; John Hagarty; Morris Campbell; Felix Campbell; George Greasely; Thomas Friel; Ruben Dale; James, Charles, Thomas, Henry, Edward, and Mahalia McGilley; Charles McLafferty; James Grace; Herman Vorderbrueggen; John Mercer; Martin Kohl; and Frank and Lawrence Unfried.

Later came Mary A. Devoy and family, John Dale and family, Henry Vorderbrueggen and family, John and Kate Aydt, the James Hassett family, and the Caleb Smith family.  The Aydts were always known as “Aunt Kate and Uncle John,” and Anna Devoy as “Miss Anna,” custodian of the old church for many years.


On November 23, 1934, St. Clement’s held a celebration of its golden anniversary.  The church was established and constructed in 1884 when Rev. Father Hagan was pastor.

The anniversary ceremonies started at 9 a.m. with the celebration of the Mass with Rev. Henry Keuth of Centerville Station as celebrant.  Rev. Joseph Voll of Mt. Carmel served as Deacon, Rev. Theodore Eckermann of Piopolis as SubDeacon, and Rev. Charles Eschmand of Waterloo, who succeeded Rev. Hagan as pastor, delivered the sermon.  Other visiting priests who participated in the Mass were:  Rev. W. Hanagan of Eldorado, Rev. F. Hodatt of Flora, Rev. E. Mitch of Mt. Vernon, Rev. C. W. Collins of Enfield, Rev. Bernard Monohan of Carmi, and Rev. R. Harbaugh of Shawneetown.

At the noon hour a banquet was served in the dining room of the Christian Church to the visiting priests, a number of the members of the church and several invited guests.  Following the banquet, Father Collins, acting as toastmaster, introduced the speakers.  Interesting talks were made by Father Eschman, Judge David J. Underwood, County Supt. M. L. Hunt, and Father Loepker, pastor of St. Clements at the time of the golden anniversary.

Father Eschman spoke of the founding of the church and of the early days of McLeansboro as he recalled them.  He stated that he resided at the home of the late Dr. DeFoe, one of McLeansboro’s pioneer physicians.


When Father Brandmeyer was pastor, the congregation was growing, and a decision was made to start a drive to raise money to build a new church.  The old church was moved to a new location on the northwest corner of the church grounds.  The steeple removed, and the bell mounted at the side of the church.  It was covered with imitation brick siding.  A basement under the back part of the church was excavated, and a furnace installed for heating.  Some repair work was done on the interior at this time.  A console Hammond electric organ had been donated by a member of the parish, replacing the little Estey pump organ used for so many years.

During the years between 1944 and 1962, plans were made to build a new, larger church; but it was not until Father Timothy Foley followed Father Brandmeyer, that work really began to dismantle the old church and build the new one.  The work started in 1962.

In 1962 the architect gave the plans to Father Foley and the two trustees, Joe Swartz and Wes Miller.  Phillip, William Jr., Harold, and Lawrence Rapp of Dahlgren, Illinois, got the contract to build the church.  All members with trucks, tractors, and other equipment donated their services for the initial work on the grounds which needed to be filled in before the actual work could begin.  Alvin Mayberry did the plumbing.  Donations were pledged for the pews, stations, confessional, and altar railing.

This new church was completed during the time Father Foley was pastor, and the dedicatory Mass was celebrated on June 24, 1964.


The parochial school at Dahlgren was opened in 1903 and maintained until 1931 with the exception of one year when the Benedictine Sisters from Jonesboro, Arkansas were in charge of lay teachers.  In 1931 at the request of Father Bernard Loepker, pastor, the sisters of the Adorers of the Most Precious Blood took charge of the school.  Ever since the organization of the parish of Dahlgren, McLeansboro had been attended from there as a mission.  These same teachers gave religious instructions in McLeansboro which did not have a Catholic School.  They taught during the school year on Saturdays.

These Sisters were Antonilla, Mary Helen, Mary Maxine, and Mary Vita.  In September, 1933, Mother Provincial Mary Stella, made arrangements with Father Loepker to provide for the sisters to give instructions in McLeansboro.  October 7 was their first missionary trip, opening with an enrollment of 15 pupils, grades one to senior in high school.  Vacation school opened June 4, 1935.

On September 28, 1962, they were informed by Father Foley that they would teach catechism each Saturday morning in McLeansboro.  Sister Lucia went to Ruma to make room for those to teach classes here.  In June, 1963, vacation school was organized with 78 children enrolled.  The teachers were Sisters Alena, Celine, and Mary Constance.

In May 1964, the school was closed, as was Piopolis.  In 1964 Sisters Pancratia, Lucia, and Theolinda came to Dahlgren.  In 1965 Our Lady of the Assumption CCD Center at Dahlgren was started.  From 1965 through 1971, the following Sisters worked in Dahlgren and McLeansboro:  Sister Pancratia, M. Gilbert, Michelle, Ceciliana, Callista, Marlyn, Dolores Anselment, M. Flora, and N. Catherine Clark.

In 1971 the Sisters no longer lived at Dahlgren, but commuted from the CCD Center in Carmi, Illinois.  From 1972 through 1977, Sister Dolores Anselment resided in McLeansboro.  In 1977-78 Sisters Carolyn Schilling and Mary Louise Loos came.  In 1979 they were joined by Sister Cheryl Pautler and as of 1981 are residing in McLeansboro, branching out to work with the other parishes.


January 6, 1886.  Real estate purchased for use as St. Clements Cemetery.

From St. Clement’s Parish, those who died for their country:
March 3, 1918–Benjamin M. Kohl, Army.  Place unspecified.  W.W. I.
September 19, 1944–Charles C. Cooney, Army.  Aachen, Germany. W.W. II.
June 21, 1945–Carl Frey.  Pacific area of combat.
April 26, 1967–Allen Lasater, Air Force.  At sea.  Vietnam Conflict.

1930. . .Funds of St. Clements parish to the extent of more than $700 were involved in the closing of the First National Bank of McLeansboro on August 1.  Some of this amount has been recovered in dividends paid by the bank since that time.

The privilege of Holy Mass every Sunday throughout the year has been enjoyed by the parishioners of St. Clements since 1931.  In July of that year a new hard road connecting McLeansboro with Dahlgren was opened, thus overcoming a great difficulty formerly encountered by the pastors of Dahlgren, especially during the winter months.

1936. . .Fire of undetermined origin completely destroyed the rectory of St. John’s Parish, Dahlgren, together with all its contents on January 17 at 1 p.m.  Many of St. Clements’ records also were lost in this fire.

In celebrating 50 years as a diocese, 1888 to 1938, these names are familiar (connected with the Diocese of Belleville).

On the Jubilee Committee, Very Rev. J. R. Voll and Very Rev. R. E. Jantzen.  Other familiar names, Rev. Wm. H. Brandmeyer, Rev. James Burke, and Rev. Theodore Eckerman.  Msgr. Leonard Bauer, Vicar General of the Diocese of Belleville, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new St. Clement’s Church on April 26, 1964.

In April, 1974 in special ceremonies, the mortgage against the new church was burned as the debt for the construction was paid in full.  When the church was dedicated, Father Joseph Trapp was in attendance as subdeacon of the Mass, while holding the post of assistant pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville, never dreaming he would eventually be pastor of St. Clements.  Also present for the burning of the mortgage were former pastors, Rev. Timothy Foley and Rev. Meinard Dunn.

The first young man to become a priest from this parish, George Mauck, was ordained on
May 28, 1977.  He said his first Mass in his home parish on May 29, 1977.

The priests serving St. Clements begin with Father H. Becker in 1881 to FatherHenry Hagen replacing Father Becker in 1882 and staying on until 1889; Father Charles Eschman, 1889-1891; Father Thomas Day, 1891-1893.  At this time St. Clements became a station of Dahlgren, and Father Henry Keuth pastored both parishes from 1893-1901.  Other priests serving St. Clements were Father Henry Muenster, 1901-1915; Rev. Joseph Voll, 1915-1923; Rt. Rev. Rudolph E. Jantzen, 1923-1926; Rev. John Goeiz, 1926-1931; Father Bernard Loepker, 1931-1941; Father Joseph Frey, 1941-1944; Rev. William Brandmeyer, 1944-1955.

Rev. Meinard Dunn was pastor from 1955 until 1962 followed by Father Timothy Foley, 1962-1969.  Father Joseph Trapp, 1969 and still in 1981 still pastor, having been made resident pastor in July of 1975.  He lived in a mobile home until the new rectory across the street from the church was built in 1977.

To celebrate the centennial year several activities were planned throughout the year, beginning in November, 1980 with the opening of the centennial year with a late afternoon Mass and a dinner in the parish hall.  In January the Baptism of Christ was celebrated, as was the first recorded Baptism in the parish.  In February, the annual Wurstmart was held, and was again a huge success.  During March the Parish Renewal was held.  A breakfast and reading of individual members faith history was held in April.  To honor the dead, a memorial Mass was held at the cemetery in May.  In July the parish cookbooks were issued.  All members were asked to contribute their favorite recipes.  During August a parish homecoming was held, and all the Sisters who had formerly served the parish were invited back.  September was observed with a fish fry.  An open house was held in October.  To close the centennial year a closing Mass and dinner was held in November.

The following is a list of priests which we have had over the past years:
1969-1982   Rev. Joseph Trapp
1982-1993   Rev. Thomas Barrett
1993-1998   Rev. Alan Ruppert
1999-2000   Fr. Roland Jacques OMI
2000-2011   Msgr. Joseph A. Lawler
2011-           Fr. Slawomir Ptak became our Pastor.  In May 2009, Fr. Ptak became our associate pastor at St. Clement Parish.