Jackson County

Catholic Church History

The Sower, History of the Catholic Church, it's early members, early settlers of Jackson County and their travels into Willisville, Perry County, Illinois


Even though we have several versions of Jackson County's early history already online, this particular history gives you an idea of what life was really like in the early days. It also includes the manuscript recounting his personal memories and stories told him by his pioneer ancestors by Mr. W. W. HUSBAND, of Ava, Illinois. It was dedicated to his wife. This is what I've chosen to begin with.

As the settlers continued to come into the territory, townships were laid out in 1816, and the new county was created by the legislature which was held in Kaskaskia in 1818. Prior to this time, credit is particularly given to FATHER PIERRE GIBAULT, who at the time was pastor at Kaskaskia. From the time of his arrival until the capture of the post by Colonel Clark (4 July, 1778), the Canadian priest was the leading figure in all affairs. Without his influence, all civilized life would have passed from the Illinois country in a very short time.

Excerpts from W. W. HUSBAND's memoirs:

"On a Saturday in the late summer of 1815, a crowd of men congregated on the Salt Spring of Big Muddy River. They were clad in shirts of home-spun material and buckskin breeches, and moccasions on their feet. Most of them wore heavy beards and long hair, their heads covered with caps made of coonskin or the skin of the wildcat, and on some of the caps the tails of the animals were still suspended; others wore eagle feathers in their caps. Each man was armed with a rifle and carried a big hunting knife in his belt. It was a wild looking assemblage and many of the men who composed it appeared to be as savage as the Indians.

There was one man present, however, who was dressed in "store" clothes. He was a low, heavy-set man of florid complexion; he had "sandy" hair and merry blue eyes. This personage was middle-aged and "cracked jokes" with those present while waiting for the other pioneers to arrive. This man was DR. CONRAD WILL, who had settled there the previous year for the purpose of manufacturing salt from the saline water in the spring. It was at DR. WILL's request that these pioneers had settled on this particular day.

These picturesque men were mountaineers from Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some had been in Illinois Territory several years, while others were recent arrivals. There were men in this crowd who had been with GEORGE ROGERS CLARK, with "MAD" ANTHONY WAYNE, with DANIEL BOONE, with SIMON KENTON and HARRISON in various Indian campaigns. Some of them had been with GENERAL ANDREW JACKSON at the Battle of New Orleans only a few months before. Indeed, they were some of the very riflemen who had put an entire British Army to flight with their deadly marksmanship, for be it remembered that the American pioneer has never been equaled as an expert with the rifle. Finally, when a fair-sized crowd had assembled, DOCTOR WILL mounted a stump and addressed the men something like this:

'Fellow citizens, I am glad so many of you have turned out as requested. As some of you hav come a considerable distance, I will at once state the subject of this meeting. It occurs to me that we settlers could take immediate steps to organize a new county of our own, and a trading place nearer to home. CAPTAIN BOONE and I have been discussing this matter for some time, and finally decided to call this meeting in order to get an expression from other settlers. By investigation it has been found that we have sufficient population in this region to form a new county." Turning to a man standing beside the stump, he asked, "CAPTAIN BOONE, just how many white people live in this region?" "Nearly twelve hundred" was the reply. Of course, you understand that this number includes all the settlers living within twenty miles or more of this spot.

"Then there are approximately two hundred families living in this part of the country", stated the Doctor. "That should be a sufficient number to answer our purpose. Well, fellow-citizens, what do you think of the idea?"

"The idear is a crackin good un!", spoke up one.

"'Shore, we need a county all our own", said another.

"Doc, how do we go about gettin' this here new county?", one wanted to know.

"A petition will have to be submitted to the territorial authorities making a demand", explained the Doctor.

"What air we goin' go call our new county?", asked a pioneer.

"That is a matter that will have to be settled later".

"Wal, responded the other, 'us fellers that fit, bled and died with Old Hickory want the county called Jackson".

Others wanted to name the new county after their heroes and there was a heated argument for several minutes over this question. Finally it was left to a vote, and the Jackson men won. After the excitement had died down, DOCTOR WILL again spoke. "I have the petition already drawn up", he said, "and it is now ready for signatures".

"Say, Doc, how about us fellers that ain't swing the quill?"

"Make your mark".

After the petition had thus been signed by those present, DOCTOR WILL addressed the assembled pioneers.

"Fellow citizens, we are making history here today. We have demanded a county of our own to be called Jackson. While this region is now a dense wilderness, I look forward to the day when smiling farms and busy citizens will dot this land. Illinois is one of the fairest countries I have ever seen and it will soon take it's place among the great states of this nation. While it is still a territory, it will be admitted to statehood ere long. Big things are going to be done in this land during the next fifty years, for this wilderness is going to be transformed into a land of plenty. WHILE WE WHO ARE GATHERED HERE WILL ALL BE GONE WHEN THAT IS ACCOMPLISHED, I AM PROUD THAT WE PIONEERS OF TODAY ARE THE TRAILBLAZERS FOR THOSE WHO ARE TO FOLLOW. I AM ALSO PROUD THAT OUR CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN AND THEIR CHILDREN WILL ENJOY THE FULL FRUITAGE FO THE HEARDSHIPS THROUGH WHICH WE MUST PASS IN MAKING ILLINOIS THE MIGHTY STATE IT IS TO BE! LET US HOPE THAT OUR SACRIFICES WILL NOT HAVE BEEN IN VAIN."

The petition was presented to the authorities at Kaskaskia, and on January 10, 1816, Jackson County was created. Almost three years later, on December 3, 1818, Illinois was admitted to the Union as a State.

The act which created Jackson County stated that the county seat should be called Brownsville. DOCTOR CONRAD WILL offered twenty acres near the salt works for the site of the town. Thus Brownsville which became a lively pioneer settlement was founded. It's location was approximately one mile west of Murphysboro on present Route 144.

County officers were named, and contracts were let for the building of a courthouse and jail. It's early pioneers had come in wagons, carts and many on pack horses to a region where the soil was rich and game abundant. Log rollings, house and barn raisings were the great social occasions of their pioneer life. Election days and muster days were eagerly anticipated. Elections were simple affairs. All the citizens entitled to vote assembled at the county seat and voted viva voce for all candidates for office on national and state tickets or on important issues.

After the War of 1812, the militia required every able-bodied man to perform military duty and to drill every month. Battalion drills occurred twice a year, and these were occasions for a general good time. One of the attractions of the occasion was a venison barbeque, which MR. HUSBAND has also described:

"While the barbeque was in preparation, the military exercises were conducted. Fifes would shriek and drums would roll, while the men marched. Muster days gave the company officers a grand opportunity to swell up with pride, strut and "bawl out" the awkward ones. Then would come the feast! After the "inner man" had been properly taken care of there would be foot races, jumping and wrestling contests, and various other sports. Sometimes on these occasions the pioneers would partake of a little too much hard cidar during the excitement and fights were not uncommon. To take care of this situation, those who were inclined to make a few fistic passages at one another were taken to the astray pen on the river bank. There the belligerents would be allowed to fight it out, while the spectators sat on the top rails of the pen. No weapons of any kind were used in these fights. The men stood up to one another and fought "fair and square". They went until one man whipped. Then the fighters would shake hands and be friends. On one such occasion, while the victor was pouring water for the vanquished one to "wash up", the latter remarked, "Well, you licked me all right, but your woman can't whip my woman!". Indians would attend these muster day exercises and look on with solemn dignity, grunting "Ugh! Ugh!", instead of laughing at some comical sight."


The history of St. Andrew's Congregation in Murphysboro is a unique one, unique in the fact that the first Mass said for its parishioners was said by the Bishop of a diocese which comprised all of Southern Illinois, unique in the fact that for more than three-quarters of its first century it was guided by the spiritual direction of only two pastors, the REVEREND KASPAR SCHAUERTE and the REVEREND JOSEPH TAGGART.

Records show that prior to 1865, but few Catholic families had settled in Murphsyboro, Raddle, Ava or Willisville. The opening of the mines, the building of the railroads, and the clearing of the rich farm lands of the region had begun to attract settlers to the area. Pioneer Catholic families of whom there is record include those of SEBASTIAN DANIEL, who with his family came in 1866. The family had traveled from Red Bud to Prairie Du Rocher by wagon. They then took a boat down the Mississippi to Grand Tower and up the Big Muddy to Murphysboro. The ANTHONY MARTELL and ANTHONY BASTIEN families, with a group of French Canadians had migrated from Canada to Kaskaskia in 1851, and settled southwest of Oraville in 1858. MARTIN COONEY had brought his family from Chicago when he came in 1858 to recruit laborers for the building of the Illinois Central Railroad, and JOHN STOELZLE, as a lad of 13, had come to work in the shops of the Mt. Carbon Mining Company. In 1867, JOSEPH VAN CLOOSTERE with his mother and sister settled on a farm about three miles south of Murphysboro. It was he who, sensing the need and desire of the pioneer group to establish a church, addressed a letter in 1868 to "Catholic Priest", Cairo, Illinois, inquiring about the address of the nearest Catholic Priest. An answer came telling Joseph the Bishop himself would be in Anna for Confirmation on a certain date. The youth made the trip to Anna, and the Bishop agreed to come to Murphysboro on the eve of the Ascension, 1868. Arrangements were made with MR. MEDAR LUCIER, for the Bishop's stay at his home. The Mass was said to have taken place in MR. LUCIER's home.

On the feast of Ascension, May 21, 1868, the first Mass ever to be said in Murphysboro was offered by the RT. REV. DAMIEN JUNKER, first Bishop of the Diocese of Alton, the See to which all of Southern Illinois belonged.

Impressed by the large outcome, the Bishop promised the group that FATHER F. FOCKELE, then pastor in Anna, would offer the Mass for them once a month, which would take place in the OZBORN SCHOOL, which had just been built.

A deed dated June 15, 1868, and signed by M. H. LOGAN, his wife EVALINE, and J. V. LOGAN, conveyed two and one-half acres east of out-lot number 6 to MEDAR LUCIER, JACOB KING, and HENRY BOUCHER, trustees of the Catholic Church. The amount paid for the land was $800. The site purchased is the land on which the present church stands. In the spring of 1869 the church, a frame building 24 feet by 50 feet with a small turret topped by a cross was planned and building began.

REV. THEODORE WIGMAN, replaced FATHER FOCKELE and served as Pastor until April, 1872. He baptized 34 during his short stay and was succeeded in October, 1872 by: REV. HERMAN JUNGMANN. REV. HERMAN JUNGMANN was the one who, after only 3 years since the first mass, made Catholic education in St. Andrew's almost synonymous with its history. After an active, arduous pastorate at St. Andrew's FATHER JUNGMANN was transferred in February, 1877, to St. Anthony's Church, Effingham, Illinois. He had administered the Sacrament of Baptism to 177 members of the parish. He returned to Murphysboro to offer the Mass of dedication of the new St. Andrew's Church on October 16, 1889. He died suddenly at Effingham on April 6, 1895. Three Pastor's replaced FATHER JUNGMANN in Murphysboro: FATHER L. REISEN (March 25-August 19, 1877), FATHER PAUL TEROERLE(September-November 1877) and in November of 1877, FATHER FREDERICK BERGMANN came to serve for 10 years. FATHER BERGMANN was born in Germany on June 5, 1854. He was ordained at Louvain, Belgium, May 25, 1877. He left in 1887 to return to his native land. He died in Germany May 9, 1913. On Jly 26, 1887, REVEREND KASPAR SCHAUERTE had arrived in Murphysboro. During his 37 years at St. Andrew's he became a great builder, an honored educator, a man sought for his business judgement, a valued member of diocesan boards, and a public-spirited citizen noted for his interest in the progress and welfare of the city. He was born on March 7, 1862, at Marmecke, among the mountains of Westphalia and taught at Huelschoften, Westphalia, for one year. He sailed to the US via the ship BREMEN, and landed at Baltimore, Maryland, on November 2, 1880. On April 25, 1888, the MOST REVEREND JOANNES JANSSEN, who had served as secretary to BISHOP JUNKER and VICAR-GENERAL OF THE SEE OF ALTON under BISHOP BALTES and also as administrator until the division of the Alton See, was consecrated BISHOP OF BELLEVILLE.


The years 1867-1890 were important and rewarding years for the pioneer Catholic settlers of early Jackson County. Following establishment in 1868 of St. Andrew's Church in Murphysboro, its pastors and assistants were to help establish and serve for more than fifty years, the mission churches at Grand Tower, Raddle and Ava. In 1903, BISHOP JOANNES JANSSEN established a parish in what is now Perry County, St. Joseph's at Willisville (this is an area many Jackson County residents moved to).

As early as 1872, FATHER HERMAN JUNGMANN, the pastor of St. Andrew's had recorded in the parish records:

"In the year A. D. 1872 on the 2nd October the St. Gregory's congregation which had been incorporated in the time of my predecessor, REV. FATHER WIGMAN, who followed the REV. FATHER FOCKELE was given to my care. I was ordered to visit the congregation on one Sunday a month and to try to have built a church as soon as circumstances would allow it. From October, 1872, to the last Sunday of July, 1874, we held services in DR. BOUCHER's Hall, MR. G'SELL's Hotel where room was given to us free of any charge on the congregation."

He began making plans for the mission congregation. In the fall of 1873, land was bought and the lot was purchased from MR. DEVINE. The cornerstone was laid on the 4th of July, 1874.

Grand Tower had been one of the promising little towns of Southern Illinois at the time St. Gregory's was built. It's industries were diversified. It's location on the river between the coal fields of the Murphysboro region, together with good rail and river transportation had provided an ideal place for the building of blast furnaces. But the unforeseen difficulties, the hard times, etc. were probably the following, taken from the historical account in TOWER ROCK, pp. 40-41:

"In the late 1870's the community experience a "recession". Competition from other areas became keener and keener, disastrous fires occurred, severe cholera epidemics bankrupted the farmers, floods wreaked their damage over and over, and a general panic swept the whole country. The river deposited a huge sandbar right in front of the coke ovens, making it extremely difficult and costly to load and unload the barges. And, to cap all the troubles, the fire was allowed to go out in the smelter and the molten iron hardened inside the furnace!"

In 1905, the Church was closed as too few Catholic families remained to support it. What had been described as a "substantial and handsome building" fell into ruin and was finally torn down in 1922. The lots on which the church had stood were sold, according to records of the Chancery Office. It is now the parking lot for the Baptist Church.

Early Church records list the following families as members at the turn of the century: 1902, KUNTZ, CANNON, BECKET; 1903, LARSON; 1904, SCHOELELBAUER, CULLEY, VASTINE; 1912, THORNTON, BERKBIGLER, REXLER. The trustees for these years were: JOHN DEVINE, ANTON KOCH, STEPHEN MCATEE, T. F. DONNELLY and MARTIN HENNESSY.

During the 35 years of it's active life, St. Gregory's was served by twelve pastors:

FATHER F. FOCKELE (1870-summer 1871)
FATHER HERMAN JUNGMAN (April, 1873-Feb, 1877)
FATHER L. REISEN (March 25-August 18, 1877)
FATHER PAUL TEROERDE (September-November, 1877)
FATHER FREDERICK BERGMANN (November, 1877-July, 1887)
FATHER K. SCHAUERTE (July, 1887-July, 1891)
FATHER G. TOENNIES (1891-1894)


Unlike the early settlers who were attracted to the rich bottoms farmland and built their homes, cultivated the land, and established St. Ann's Parish, early settlers at Willisville came in response to the demand for workers to mine the coal in any industry which had a prolific expansion in the early decades of the century. Like other mining communities of its time, the town developed along a coal spur line of the present Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad. It received its name from one of the earliest mines developed in the community by Dickie WILLIS.

The development of the mines was accompanied by growth in other areas; the mining company operated the largest diary barn in the United States and shipped milk and cream to St. Louis daily. Its ice plant, tin shop, soda factory, hotels, movie, coal office, and funeral home provided employment for an increasing population, which had grown 171.8% from 1900 - 1910. By 1920 the population numbered 1,485.

The first Catholic settlers had come into the area about 1880. These included the families of Anthony LAUB, August RHEINECKER, and Frank HEINE.

In 1897 the WILLIS Mining Company opened their mine, and Italian Catholic families moved from Murphysboro into the area.

The village of Willisville was incorporated by the State of Illinois on March 5, 1900, and received its certificate of incorporation on October 10, 1901.

Willisville had not been attended by any priest prior to 1903. In January of that year Bishop Johannes JANSSEN sent the Reverend Francis SANNELLA to organize a parish for the Catholic families, who had continued to attend Mass at Murphysboro and Pinckneyville.

Shortly after his arrival Father SANNELLA recorded in the parish records at Ava the first baptism for St. Joseph's Church. Henry LAWRENCE, born December 11, 1901, of Amedio Cima from Oglionico Canavese (Italy) and Maria BOLLATTI from Reverole (Italy) was baptized on January 19, 1903. The godparents were Henry CIMA and Anna HONAKER.

During the first months of his assignment, Father celebrated Sunday Mass in a public school building southwest of the town. In July following his arrival the first church was built, seating one hundred and fifty worshippers. According to parish records its cost was $1,300. Of this amount Mr. Anthony LAUB contributed $750 and the Diocesan Mission Fund the balance.

Describing the earliest days of St. Joseph's Parish, Mrs. R. F. BAKER (Olga Laub) has written:

Our first priest was Fr. Francis SANNELLA. He lived in our home with us and said Mass in that back room every morning. Mother would attend Mass for a while then run into the kitchen to see how the sausage was doing in the oven or how the steak was doing in the frying pan. There was a couple married in that back room...and children were baptized there. When it was time for Confirmation, Bishop John JANSSEN from Belleville would stay there overnight too. In fact, when John L. LEWIS organized the United Mine Workers of A., he stayed there too.

Before we had the old church Dad would hitch up the horses to the surrey and Father SANNELLA would have Mass in a school house near the park on the west end of Willisville. Before that we had to get up at 3 A. M. and drive to Pinckneyville, 22 miles away to get to Mass by 9:30 A. M. to St. Bruno's Church. In winter Mother would have me sit on a box and she would have hot bricks to keep our feet warm. Fr. SCHNEIDER was the pastor then and when my sister Bertha was old enough she lived with the nuns there and did the cleaning for them and often my folks would bring them eggs or a smoked ham or a slab of bacon for her tuition in school there.

Finally Fr. SANNELLA went back to Italy and Fr. Ermengild SENESE came as pastor.

On September 6, 1904, Father SANNELLA, as pastor and Vincent DEMMI, Sr., and Emmanual BELLUCIA, as trustees of the parish, purchased St. Joseph's cemetery lot (20 X 40 rods) from Peter and Myrtle ROSS of Sparta for $110.

Father Ermengild SENESE, who had been ordained to the priesthood on August 15, 1902, at Conza, Italy, came as the second resident pastor on April 15, 1905. Following his arrival Father saw as his first need a rectory and built a two story farm structure which was completed in February, 1906. The rectory was located on the present site of the garage (formerly the old spaghetti supper kitchen). Later the home was sold and then moved to a location outside of Chester, where it stands today. The present sidewalks on the church property are the original sidewalks built to the rectory.

When the new home was completed, Father sent for his parents, Thomas and Amelia SENESE, to come from Italy.

During the years 1906 - 1907 a Catholic school was established and classes were held in the old church. Ninety pupils (Messenger, December, 1907) were then taught by Father SENESE and a lay teacher, Miss Anna SANKPIEL.

In 1909, in addition to the building of the new church, Father SENESE purchased a small frame residence and lot adjoining the church lots behind the school, facing Alm's home at a cost of $500. An addition was built to the house and other improvements were made to convert it into a sisters' dwelling.

In the fall of 1908, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood came to staff the school. During the 1908 -1909 school term Sister Lucy and Sister Odilla taught the lower grades and Anna SANKPIEL the upper grades. Miss SANKPIEL joined the Precious Blood community in 1909, and as Sister Carola returned to teach during the years 1910 -1913. The sisters received no salary, but merely what was essential for their support. They discontinued service in 1914.

1908 - 1914 List of Sisters who taught at the school:

Sister Lucy MEYER
Sister Blanche ROELS
Sister Odila BUGGER
Sister Rita MEYER
Sister Leopolda FRANKEN
Sister Winifred KANE
Sister Carola SANKPIEL
Sister Hilary FISHER
Sister Teresa REICHERT
Sister Lidwina ANKENBRAND

St. Joseph's School, in the tradition of Parochial schools in the early decades of the century, was a sternly disciplined one. Boys who attended remember well Father SENESE's practice to police the Willisville streets at night to make sure all the scholars (a term used universally to designate pupils attending) were at home studying. Should such a scholar be caught attending the local movie, he was assured the "belt" treatment.

Present parishioners who attended St. Joseph's Catholic School and can attest to the rugged discipline of the early days are Josephine ANGELIERE, Mr. and Mrs. Martin GIORDANO, Sr., Joe SABELLA, Pete SPOTO, Ignatius CASTELLANO, Nettie DOLCE, Dan DOWNEN, Jennie (DUVARDO) REDNOUR, and Joe DUVARDO.

Sister Blanche ROELS, who taught for a year (1908 - 1909) at St. Joseph's School and who later taught for 28 years at St. Andrew's School in Murphysboro, has recalled early experiences of her St. Joseph's assignment. Sister is now living in retirement at De Mattias Hall in St. Louis. sister Blanche, who came to St. Joseph's as a postulant, has many pleasant memories of her first assignment. But she also recalls the poverty of many of the families, poverty which permitted little sharing of any worldly goods with the sisters. Sister remembers many children who brought just a piece of bread and a bit of garlic to school for their lunch.

Other memories recall that on three special days of the year, St. Joseph's Feast Day, Palm Sunday, and Good Friday, the church was filled, even the right side, the side reserved for the men. On Good Friday all worshippers crawled up the aisle on their knees to venerate the cross. They also sang their special hymn.

Another occasion, which required special celebration with balloons and fireworks, was the feast of St. Lucy. Sister recalls the steeple catching fire on one such occasion. Gifts were always exchanged on St. Nicholas Day.

Times were hard, but the people were strong. Sister remembers the mother living behind them who, three days after a baby's birth, was hanging out the family wash. The sisters knew her husband as the "Good Friday Singer".

On August 23, 1909, Fr. SENESE and the trustees, August RHEINECKER and Anthony CORTESE sold 85 feet from the east side of the cemetery tract for $50 to Vince SNIDER. During his pastorate Fr. Joe ORFORD had the cemetery surveyed and had Frank TODARO to build the fence. Frank has been the cemetery custodian ever since.

In June, 1913, Father was transferred to St. Mary's Church in Herrin. During the eight years he had served St. Joseph's he had built a rectory, maintained a parochial school, built a new church, purchased a convent, and improved two of the five acres of land bought by Father SANELLA for a cemetery so that burials needed no longer be made at Murphysboro.

During the summer of 1909, Father SENESE also served the mission of St. Elizabeth's at Ava.

During Father's pastorate the Rev. Vincent CIACCIO, a son of the parish, had begun the major order of deaconship on November 13, 1918, at St. Meinrad, Indiana. Shortly after, on January 1, 1919, he died, a victim of the influenza scourge. He is buried at Notre Dame, Indiana, where his parents made their home at the time.

The early history of St. Joseph's would not be complete without a reference to the Black Hand of the Mafia. This threat represented an attempt at extortion by means of a dreaded letter at times signed with blood. But citizens of Willisville preferred to believe this was the work of individuals playing on the fear of the Mafia. There are no remembered cases of anyone paying off.

An early parishioner recalls that Father SENESE had been threatened many times by the Mafia made up of some Sicilians using the Black Hand threat. It was believed the threats came from people who never came to church.

Feuds were many and feelings sometimes intense, (though never to the degree known in "Bloody Williamson") and Willisville became known as a place to keep away from. Many a personal feud was settled by death. "They killed each other off like flies", recounted one of the old-timers.

Succeeding Fr. SENESE in 1913, Fr. Antonio MICHIELLE was pastor for a short time. He was succeeded on March 7, 1914, by Fr. John FERRARA, C. S. B., of the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo. Since the Precious Blood sisters had withdrawn, the Basilian Fathers continued the operation of the school. Like his predecessor Fr. SENESE, Fr. FERRARA, too, was a strict disciplinarian. Financial problems continued to plague the parish and there was no money to pay the lay teachers. One, who had come from Chester to teach in the school, left after a month with its payless pay day. She was succeeded by Olga LAUB (BAKER), who completed the school year, receiving three month's pay at $25 a month. Mrs. BAKER, at the behest of Fr. SENESE, had attended St. Theresa's Academy in East St. Louis, graduating in 1915 after three years' attendance. She then alone taught all the grades in the old church. She recalls the 1915 eighth grade class: Ignatius COSTA and Frank SAVERINO, who would come to her home on Saturdays for a bookkeeping class. With the help of Fr. SENESE, Ignatius COSTA got work in the St. Louis Post Office. Frank SAVARINO developed leukemia and died shortly after his school days at St. Joseph's.

The certificate of incorporation of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church of Willisville was issued on December 13, 1919. The pastor was Fr. John FERRARA, C. S. B. The trustees were Sam CASTELLANO and Anthony SIMONARA.

Father FERRARA left Willisville shortly before Christmas in 1920 to return to Italy where he died later, the victim of a heart attack.

The departure of Fr. FERRARA brought to a close the status of St. Joseph's as an independent parish with a resident pastor. Its next pastor would be the Rev. Patrick SLATTERY, who would come from Carbondale to say a Sunday Mass (1920 -1922). Early in 1922, Fr. Louis TUGER came and apparently lived in both Ava and Willisville for two years. About this time parish life began to decline. Fr. Joseph MUELLER, Fr. Anthony KEEPES, and Fr. Lois ELL would take the train from East St. Louis to have periodic Masses for the remaining parishioners. In 1924, Fr. Robert DeGASPARI was assigned as resident pastor at Ava to serve St. Ann's, St. Elizabeth's, and St. Joseph's parishes.

The economic picture of the 1920s reflected an era of decline in the community which, in turn, was reflected in a decline in the life of St. Joseph's parish.

John L. LEWIS called a mine strike that was never settled. The economic life of the community was strangled. The water to the mine's dairy farm was shut off and the WILLIS Coal Company closed its mine and discontinued operation of its dairy farm. The large concrete silos still stand, a mute testimonial to past bad judgments.

Also the decades of the 20's and 30's were characterized by a general decline in employment in underground mining; the development of strip mining with a decreased number of miners employed; and the depression years which made it difficult for the mining companies in the region to invest in the needed new equipment. In the years 1921 - 1924 the population of the area had declined from 2,000 to 500. About 1928 the rectory was purchased and moved to a location outside of Chester. The school was torn down by a farmer from the Ava area, and the wood used to build a barn.

Among early parishioners who had remained to weather the depression years were Martin GIORDANO,, Sr., Gus CAMPENELLO, Ignatius CASTELLANO, and Joe DOLCE, who went to work in the mines at Coulterville or Cutler or the brick factory at Campbell Hill. Here the kilns still stand - another memorial to the past that could not make it into the present.

Dan DOWNEN, whose grandfather, August REHINECKER, had carried the lumber with which to build the original St. Joseph's Church, was another who remained to raise his family and operate his market, Downen's Market, in Steeleville, a business he had established in 1931.

It is easy to understand the dismal picture that confronted Fr. Robert DeGASPARI when he was assigned in 1924 as pastor at Ava and the missions at Willisville and Raddle.

Since its organization in 1903, St. Joseph's parishioners have known the boom of a mining community, the disasters of a bankrupt mining economy, the necessity for its parishioners to seek a livelihood elsewhere, and the depression years. A few remained to weather the vicissitudes of the thirties and forties. With the help of dedicated, hard working pastors of the past 45 years and the continued willingness of the members of St. Joseph's to promote activities to beautify their church, improve parish property, and build a new parish hall, the result is a successful flourishing active parish life in St. Joseph's today.


The authenticity of this historical account is the responsibility of the author. With the sole exception of the early history of the town of Willisville, we have used only primary sources, such as articles found in "The Messenger", written by past pastors and interviews with the people involved. The author goes on to thank many people who are still living, so I will leave their names off this page to respect their privacy. Many gave personal accounts for the publication.

Other sources consulted for historical background included "Old Brownsville Days, An Historical Sketch of Early Times in Jackson County", by Will B. Husband, a typewritten manuscript in the Sallie Logan Library, Murphysboro; E. Newsome, "Historical Sketches of Jackson County, Illinois, 1894", a typewritten manuscript in Morris Library, Southern Illinois University; St. Meinrad Historical Essays, May, 1938; Morrison, Oxford History of the American People; Greater Egypt Planning Commission, Preliminary Report, 1963; A Short Historical Sketch of St. Andrew's Congregation, Murphysboro, Illinois; and past issues of the Daily Independent, especially the Golden Anniversary Edition for October 16, 1923.

The author thanks his many friends and family, with a special thanks to Mom and Dad for counting and recording all collections and doing the bookkeeping.

We, the researchers of Jackson County, thank this author and the many others who have helped us research, investigate and learn about our ancestors and the "world around them."

Contributed by Katie Heaton "Display it compliments of my Grandmother Agnes Cecilia Shields Grimont. It will make a nice memory." With special thanks and tribute to ancestor W. W. Husband for having the thoughtfulness to write down the stories for all of the descendants like us, who yearn for the history of our own ancestors.