The first Catholics in the Du Quoin area were probably the Indian Chief Jean Baptiste Du Coigne and members of his tribe in the late 1700's, even before Illinois was known as a state. Prior to 1850 there had been very little religious organization in this territory. Many Catholics had never seen a priest or attended a Mass but they met in their homes for prayer and fellowship.
The first Mass in this area was offered by Father Cusack of Vandalia in the home of Michael Bradley. A marble topped chest was used as an altar. From 1857 to 1866 Holy mass was celebrated every three or four months in the homes of Michael Bradley, Henry Horn, John Bradley, Dr. O'Rielly, Timothy Kelly, Mr. Day and Mr. Molter.
Father Cusack was followed by Fathers Lambert, Mark, Vahey and Walsch, who celebrated Mass every few months in the area. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Congregation was formed in 1863, just ten years after the incorporation of the City of Du Quoin itself.
Father Walsch and about 25 families decided to build a church. The first church stood on the north side of Perry Street between Hickory and Walnut Streets. It estimated cost was $4,000.
While it was being constructed, a storm blew down one wall on Christmas day, 1867, and the completion of the church was delayed. The damage was soon repaired, however, and the dedication was held on April 19, 1868.
School was held in the rectory at the beginning, but the number of pupils increased so much that in November, 1872, the pastor, Father Klocke, announced that a school would be built on West Main Street. Classes were held in this school until the present school was built 20 years later. In 1891 the School Sisters of Notre Dame began their century-long association with Sacred Heart School.
Parish membership continued to grow, so that in 1871 a decision was made to divide the parish and establish St. Bruno's Parish in Pinckneyville and St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Todd's Mill.
A 40 acre cemetery was acquired in 1874 and later on another 15 acres were donated. The large memorial stone at the cemetery, dedicated to the memory of all war veterans, was erected by the Knights of Columbus.
Several years of drought caused a serious financial strain on the congregation. Mr. Henry Horn stepped forward and generously donated $9,000 to place the parish on a good financial foundation once again. Then another severe storm struck and badly damaged the church. In November, 1870, land had been purchased for a new church site on West Main Street but several years passed before construction was begun.
Members gave their time, labor and money to help build the new church. Trees were felled, logs were cut, hauled, sawed, shaped and some polished were polished.
Large stoves heated the church. The altars were made of highly polished wood, and the pews were handmade by men of the parish. The stained glass windows were not added until 1927.
The three bells hung high in the belfry were dedicated in March, 1908, and were named "Jesus," "Mary," and "Joseph." For 29 years Victor Ritter and members of his family rang the bells three times a day, every day of the year. In 1982 the bells were electrified.
On November 4, 1890, a farewell Pontifical High Mass was celebrated at the old church. English, Italian, German and Polish were spoken during the ceremonies. A procession made its way to the new site a few blocks away. The church which was dedicated that day has frequently been called "the Cathedral of Southern Illinois." To this day visitors marvel at its beauty.
The old school was torn down in 1892 and replaced by the present one. The new school included a kitchen and indoor restrooms. It was at this time that the nuns came to instruct the children. At the end of the school year in May, 2008, our school closed.
The Church was renovated several times over the years. The latest renovation occurred in 1994. A new wooden altar and baptismal font were added along with four new windows in the sanctuary.
The founding pastor, Father Charles Klocke, died February 9, 1911, after 43 years of dedicated service to the parish. He was succeeded by Father Charles J. Eschmann who served for 11 years. In 1919 he installed the marble Communion railing, a new organ and a new altar. Father died on May 25, 1937, at Waterloo, Illinois.
Father Cyril Nicholas Haffner was installed as pastor in 1922. He built the rectory in 1924 and oversaw an addition to the school in 1936. In 1961, a dream he had for many years was fulfilled with the construction of a parish center. This attractive structure was named in his honor. Haffner Hall has been the scene of many joyous occasions for the parish. Rights Reverend Monsignor Haffner died on May 26, 1966, at the age of 81, having served as pastor for 44 years.
Father Joseph Duehren came in August, 1966. He installed a new marble altar facing the people in accordance with the liturgical renewal following Vatican Council II. He retired after 8 years and died shortly thereafter in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He was succeeded by Monsignor Angelo Lombardo who came in July, 1974; Father Steve Humphrey, who arrived in 1985; Father Richard Daly who came in 1992; Monsignor Harry J. Jerome, a native son of the parish, who was installed as pastor on February 6, 2000; Father H. Thomas Stout who was installed on July 16, 2009, after two short months Father Tom died suddenly. Two priest have also served as parish administrators in recent years, Father Bernardini Nganzi and currently Father Nicholas G. Junker.
Priest who served as assistants were Father Wilbert Iffert, Father Vito Lopardo, Father Lloyd Misho, Father Joseph Trapp and Father John Ruggles. All are still living except Father Ruggles and Father Misho.
Sacred Heart Parish has been a rich source of religious vocations. Priest include Rev. John Bergmann, Rev. Clement Dirler, Rev. James Genisio, Msgr. Harry Jerome, Rev. Thomas Roznowski, Msgr. Thomas Miller and Rev. John Iffert, O.P. Father Iffert's ordination ceremony took place in Sacred Heart Church, a first for the parish.
Sisters from the area are Sister Mary Charles, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Knetzger; Sister M. Cajetan, daughter of George and Julia Steins; Sister M. Andrea, daughter of Joseph and Theresa Schubert; Sister Illuminata formerly Josephine Schleper; Sister Ignatius, formerly Louisa Koener; Sister Francesca daughter of June and Frances Fritzp; Clara Stein, daughter of Andrew and Catherine Stein; Sister Emilia Louisa, daughter of Cosimo and Lucy Vettese; Mary Agnes Childs, daughter of Joseph and Helen Childs; and Edith Schneider, daughter of Alfred and Catherine Schneider.
The nucleus of the present Knights of Columbus Council began in 1905 when nine men journeyed to Centralia to receive their degrees. Nine more men joined the following year. In 1908 the Knights of Columbus Council #1298 was formed. In 1952 the Knights purchased the building west of the school and renovated it for their use. The building was sold and torn down in 1996. In 2004 they moved into a building on South Chestnut Street.
Organizations of women have been an integral part of the parish throughout most of its history. Among them were National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Daughters of Americas, which continues today, the Altar Society and the Sewing Circle (now known as the Quilters). Through the years the Parent-Teachers Association had generously supported the school.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Congregation is now 147 years old. With the current shortage of priest and the formation of cluster parishes, only God knows the rest of the history of this beloved parish. But whatever God has in mind, we whose photos make up these pages are proud to be the ones who are now making that history.