Dallas Wheeler was one of the last people to close and lock the door behind him at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Kankakee nearly two years ago. He was also one of the first to unlock and open the door after the deed and key to the church were delivered Aug. 8.
What took many months to complete has come to fruition — this historic church building once again will be open, this time as St. Rose of Lima Chapel.
Today, Wheeler serves as president of the Association for the Preservation of St. Rose of Lima Chapel. The association’s mission is to keep St. Rose of Lima Chapel open so that all whose spiritual lives are enriched by the church can continue to worship within it.
“We want St. Rose of Lima Chapel to become a community resource,” Wheeler said.
St. Rose is near and dear to Wheeler. Not only was he and his children baptized there, he was married there as were his parents and his wife’s parents.
He also attended St. Rose School. He was in the fourth grade when the school closed. He was among the children who shifted to St. Martin of Tours School.
“St. Rose is home. It would tear my heart in half to see it close. It’s important to me to keep the tradition going. It’s such a valuable institution,” Wheeler said.
“It’s the church and families that build community,” said Gene Marcotte, association vice president. “The roots of this church are so deep.”
“Catholic churches all across the country are forced into closing. I realize that. But where there’s life, there’s hope,” Wheeler said. “We need to keep this as a valuable institution.”
Through guidelines established by the Diocese of Joliet and the association, St. Rose of Lima Chapel will hold one Mass each month. The first Mass will taking place Aug. 23 — the feast of St. Rose, patron saint of florists and gardeners.
Mass begins at 6 p.m. with a reception and open house to follow. The Rev. Ray Lescher, former pastor of Sacred Heart Mission in Hopkins Park, and Deacon Patrick Skelly will serve the chapel.
“We are hoping to fill the church. I think we will,” Wheeler said.
St. Rose Chapel also will host a weekly Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a way to honor the Holy Eucharist by exposing it for the faithful to pay devotions before it.
Funeral services for St. Rose parishioners also can be held. The chapel also will hold penance and reconciliation services, as well as retreats.
The chapel will not be allowed to hold baptisms or weddings services.
Parishioner Jane Zinanni helped during a recent clean-up day to prepare the for the first Mass. For her, it was an emotional day.
“I’m so happy to be back in my church. Looking at the windows, statues, Stations of the Cross — it’s all overwhelming. It brings so much emotion. I’ve waited for this day for so long.”
The parish was established in 1855, and the church was constructed in 1877. In 2017, St. Martin, St. Teresa and St. Rose parishes merged forming the new St. John Paul II Parish under the guidance of the Rev. Santos “Sunny” Castillo. The new parish decided to use St. Martin as the main facility. The St. Teresa property serves its community outreach programs. St. Rose was not being used as a cost saving measure.
While the new centralized parish has been established, there was a real concern about keeping and preserving St. Rose Church.
In March 2018, Joliet Diocese Bishop R. Daniel Conlon presented a “new idea,” something that didn’t typically fit into the idea of the structure of the Catholic church. His idea — to form an association to oversee what would become St. Rose Chapel.
Even before the decision was made by the diocese to close St. Rose and only utilize St. Martin and St. Teresa churches, Wheeler and other concerned parishioners met and petitioned to keep St. Rose open. That same group of people, along with several more community members, formed the current Association for the Preservation of St. Rose of Lima Chapel.
According to Bishop Conlon, the association was “established in accordance with civil and canon law for the purpose of sustaining the historical religious location.”
The association began holding bi-monthly meetings to complete a list of tasks, including becoming recognized as a nonprofit organization, obtaining tax exempt status and a business license and setting up a board with bylaws and statutes.
“We have a good board with a wide-range of talents and abilities,” Wheeler said.
The board, 14 members in total, are business leaders and parishioners.
Once all the paperwork was in order, it was turned over to the Joliet Diocese in July 2018. Nine months later, Wheeler was beginning to feel that the process was stalled. He met with Bishop Conlon about the process and the following Monday at 5 p.m., Wheeler received the call he had been waiting for. The wait was over.
The process moved forward again, and just this month, the key and deed were delivered to the association.
“St. Rose of Lima Chapel is obviously a culturally and historically significant location to the local church,” Bishop Conlon noted in a news release about the deed transfer. “I am very pleased that this motivated group of Catholic parishioners have stepped forward to maintain and operate the building after the parish could no longer afford to do so. Their dedication to their faith and to preserving the tradition handed down to them is a beautiful gesture that will be appreciated by future generations of Catholics in Kankakee.”
“It’s an area treasure,” Wheeler said. “Not just to Catholics but those who are generally interested in religion and even those interested in architecture can all appreciate it.”
The church has many ties to the French-Canadian heritage and was founded by French-Canadian residents. There are future plans to open the chapel for historic tours.
“There are people who appreciate the architectural beauty of it,” Wheeler said. “St. Rose is a jewel in Kankakee. It’s such a beautiful church.”
During a community clean-up day, Gary Seiner was on hand to help out. Seiner never was a member of St. Rose but took an interest in the association to help preserve the “beautiful piece of architecture.”
The association also has plans to open a museum in the basement of the church. Some of the first items donated include a 300 pound marble baptismal, the original baptismal at St. Rose before it was renovated in 1970. The baptismal, once discarded in the church alley, was being used as a centerpiece in a parishioner’s landscaping. It was donated back to the association and will be on display in the chapel.
Other unique items are a statue of Joseph holding Jesus and a statue of Mary with St. Teresa that were once at St. Joseph Seminary. When the seminary closed, the housekeeper was given the statues. The statues recently were donated back to the association as a historical piece.
It’s estimated yearly utility, maintenance and insurance costs will be $60,000 or greater. To fund the preservation and maintenance of the church, annual fundraisers are held.
A cash bash will take place from 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Knights of Columbus in Kankakee. The K of C has recognized and supports the St. Rose of Lima Chapel.
The cash bash will feature raffles, a Big 6 Wheel, blackjack tables, buffet dinner, beer, wine, soft drinks and entertainment by A Taste of the Silhouettes. Tickets are $100 each and can be purchased at Adcraft Printers, the K of C, Love Christian Center and association members.
A brunch was held last year and is planned again for next year the Sunday after Easter at the Knights of Columbus.
A membership drive also is underway. Former church members, alumni of St. Rose School or St. Joseph Seminary or those who simply recognize that the architectural aspects need to be preserved can donate to the association. Checks can be made payable to The Association for the Preservation of St. Rose of Lima Chapel and mailed to P.O. Box 302, Aroma Park, IL 60901.