History of Immaculate Conception Parish
The Cottage Hill Mission was organized in 1862, and as a result, St. Mary’s Church was built soon after that. It was officially founded as Immaculate Conception Parish when Father Charles Becker was appointed the first pastor in 1876.
In 1898, fire completely gutted St. Mary’s Church. Instead of rebuilding on the same small piece of property, a larger plot farther south was purchased where it was possible to build not only a church and rectory but also a one-room school with living quarters above for the Sisters of St. Agnes who staffed it. Immaculate Conception Grade School opened in 1900 with an enrollment of forty pupils in all eight grades, and was staffed by two Sisters and a postulant. In two years the number of pupils had increased so that it was necessary to add two more rooms in the back.
When Father David McDonald (1916-1920) became Pastor, he learned from church records in Chicago that the original title of the parish was Immaculate Conception. The name St. Mary’s had been used because it was more familiar to the early German residents. When the American Bishops dedicated the United States to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception in 1916, the pastor saw this as an opportunity to reinstate the original name of the parish. Father McDonald recognized the need for expansion of the school and bought the present property on the corner of York and Arthur Streets. His successor, Father Patrick J. Hennessy (1920-24), built a school and hall on this corner. It was used as a parish building up until the time it was destroyed by fire in 1946.
The present Immaculate Conception Church and Grade School was built next to the hall on Arthur Street in 1928. Father John Foley (1924-1932) thought it best to build a combined church and school building. Immaculate Conception Church was located on the ground floor, and eight classrooms on the second floor. The third floor was completed in 1936 to be used for High School classes, and eight additional classrooms were added at the rear in 1957.
Father William J. Plunkett (1932-1967) brought to the parish an all-consuming interest in the education of young people, and an awareness of the need of a total Christian response to the community and the world. His first task was to raise the funds to convert the original Grade School/Hall building into a coeducational High School and parish center. This was the first coeducational Catholic High School in DuPage County, and the parish center rapidly became a focus for CYO activities for young people. The first class graduated from IC High School in 1940.
A new Diocese of Joliet was formed in 1948, and Monsignor Martin D. McNamara ordained its first bishop in 1949. The parish was granted a loan for a new high school building on Cottage Hill Avenue. The school, built in an architectural style to blend with the existing church and grade school building, was completed in 1953. Desiring to secure the best possible physical education program, Monsignor Plunkett had a field house, football stadium, baseball diamond and practice fields built on West Avenue property in 1958.
By 1960, Immaculate Conception Parish included more than sixteen hundred households. Construction began on a new Parish Center, which would house under one roof the present chapel seating nine hundred persons on ground floor, a gymnasium and theatre on second floor, and a hall and meeting rooms on the lower level. The Parish Center was dedicated on June 9, 1961.
In 1957, the Immaculate Conception Grade School was enlarged by the addition of eight new classrooms, and ten years later a new convent was built on Arthur Street, located between the Grade School and High School buildings. It was able to house forty-five Sisters of St. Agnes who staffed the parish schools.
Monsignor Daniel Murray (1967-1972) succeeded Monsignor Plunkett. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, various lay ministries were introduced in the parish, and a spirit of ecumenism was fostered among the churches of Elmhurst. Liturgical Ministries were instituted and a parish Liturgy Commission was begun in 1971. Father Art Maher (1972-1978) commissioned the first Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. As many different groups became active at IC, he sought to provide a unifying spirit and sense of community within the parish. Father Henry Wilkening (1978-1987) guided the parish during the process of RENEW (1983-1985). Small faith-sharing groups began meeting throughout the parish.
The Sisters of St. Agnes made the difficult decision to withdraw from ministry at IC in 1985. The convent was then converted into a Rectory and Parish Administration Center.
Father Gerald Riva (1987-1999) continued to promote the mission of Catholic Education at IC. IC participated in the experience of RENEW 2000 (1998-2000) as many more adults gathered in small faith-sharing groups. Father Jim Murphy (1999-2010) was here when the parish debt was finally retired in June 2000, for the 100th Anniversary of the Grade School celebration in 2000 and the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the parish.
Father Thomas Paul became our current pastor on August 1st of 2010. In addition to Father Tom Paul, Father Cerna, Associate Pastor, Deacon John Feely, and Reverend Mr. Jeremy Leganski also serve the needs of the parish. In November of 2013, our community celebrated the Consecration of the Altar in our restored Church building. This historic Liturgy came in celebration from the efforts of many to renew the Church in a significant way. In November 2016 the 140th Anniversary of the founding of the Parish was celebrated.
IC Catholic Prep has made significate updates over the past few years. These include the installation of astro turf on the football field at Plunkett Athletic Complex as well as a complete renovation of classrooms and hallways on the first floor of the high school building. In 2018, the McDonnell Center for the Arts was completed, giving our students a renovated, dedicated space to pursue their interests in art and music.
During the summer of 2019, the renewal of Sacred Heart Chapel began. Available funds from the We Are IC Capital Campaign made this possible. Work on the exterior of the PC building included the windows and doors being replaced. The new security system allows for the doors to the Chapel to be locked simultaneously to improve safety. The caulk in the old, drafty windows with asbestos was removed. New windows have been installed including some of the stained-glass memorials.
The Parish Center building is home to many parish functions. It houses on the lower level Plunkett Hall, the new grade school library, the new 3-year-old preschool classroom, and the kitchen. The main level of the building is the home to Sacred Heart Chapel. On the upper level is the gymnasium. IC can certainly be proud of this very beautiful facility. However, since it was built in 1961, the building has not been accessible to those who struggle with mobility issues. The new elevator also installed in the summer of 2019 services all floors of the building, allowing everyone to participate in parish activities.
The parish that began with 20 families in 1876 is now made up of over 2500 households. IC Grade School has a current enrollment of 487 students, IC Catholic Prep has an enrollment of 338, and the Religious Education Program serves 525 students.
This narrative of the history of Immaculate Conception Parish only scratches the surface. Beneath that surface lies a far more significant story-a story of a people’s continuing search for the most meaningful way to live their faith and to carry forward the message of Jesus Christ. The people of Immaculate Conception Parish continue to reach out to build a community of Christian love, and to express that love through service to their neighbors. We are IC!