The history of the Catholic church in Watseka and Crescent City began not long after the Civil War ended.
“We’re just getting started,” said Father Mike Powell with a laugh. “I’ve always considered St. Edmund and St. Joseph as two arms of one Catholic community.”
This year marked the 140th year St. Edmund Parish was formed, and the 145th year for St. Joseph. There was a mass and picnic celebrating the parish in September.
He said there’s always an invitation to the public to take part in the church and its activities. “All are welcome.” He said euchre numbers have never been better.
Activities the church has are done with the help of the Knights of Columbus and the Council of Catholic Women (CCW).
Both churches attendance totals about 250 people each week, with about 40 of them at the Crescent City church, he said. Mass times are 5 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Edmund, and 9 a.m. Sunday at St. Joseph.
Powell said there are concerns, because the population of the area is aging. “The numbers are a challenge.” But those numbers have even decreased since he first came to the church in 2011.
The history the church, presented by Powell, gives begins in 1872 when Father Anthony Mainville from the Viatorians in Bourbonnais arranged for the purchase o f property on the northwest corner of Second and Hickory streets for a church which was completed in 1879. Prior to this mass had been said in the living rooms of several families, including the Ennis, Maloney, Sorran and Courtright.
St. Edmund was made a parish in 1908, and the Rev. TJ Timmons was appointed by Bishop Spaulding as the first priest. During his time a rectory was built and improvements to the church, including a choir loft, were made. Nuns from the Holy Family Academy in Beaverville taught catechism during the summer months. The parish prospered and in 1929 Father Clearly purchased the Locust Street property. The house there was converted into a clubhouse for parish activities and plans for a possible school at a later time were entertained.
On Jan. 13, 1938, a candle fire burned the church down. Mass was conducted in the Braden Opera House (the former JC Penny store). The English Brothers from Champaign were commissioned to build the new church.
Construction began in July of 1938 and the cornerstone was laid Sept. 18 of that year. Bishop Schlarmon said on the day the cornerstone was blessed: “The day of the laying of the cornerstone for new St. Edmund’s Church is a great day for Watseka. The church hails with solemn gladness and impressive ceremony the day on which a cross is erected on the spot where the holy sacrifice of the mass will be offered. The very first act in the laying of the cornerstone ceremony is the blessing of the cross and the spot where the altar will stand. It behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Christmas mass was at the church but the main building wasn’t finished until May 21, 1939.
Powell said that rebuilding was done during the days of the Depression. “Imagine the work and the sacrifice put into doing what they did.”
In 1962 the rectory and breezeway were completed. The next year CCD was formed and the communion and confirmation classes were taught by sisters from Kentland, Ind., along with a lay instructor.
The first remodel was completed in 1966. The crucifix was suspended from the ceiling, communion rail taken down and a mural of The Good Sheppard was painted on the back wall.
In 1986 ground was broken for the parish center. Carillon bells were put in December of 1992 and shortly afterwards the wood cross was erected and the altar supports were encased in wood.
As for St. Joseph Parish, the first mass was said by Father Fanning of Gilman in the home of JD Young in 1869. The church was erected in 1874 at the cost of $800.
In 1908 it first became a mission church of St. Edmund. Through the years it was passed around to other parishes: Martinton, Ashkum, Gilman. With the 1970 Fathers’ Day fire in Crescent City the church was damaged. Masses didn’t resume until March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, 1971.
In 1989 St. Joseph was put back into the hands of St. Edmund.
In May there was a Blessing of the new Mary prayer garden outside St. Edmund.
In the past few years the church has gotten a new roof, air conditioning unit, resealed foundation, tuck pointing and landscaping. In the near future the goal is to do some work on the inside and refinish plaster damage.