Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We enjoy highlighting places of worship, one in the country and one in the city, in each issue.
“The heart that is generous and kind most resembles God.”
Country Church: Miller Chapel, Est. 1878
5008 Johnsburg Road, Johnsburg
he village of Johnsburg was settled by German immigrants in 1852, who named it after their leader; it remained almost exclusively German for many years after.
The first Catholic church was established in the area in 1845, with just three original families. By the turn of the century, its church membership was one of the largest of any denomination in the county.
Peter Miller (Muller) and wife Mary Nett Miller must have been part of this founding group; church records indicate that the baptism of Anna Maria, the first of their six children, took place on April 22, 1852. According to the McHenry County Historical Society, following Peter’s death in 1863 at age 40, Mary struggled to work the farm with her oldest children.
Miller family history holds that one day, she knelt in the field and asked the Blessed Mother to help her to raise her family “in the fear and love of God.” In return, Mary promised to build a chapel on the farm.
In 1878, she and son Johann laid the cornerstone and constructed the simple wooden structure that stands today. Generations of proud Millers have preserved the chapel, and during the annual family reunion, descendants hold a traditional German Mass here. It’s also used for weddings and baptisms.
Remaining as it was first built, with no electricity or running water, outfitted with only a few pews, small statues and an altar, Miller Chapel today serves as a symbol of the perseverance and spirit of our early Illinois settlers.
City Church: St. Michael’s Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church, Est. 1908
609 N. Lincoln Ave., Aurora, (630) 897-8115, stmichaelromanianchurch.org
The early members of this congregation immigrated to the U.S. from Transylvania, and despite the church’s name, they were actually made up of Romanians, Germans and ethnic Hungarians.
Since ancient times, Transylvania had been ruled by many different empires and countries, beginning with the Romans in 106 A.D. Even so, the principality had retained special status, maintaining its traditional languages, cultures and religions; one of three main denominations was Greek Catholic, also called the Byzantine Church. It joined the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century but kept its Orthodox rituals.
In the late 1800s, an oppressive Hungarian regime ended Transylvania’s special status, causing a mass exodus among its inhabitants; between 1900 and 1910, 250,000 Transylvanians came to the U.S.
In July 1907, the founders of this church celebrated a special Mass in their native language at Aurora’s St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church. Six months later, they were finalizing plans for the construction of their own church, which is named after the archangel Michael.
The wooden structure dedicated in 1909 was too small by 1915, and it was decided to build a larger church on the same spot. The old church was moved to the north end of the grounds and converted into a school.
The new church was blessed in 1917. The Romanesque Revival building features a distinctive steeple with a bell inscribed by the congregation. Also notable are its stained glass windows and iconostasis – a screen with beautifully painted icons, columns, arches and pediments that separates the chancel space from the congregation. Land for a cemetery was purchased that same year.
Between 1936 and 1957, the church underwent several improvements: a fence and ornate gate at the cemetery, a new tile roof, electrifying the bell and clock. During church renovations in 1986, the old school was demolished.
Today, the 110 active parishioners are led by the Very Rev. Aurel Pater. Mass is held Mon.-Fri. at 7:45 a.m., and Sunday at 10 a.m.