From the humble beginnings in 1912 St. Catherine of Genoa Parish has grown and prospered. Prior to 1912, Mass was offered only once a month in the town hall by the pastor of Hampshire, Father C.J. Huth. In February of the year 1912, Father Thomas O’Brien of Sterling was asked by Bishop Muldoon to take a census of the Genoa area to determine the feasibility of establishing a parish. Fifty-two Catholic families were identified and expressed a willingness to pledge their support of a church. One generous benefactor from Chicago gave one thousand dollars in memory of her mother, Catherine, and thus the new church was named St. Catherine. This gift was one-fifth of the total cost of the new church. Within a year a rectory was constructed and land was purchased on Sycamore street, south of the church, for a cemetery. By the year 1921 the parish grew rapidly and was out of debt. A mission church was established in the neighboring town of Kirkland. The same donor who contributed so generously to build the church in Genoa, also gave a substantial donation to build the church in Kirkland, named in memory of her father Peter. This mission church of St. Peter in Kirkland was dedicated by Bishop Muldoon with 24 active families comprising the founding congregation. As the population declined and economic conditions deteriorated, this mission church in Kirkland was closed.
Father Dan O’Connell, Ray Farragher, and William Maguire served during the difficult years of the depression. Many parishioners lost heavily in the bank failures and the poor crop years. Many parishioners lost their farms and moved away. The parish dwindled to less than 60 families. In 1937 Father Warner was appointed to St. Catherine of Genoa. During his more than 20 years in Genoa the economy improved and the area experienced significant growth. By 1957 there were more than 125 active families and plans were underway to enlarge the facilities. Upon the death of Father Warner, Father John Dording came to Genoa and conducted a search for property on the edge of town for the relocation of the parish. The church seating less than 200 persons was not able to accommodate the growing parish. The frame rectory needed extensive repairs. The parish needed a social hall to gather the members as well as space for the religious education program for children, youth, and adults. There was little space available for building these desired facilities at the Emmett Street location. The church cemetery was located on the South edge of town on Sycamore Street. It was logical that the parish be relocated near the cemetery property. Father Dording negotiated for the property adjoining the cemetery. In 1963 Father James Molloy came to Genoa and completed arrangements to buy 40 acres, fifteen of which would serve as the site of the new parish facilities, the remainder subdivided and sold to help finance the church complex. For more than three years parishioners met with Father Molloy, advisors from the diocese, and the city to plan and design the subdivision and the church complex. The subdivision encircles the church with 37 residential lots. The cemetery was extended to be incorporated into the church design. The entrance of the church through which is viewed the cemetery monument as the members leave the liturgical space, reminds all of the purpose of eternal life.
The church is unique in design and beauty. As plans were being considered, the Second Vatican Council had just completed its deliberations and sweeping changes in the Liturgy were proposed. A careful study of the documents was made to incorporate the principles of the renewed church. The liturgical space of the new church was designed to seat 400. Its circular design emphasizes the communal nature of the assembly, the altar of sacrifice the center, and focal point, reminding us that Christ in the Eucharist is the source of our faith life. Natural lighting is provided by a dome over the altar as well as a continuous skylight to bathe the outer brick walls in a flood of light. The ceiling is covered with narrow natural wood strips all converging and ascending heavenward to the lighted dome over the altar, symbolizing our prayer rising to the Father. The seating is curved to bring the worshipping community in a close circle around the celebrant and the altar. The roof rests upon sixteen massive stone pillars, the foundation of the early church. The altar is placed upon a raised circular platform of colorful checkered teakwood, further accenting the central area of sacrifice. This blend of natural materials, wood, brick, stone, bathed in natural light through the brilliant sky lighting, adds simple beauty to this unique church. Visitors marvel as they view it. In 1968 it won the award for outstanding religious edifice. We are proud of this exceptional church; our house of God in Genoa.
The building complex includes eight classroom spaces for catechetical instruction, a spacious social hall complete with kitchen, offices for parish administration, as well as living quarters for the pastor. A hot water heating system is equipped with mechanical ventilation with provisions for future air conditioning. The parish complex will meet the needs of St. Catherine’s parish community for many years to come.
After nine years of service to St. Catherine’s, Father Molloy was transferred, and Father James McKitrick came to Genoa. For three years he served, building a sense of parish community. Father William Morrissey arrived and will always be remembered for his deep piety and devotion to Mary. In 1977 Father James Larson arrived to administer our parish family and succeeded in reducing the large parish debt. In July of 1983 Father Harold Nilges, Dean of the DeKalb Deanery, was appointed pastor with his sister, Sister Marianne, O.S.F., accompanying him as pastoral associate. Father Al Neumann became pastor in 1999 and retired in 2004. Father Timothy Seigel was appointed pastor in November 2004. Father Donald Ahles was appointed pastor in July 2012. Father Zdzislaw Francis Wawryszuk was appointed pastor in July 2017.
Financing the St. Catherine of Genoa Parish Complex Written by Fr. Harold Nilges in 1998
St. Catherine of Genoa parish is one of the many parishes of the diocese who will be forever grateful to Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill, Bishop Doran and the leadership of the diocese for establishing the Diocesan Investment and Loan department of our diocese in the 1970’s. DIAL assisted parishes in securing low interest loans at a time when interest rates at commercial banks were close to 20 percent. DIAL works by diocesan parishes depositing surplus funds into a central account managed by the Office of Finance and Administration. Parishes with money on deposit are paid interest comparable to that paid by banks and savings and loan associations, while those needing to borrow are able to do so at a reasonable rate.
In 1967 the tiny St. Catherine of Genoa parish constructed a huge parish complex; an award winning contemporary church in the round, huge hall, classrooms, with an attached rectory – all for approximately $1 million, a seemingly impossible feat. Today that same complex would cost $4 million. In 1967 there were 125 registered families in the parish, about 90 of whom were active and supporting the parish. An innovative plan was designed to help pay for the complex. Forty acres of land purchased by the parish under Father Dording was subdivided by Father Molloy and the parish leadership, with streets and utilities installed so that lots could be sold. A setback was experienced when state inspectors ruled the sewer system did not meet standards. That decision was appealed, but the litigation held up the sale of the lots for three years. In the meantime, interest had to be paid on the debt as well as on the $200,000 for lot improvement. For many years the parish could not meet interest payments, much less retire any of the huge debt. It was during these years that the parish experienced real crisis, finding it impossible to borrow at a reasonable rate.
To the rescue came DIAL. The entire debt of close to $1 million was underwritten by DIAL and the parish was billed for about five percent interest. If it were not for this program, the 90 families of the parish would never have been able to see the day when the debt was finally paid. The priests serving St. Catherine’s used their talents and pitched in to help the parishioners as they sacrificed to make ends meet. Father Molloy, Father McKitrick, Father Morrissey, Father Larson and Father Nilges, did janitor work, shoveled snow, cut grass, relied on volunteer help, organized fund raisers and did without for many years.
It was a challenge to keep focused on the spiritual life of parishioners and to remember that spiritual programs are far more important than bricks and mortar, to forget about debt and trust in God. One parishioner even said, “Don’t worry about the debt, it will be here long after you and I are dead and gone.”
Several bequests along with sacrificial giving prepared for the happy day in 1997 when the estate of Jane and Kathleen Coffey bequeathed to the parish $273,000 to retire the remaining debt incurred from the building of the complex back in 1967. While it did take 30 years to pay off the debt, had it not been for DIAL, generous benefactors and sacrificing and tithing parishioners, this would never have been accomplished.