Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We highlight places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Church • Est. 1912
340 S. Stott St., Genoa, (815) 784-2355, st-catherine-genoa.org
Genoa’s Catholic church began in 1912 with the support of 52 families. A $1,000 donation from a Chicago benefactor helped to finance the building, which was named in memory of the donor’s mother. Rapid membership growth helped the church to pay off construction within 10 years, about the same time the congregation established a mission church in nearby Kirkland. Economic hardship and population loss forced the mission church to close during the Great Depression.
Genoa’s parish also struggled during the Depression, dwindling to just 60 families, but its membership rebounded to about 125 active families by the 1950s. A decade later, the congregation had outgrown its original building, so the Rev. James Molloy spent several years planning a new development, starting with the purchase of 40 acres next to the original church cemetery on Sycamore Street. Molloy’s plan called for the new church to sit on 15 acres that would be surrounded by 37 residential lots. Sale of the lots would finance construction.
Catholic symbolism is woven into many parts of the circular-shaped sanctuary, which has an altar at its center. Twelve stone pillars, symbolizing the apostles, support the sanctuary. Thin wooden beams cross the ceiling and converge, and ascend heavenward at the center.
Mass occurs Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. During the summer, the second Sunday mass occurs at 9:30 a.m. The Rev. Donald M. Ahles leads traditional services, while the Rev. E. Yovanni Dorado leads Hispanic mass on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church • Est. 1882
1145 N. Fifth Ave., St. Charles, (630) 584-2199, bethlehemluth.org
Bethlehem Lutheran Church began in 1852 with a gathering of Swedish immigrants in St. Charles. Creating a place where they could worship in their own language, the first members found a cottage where they could host visiting Swedish clergymen. In 1853, the group began traveling to the Geneva Lutheran Church, where it would worship for the next 30 years until it established a permanent home as the Swedish Evangelical Bethlehem Lutheran Church of the Augustana Synod. Sermons were exclusively in Swedish until 1919.
During the early 1900s, the congregation quickly grew under the leadership of the Rev. J. Mellander. Membership swelled from 825 people in 1932 to more than 1,100 in 1950. In search of a larger home, the church began construction on a new building in the late 1950s on a 5-acre parcel that the Norris family and Col. Edward Baker donated. The social hall was dedicated to the Rev. J. David Ekstrom in 1965. Holmer House, once used as a parsonage, was named after the Rev. Arthur Holmer at his retirement in 1985.
The church dedicated its expanded sanctuary on May 17, 1992, and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2007.
Today, Bethlehem’s 2,400 members are engaged in many activities, from volunteer programs and social clubs to youth education and outreach. The Rev. Mark Larson, senior pastor, and the Rev. Sarah Rohde, associate pastor, lead worship, with traditional services occuring Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.; a non-traditional praise service occurs Sundays at 9:15 a.m.