Immaculate Conception is the oldest Catholic parish in Elmhurst, officially founded in 1876. But its roots date back to 1862 when it was first established as Cottage Hill Mission. At that time, one-half acre of property on York Road was purchased for the construction of a Catholic Church. The Benedictine Fathers from St. Joseph's Church in Chicago originally tended to the Mission. Later the Redemptorist Fathers of St. Michael parish in Chicago provided spiritual care. At that time, the little community of Cottage Hill was far different from the present day City of Elmhurst. Narrow cowpaths and wagon roads crossed a treeless prairie. The nucleus of the small community consisted of a few farms, several large estates, and a little cluster of homes around the water and fuel stop of the Galena and Chicago Railway. There were only forty-nine homes in the village, mostly scattered along York Road, and there were fewer than twenty Catholic families in the whole area.
St. Mary's Church was built in 1863 on York Road near Church Street. It was the first church built in the village. St. Mary's Cemetery, located on Alexander Blvd., was established in 1864. The Mission was established as a Parish in 1876 when Chicago Bishop Thomas Foley appointed Father Charles Becker as the first Pastor. Father Michael Welby succeeded him in a year. Early pastors were Father Caspar J. Niederberger (1880-83), Father John B. Kanzleiter (1883-87), Father Francis M. Bay (1887-89), and Father Leopold Moczygemba (1889-1892).
When Father John Zilla (1892-1916) came to the parish, the appearance of the community had greatly changed. The rows of elms along Cottage Hill Avenue were remarkable enough to suggest the name of "Elmhurst" when the village was incorporated in 1881. Other churches had been built in Elmhurst and Elmhurst College had been in existence for twenty years.
In 1898, fire completely gutted St. Mary's Church. Instead of rebuilding on the same small piece of property, a larger plot further 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 1929. Father John Foley (1924-1932) thought it best to build a combined church and school building. Immaculate Conception Church is located on the ground floor. Eight classrooms were completed on the second floor, with an unfinished third 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.
On November 1, 1932, Father William J. Plunkett (1932-1967) celebrated his first Mass as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish. The parish numbered almost three hundred families at the time. He 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 was graduated from IC High School in 1940. During the years from 1940-1946, the enrollment of both the high school and the grade school increased and many new subjects were added to the curriculum.
A new Diocese of Joliet was formed in 1948. Monsignor Martin D. McNamara was ordained its first bishop on March 7, 1949. The parish was granted a loan for the building of 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 purchased twenty-five acres on West Avenue in 1958. A field house, football stadium, baseball diamond and practice fields were built there.
As Elmhurst experienced the post-war growth typical of the suburbs, the Diocese of Joliet saw the need to establish two additional parishes in Elmhurst. Visitation Parish was established on South York Street in 1953 to serve the needs of Catholics on the south side of town. Mary Queen of Heaven Parish was established on North West Avenue in 1957 to serve the needs of Catholics on the north side of town. Despite these efforts, Immaculate Conception Parish included more than sixteen hundred households in 1960. Construction was begun 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 smaller 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 built on the back of the building. A second story ramp was later constructed to connect the Grade School with the Parish Center. A new convent was built on Arthur Street in 1967, located between the Grade School and High School buildings. It was able to house over forty Sisters of St. Agnes who staffed the parish schools.
Monsignor Daniel Murray (1967-1972) succeeded Monsignor Plunkett at his retirement. The sessions of the Second Vatican Council were complete and it was time to implement the directives of the Council. Various Lay Ministries were introduced in the parish. Additional staff members directed the religious education programs of the parish. 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 (1983-85). Small faith-sharing groups began meeting throughout the parish. Some continue meeting to this day. The Sisters of St. Agnes made the difficult decision to withdraw their sisters 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. His skills as a theatrical director were put to good use in the many plays and musicals produced by the schools and parish community. IC participated in the experience of RENEW 2000 (1998-2000) as many more adults gathered in small faith-sharing groups. Father Jim Murphy was assigned as the current pastor of IC in June 1999. The parish debt was finally retired in June 2000. The 100th Anniversary of the Grade School was celebrated in 2000. The 125th Anniversary of the founding of the parish was celebrated the following year.
Fr. Jim Murphy became the pastor in 1999, and the parish debt was retired in June 2000. The 100th Anniversary of IC Grade School was also celebrated in the year 2000, and the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the parish was celebrated the following year. In August, 2010, Fr. Thomas Paul was assigned to Immaculate Conception as its pastor, Fr David Mowry joined us in 2013 as Associate. Deacon John Feely also serves the needs of our parish.
The parish that began with 20 families in 1876 is now made up of over 2400 households. IC Grade School has a current enrollment of 550 students. IC High School has an enrollment of 310, and the Religious Education Program serves over 575 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.