St. Joseph - Olney History
St. Joseph Parish of Olney was founded in 1857. Father Laughren, the first priest assigned here, celebrated Mass in the O'Donnel family home at 122 West North Avenue. The first church was built in 1861 on a site donated by Thomas Lily and was located at the corner of Fair and Butler Streets. In 1892, this small frame church was moved on rollers to the present location at Elliott and Chestnut Street.
Dr. George Weber, instrumental in establishing St. Joseph School, wanted to provide his children with the benefits of Catholic education. Gertrude, his oldest daughter, began her education in the Olney public school but then attended a Catholic school in Vincennes and later, St Mary of the Woods as a boarding student. By this time, several of her sisters had joined her. Dr. George, not happy with sending his children away to school at such early ages, worked to bring the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kansas to teach in our parish school which was completed in 1907. By the fall of 1908, there were seventy students at St. Joseph School.
The second floor of the school was used to celebrate Mass after the old church was vacated in 1908. In addition to the classrooms, this building housed the Sisters who taught at the school. Some information suggests that the old church was used as a Parish Center for several years after it was vacated. After the old church was torn down, the space was used as a playground for the school children for many years.
Construction of the present-day church began in 1937. The church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1938. Although interior renovations took place during the fall of 1979, the exterior of the Church remained essentially unchanged. Today St. Joseph's Parish serves about 700 families.
In 1957 St. Joseph Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary. During this year the building housing the gymnasium and school cafeteria (formerly known as the Parish Center) was built. It was dedicated on April 13, 1958.
The Old Parish house was purchased from the estate of C.P. Porter in 1953. Originally, this served as the Sisters' Convent. The Ursuline Sisters taught at St. Joseph from 1907 - 1914. In 1914, the Sister Adorers of the Blood of Christ became the teaching staff and remained until Sister Joan left the school in 1985. Sister Delores Wilke continued as Principal until 1988. Sister Theresa Ann Kiefer, ASC, the last nun to serve our parish, was Director of Religious Education until 1991.
As our numbers grew, the Sisters' Convent gradually came to include parish meeting rooms, classrooms, space for various school activities and finally, the parish office. Over the years, this structure came to be known as the Parish House. In 1995, after careful study of the growing need for additional space within the parish, a decision was made to construct a new building adjacent to the Church. To provide space for the new building, the Parish House had to be demolished.
On August 17, 1997 we broke ground on the new building designed to enhance our parish facilities for years to come. The new Parish Center includes a large multi-purpose space for parish and school activities, classrooms, a computer lab, kitchen facilities, meeting rooms, an all weather entrance, new parish administrative offices and is handicap accessible.
In 2007, we celebrated 150 years of our church and 100 years of our school with many special activities. On September 9, 2007 there was a parish picnic, on September 23, we had an old-time dress up Sunday and on October 7 we concluded our celebration with a special Mass with Bishop Braxton, Bishop of Belleville.