A Curious Bit of History

      Near Peoria, Illinois, there's a church with a curious bit of history.  Its building is actually the second structure for the parish which began in the late 1830's.   The first was built of logs from nearby timber and was named St. Raphael's.  It was constructed about the year 1840, and erected in an area called Black Partridge, named for the Indian chief Black Partridge who once lived in the vicinity. 

                                   A New Church Succeeds the Log One

        After some years passed, the people decided to build a new church, and according to a parish history, they began construction of a new one of bricks in 1852.  The first Baptism in the new church took place in 1855.  The new church was dedicated to  the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a dogma declared the preceding year.  But the parish history says that from the beginning, it wasn't called by its dedicated name, but simply St. Mary's Church.
        As to why it was thus called, can only be guessed at here, but the title continued to be remembered in print.  An 1878 publication on Woodford County (where it is located) refers to it as "the Church of the Immaculate Conception," and even a 1910 history still included the Immaculate Conception in the name.  At least the name Mary was right for the privilege.
        Even Abraham Lincoln might've heard it referred to as St. Mary's and have spoken of it himself by that name.  One can imagine that it could've come up in conversations during the time the tall and lanky future President rode the Eighth Judicial Circuit and practiced law a few miles away at Metamora from 1844 to 1856.  He was a familiar figure in that nearby town.  A Woodford County history says, "Men told stories of pitching horseshoes with Abe or sitting in the shade of the park just talking."
        Until the time of the Civil War, this church at Black Partridge was the only Catholic parish in the county. While it's out in the country now, over the years there were at least a couple of business establishments located very near by.   A Peter Bauer had a saloon near the church.   In the 1870's or early '80's, another building was moved to a location west of the saloon, which would serve as a general store and a post office.
                      The Nearby Post Office

        It was in 1881 that the government wished to establish a post office at Black Partridge.  According to the aforementioned parish history, this is the story of what happened, as told by a Joseph Schwenk to Father Gabriel (probably Rev. Gabriel Linfert credited with compiling most of the research in the history, and who served the parish from 1945 to 1954). Curiously, the events in the story and what followed, would bring the Immaculate Conception back into the picture, and in an indirect way, attach it to the parish a second time.
        They needed a name for the post office and some local people met to choose one at the saloon near the church.  The first proposal was Black Partridge but that was turned down because Metamora had a post office called Partridge Point.    Several men ran things both inside and outside the saloon, and kept objecting to the names that were proposed.  Finally someone suggested, "Call it 'Lords' because you three men are the lords around here."   The "lords" of Black Partridge liked it, so the name  Lords was sent to Washington and adopted.  Thus it came to pass that it was called Lord's Post Office.
        However, when a Father Eckert came to serve the parish, he mistakenly thought the name painted on the post office window was for the town in France, with the letter "u" inadvertently left out.   Father Eckert added a "u," spelling it "Lourds".  He came in mid-July 1881 and served as pastor until 1888.  The 1910 history referred to the church being at Lourds.
        Succeeding pastors followed that spelling until 1921 when a Father Engelbert added an "e" and entered it as "Lourdes" in the parish register.  Pastors after him continued this spelling.
        By the Schwenk account, then, the name Lourdes evolved by mistake.
  Lourdes and the Grotto in France

        Schwenk's story is intriguing. The name "lords," signifying status among men, would become "Lourdes," a name linked with the humble maiden of Nazareth.  While the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was declared in 1854, the year before the church was dedicated, another event would would occur in 1858 that would become associated with the title and the dogma.
         In the foothills of the Pyrennes Mountains of southern France, near a town called Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin appeared at a grotto by the River Gave, the Cave of Massabielle.  She appeared to 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous, a total of 18 times during the course of the year.
         When she appeared on March 25th, Bernadette sought to find out her name at the request of a priest (She referred to the Blessed Virgin as "Aquero," meaning "that one" in the local Bigourdan dialect).   The Marian theologian Rene Laurentin in Bernadette Speaks - A life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words, says Bernadette prepared herself mentally to ask her in "a beautiful, formal and reverential way."  Her question for Mary was this: "Mademoiselle, would you have the kindness to tell me who you are, if you please." 
        Laurentin indicates Bernadette got the word boulentat (willingness) mixed up with bountat (kindness) at first.  She had some difficulty distinguishing between them.
        Thrice she asked the Blessed Virgin to reveal her name, and thrice Mary smiled but did not reply.  When Bernadette asked a fourth time, Mary's demeanor changed, and she unfolded her hands and extended them toward the ground, in a gesture like that of the miraculous medal.  Then she folded her hands again, lifted her eyes to heaven, and said in the local dialect, "Que soy era Immaculada Counchetsiou" (I am the Immaculate Conception).  She confirmed the dogma of her privilege, proclaimed four years before by Pope Pius IX.  
The Grotto in America

      It seems evident that the parish identified itself with the Lourdes in France, for many years later, in 1928, a grotto was erected here in Illinois.  The people of the parish gathered rocks from the streams and creeks of the vicinity, and brought them to the church grounds where a grotto of stone was put up, in front of the church and downslope from it.
      The grotto was not only built upon a hill, but by the account told Father Gabriel, it was also built upon a mistake that began with the naming of the post office.
                                       St. Mary's of Lourdes at Present

      At the present time the church still is not referred to as that of the Immaculate Conception.   The sign by the church refers to it as St. Mary Lourdes, the church bulletin calls it St. Mary's of Lourdes and we also refer to it simply as Lourdes.
      While the name of the Immaculate Conception is not used for the parish, God in His divine providence either willed or permitted it to be linked to the parish a second time through the name Lourdes.
       What Mary finally revealed to Bernadette in France reminds us of her great privilege, a privilege that figures into the greatest event of human history: the Redemption of man by Our Lord!   There's no mistake about that.        
John Riedell

The photo above perhaps was taken on the closing day of the Marian Year, on August 15th, 1988.

The painting of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette was found in an antique shop in Peoria.  Painted on tin, its origin is unknown but it may have come from the vicinity of Galesburg, Illinois.

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