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History-St. John-Bellflower

          In 1897 permission was granted to establish a Catholic Church to take care of the Catholic families of eastern McLean County.  Father John H. Cannon, pastor of Gibson City, was delegated the job of organizing the new parish.  Pledges of $2500 were obtained and in 1899 St. John Church.  Bellflower was completed.  The parish was named St. John in memory of Father John Cannon and Mr. John Power, Sr., in gratitude for Mr. Power’s steadfastness in backing the undertaking.

          The church was dedicated on August 23, 1899 by John Lancaster Spaulding, Bishop of Peoria and a large class was confirmed that day, with members from all the parishes served from Gibson City.  Father Cannon continued to care for the new parish until 1901 with Mass every three weeks.

          The first marriage celebrated in the new church was that of Katherine Delaney and Mr. Sturdevent from Rantoul on October 4, 1899.  Mary Power and James Forrestal from Ivesdale were married a week later.

          In 1901, Farmer City was assigned a resident pastor with Bellflower as a mission.  Father Abbot was our first pastor and served about a year, followed by temporary pastors until Father White was assigned in 1903.  Up to this time the parish had no house.  Father Abbot had lived in the hotel and rented quarters until he had the house built in Farmer City.

          With a resident pastor in the area, Bellflower now could have Mass each Sunday except in bad weather conditions.  Father White came down on the train and a “livery rig” returned him to Farmer City.  At that time the pastor came on the 8 o’clock train on Saturday morning.  After Mass he walked to Laurette, took the freight to LeRoy and got back to Farmer City on the 4 o’clock train.  In the winter when it was necessary to use public transportation entirely, it was impossible to have Sunday services.  For us to attend Mass it was necessary to spend five or six hours on the roads, with no protection from heat or cold.

          Around 1909 the Sunday train was removed, so Mass was offered only every two weeks.  But in 1920, cars were coming into general use, and Fr. Fitzgerald got a car, and so we were able to return to weekly Mass on Sundays.  In the mid 1920’s, State highway 48 (now U.S. 54) was completed and the parish was able to add First Friday Devotions in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  In the 1923 the yard was filled and a sidewalk put in.  During the early days the Rose family had cared for the property: Mr. Rose served as janitor until his death, and their daughters laundered the altar linens and cleaned the church. 

          In the mid 30’s Altar and Rosary Society was organized.  The ladies held many small events such as food sales, lunches, ball game lunches, and ice cream suppers to raise funds in those lean years, and to socialize.  Some of the early members were Clara O’Leary, Mary Coons, Mary Yeagle, Nora Stack, Nellie Power, Helen Fosnaugh, Catherine Lykins, Mary E. Power and Estelle McGowan.

          In the 1940’s the interior of the church was renovated and a gas floor furnace was installed.  In the 1950’s, Father Carmody provided the privilege of one weekday Mass.  In 1953 Anthony Coons built an altar for the newly redecorated sanctuary.

          In 1956 a new crucifixion scene was installed in the sanctuary.  In 1966 the parish participated in the Farm Progress show along with Sacred Heart Parish of Farmer City and the Bellflower Methodist Church.

          In 1967 the exterior of the Church was painted and the sanctuary renovated according to Vitican II, with the altar facing the people.  A new front entrance and rest room were added.  An organ was also purchased and the organists were Kathy Power and Ruth Kurtz.  So both parishes could build closer ties, we held fund raising buffet luncheons with Sacred Heart, and an ice cream social in the summer of 1968.

          In 1974 St. John’s celebrated its 75th anniversary with a special liturgy and potluck supper at Bellflower Township High School.  Bishop Edward O’Rourke took part in the celebration.  There were two members of that confirmation class of 75 years ago in attendance:  Mrs. Mary Power of Bloomington and Mrs. Maude Trenkle of Farmer City.  Also in attendance were former pastors Father Schueth, Father Carmody, Father Lesniak, and Father O’Riley, and Farther Morrissette of Gibson City.  During this time also the tradition of coffee and donuts after Mass was initiated and continues today.

          In the 1970’s, we installed a gas furnace and air conditioning, insulated vinyl siding and a glass front door and a speaker-sound system was added to the church in 1984.  In 1995, a new roof was added and a new cross on the steeple was put on the top of the church.  A Marian Garden was planted in 1998.  A  new digital piano was purchased in 2000 and Mary Power, a descendant of one of the founding families is the pianist.  A votive candle stand was installed and the interior was painted and new carpet installed in 2001.  We are in the process of adding a side door for easier access for funerals, and to have a 2nd exit.

          Former trustees have been Billy Rose, Carl Yeagle, Albert Coons, Jeffrey Power Sr., and his son Jeffrey, John McGowan.  Lloyd Power and Becky Builta are trustees presently.  The parish has been blessed by a large donation from the John & Jeffrey Power farm estate.  Lectors are:  Lloyd Power, Darwin Builta, John and Mary Leonard, and Peggy Swigart.  Irene Power is sacristan and Leo Coons opens and closes the Church and sees to it that the heat or air conditioning is on.  Altar servers have included:  Molly & Betsy Power, Adam Swigart and Jacob Durham.

          As we celebrated our 100th anniversary – 1899-1999 – St. John’s is small in size – with about fifteen families – but we are large in Faith, Hope and Love.  And as we begin the new millennium of Christianity in the year of Our Lord 2001, we are grateful to God for the faith of our fathers and mothers, and desire to hand on the Faith to our children for the future here and hereafter in the Communion of Saints.

 

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