Over its 175 years, many local Catholics have called Immaculate Conception Church in Columbia home.
As the parish celebrates its demisemiseptcentennial, it is reflecting on all it has accomplished during this long span of time.
The parish was first founded in 1846 by German immigrants, with the first service being held in a parishioner’s home.
“I think that the German immigrants were a family-centered community and their faith was important to them,” Father Carl Scherrer said. “Many of them have stayed even though there has been an increase in population … It was a very tight-knit German community the first 100 years or so probably, and then it hit a growth spurt.”
From the beginning of its founding, Immaculate Conception recognized the importance of a Catholic education. The first building, built in 1853, doubled as both a church and a school.
“Our mission, our existence, is to pass on the faith to the next generation, and so that’s the primary responsibility of parents, we feel. So, as a parish community, we have to support parents in doing that,” Father Scherrer explained as to why Immaculate Conception School is and always has been an integral part of the parish.
As Father Scherrer alluded to, the parish grew as the community did. Less than two decades after the church’s first location was finished in 1853, a larger, church on Columbia’s Main Street was constructed.
The school and church moved to that location. The cemetery was established a few years earlier.
At the turn of the century, as a result of even more growth, leaders knew it was time to start looking for a more expansive home for the church and school. They found the tract of land where the church now sits on Palmer Road in 2004, and by 2013, parishioners had settled into Immaculate Conception’s new home.
“We were growing,” Father Scherrer summarized. “At the 150th anniversary, we had 1,300 households. Now we’re at about 1,500. We had 350 students in school and now we’re up to 401. So, moving from 4.5 acres to 55 acres gives us a lot more room to do a lot more things we couldn’t do. The original school was added on three different times, and the same thing with the church: it expanded in the 1920s to twice the size. We were just outgrowing the space, so that’s why we made the commitment.”
It is only ICS’s third year at the new site.
“We’d always agreed that we would not start the new school … until we had our debt close to retired,” Father Scherrer explained.
Much of this history is detailed in a series of short videos Father Nick Fleming, Parish School of Religion coordinator, and demisemiseptcentennial committee member Hope Wienhoff, Pastoral Council member, chair of the demisemiseptcentennial Teresa Dorshorst and other parishioners created in honor of the parish’s 175th anniversary.
Together, Father Fleming and Dorshorst take viewers to historically significant spots and show what they looked like previously.
“It (is) just letting people know what it means to belong to a parish that has the rich history this parish has,” Dorshorst said of the videos. “What I found amazing was how many of these families have been here since the 1800s and their ancestors are still members to this day.”
Wienhoff belongs to one such family.
“I married my husband 37 years ago and his family was already part of this parish,” Weinhoff said, saying his family’s involvement in ICC stems back to her husband’s great-great-grandparents. “I got married in this parish, my kids received their sacraments here and my oldest got married in this parish, so it’s just home.”
Dorshorst is one of many parishioners who did not grow up attending Mass at ICC, she said she believes the fact so many families have stayed at ICC through generation after generation tells an important message.
“I think it means that the parish is fulfilling a need and certainly our shepherds, as in our priests, are fulfilling that need,” Dorshorst said. “They are giving support, spiritual support as well as emotional support, when your family goes through something.”
Immaculate Conception is continuing to welcome more and more new parishioners – something Dorshorst pointed out is not common these days.
“We’re a very blessed parish in that unlike a lot of parishes now that are seeing a decline, especially in the schools, we’re seeing an increase,” Dorshorst said.
As Father Scherrer said, of the 28 Southern Illinois counties the Belleville Diocese represents, Monroe County was the only one to grow since the last census.
Father Scherrer believes the county’s growth has contributed to that of his parish.
“We have a lot of young families moving to this area, (and) Columbia has a good reputation of being a good place to raise your family,” he remarked.
Throughout his 18 years at the parish, Father Scherrer led Immaculate Conception to be what he refers to as a “full stewardship” parish in 2013, the same year the new site was finished.
As the church’s website explains, this means inviting everyone to devote their time, talent and treasure to serve God through the parish community.
“We call ourselves a full stewardship parish because we invite everybody to make a full commitment to live out their call to discipleship to baptism, so (one) of the implications of that is that we do not have tuition at our school. We consider it not as a commodity that we sell, but as a ministry that we do as a parish. We see we’re all responsible for the school and not just the parents, so we’ve asked the parents as well as all parishioners to make a commitment of stewardship – that time, talent and treasure,” Father Scherrer said.
Dorshorst said this further sets Immaculate Conception apart from other parishes.
“The full stewardship was a huge step because there are so few parishes that, as a parish, they agree that they’re going to help support the education of their students,” she said.
Approximately 10 years ago, the church began holding its ACTS retreats. The acronym stands for Adoration, Community, Theology and Service. Each year, one retreat is hosted for women and one for men at Kingshouse Retreats in Belleville.
Father Scherrer said while the ACTS retreats are “one of many ministries,” such events provide parishioners with a unique way to grow their faith.
“I think a retreat is an opportunity just to step aside from your normal routines and daily worries in life and to focus on your relationship with God. I think that’s something we neglect a lot,” he said. “Also it gives people a kind of permission to talk about their faith in God in a safe setting, whereas in our culture that’s not necessarily a popular thing to talk about.”
Wienhoff said the retreats help grow the relationship among parishioners, too.
“It helps build relationships with each other,” Wienhoff said. “You may have been in this parish and this community with people you see every week, but you really don’t know them. That’s a big part of a successful parish too, I think, (that) you’re more than an acquaintance, you’re family members.”
Immaculate Conception, along with the Fathers Club, Knights of Columbus, Parents and Friends and Council of Catholic Women, are hosting a special 175th anniversary celebration Dec. 11. Mass will start at 5 p.m., with a ceremony in the gym after, complete with music by the ICS Jazz Band and Swipe Right.
The Knights of Columbus will be supplying dinner.
“The history here is so incredibly rich that when Father Nick and I were doing the videos, we were just like grasping every little bit of history and it warmed our hearts. So, my hope is that this celebration on Dec. 11 is a cumulation where when everyone walks out of there, they feel the warmth in their heart, their heart is smiling.”
Reservations are required and can be made by clicking here.
Admission for those ages 13 and above is $12, $6 for children 7-12 and free for those 6 and under.