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Spirituality can harbor deep roots in a community through the faith of the people. Holding strong, these roots can overcome trying, distressing times while flourishing in periods of good fortune. Throughout Elmhurst’s history, Immaculate Conception Church has remained an enduring presence for over 180 years, making it the oldest Catholic parish in the city.

The parish began as the Cottage Hill Mission in 1862, however it would be several years before the parish was formally established. “It was a religious presence” in the community according to current Pastor, Father Jim Murphy. In 1863 a church was built on a half acre piece of land on York Road - it was called St. Mary’s Church. The parish was not officially founded until 1876, 13 years after it was constructed.

The parish grew, as did the neighborhood around it. Developing from a sparse prairie, Elmhurst became more populated and a true landscape began to form. Elmhurst was incorporated in 1881. A fire devastated St. Mary’s Parish in 1898, the entire structure beyond repair. A larger piece of land was purchased on which to rebuild the church, construct a rectory and create a one-room school. Within the first two years of the school’s opening, an impressive increase in enrollment required the addition of two more classrooms.

St. Mary’s Parish was originally named Immaculate Conception Parish, but this was not discovered until the early 1900s when Father David McDonald became pastor and had the name officially restored. Father McDonald saw that his parish was growing and was in need of more space to accommodate the influx of newcomers. In a proactive move, he purchased a plot of land where the parish remains today.

In 1929 a new three-story building was constructed to house the church on the first floor, the grade school on the second, and the third floor would be left open for later development. In 1936 the third floor was completed and held classes for Immaculate Conception High School. In 1957 eight classrooms were added to the rear of the building.

Additional rooms and buildings have been constructed over the years. The high school eventually expanded into a building of its own and was the first coeducational Catholic High School in the county. In the early 1950s a brand new high school was constructed. In the late 1950s athletic facilities were completed on a 25-acre piece of land. In 1961 an expansive new parish center was built to accommodate the colossal number of families that the parish served.

In the late 1960s, after much of the building and expanding had been completed, the parish was able to focus on the spiritual aspects of the parish. The inclusion of the high school had spurred involvement in the Catholic Youth Organization back in the 1930s. According to Father Murphy, the youth of Immaculate Conception Parish continue to be involved in ministry today in groups like Varsity Club and Christian Club. Lay ministries for adult parishioners were introduced, as were liturgical ministries. Religious education was an important facet of the parish and continued to be a priority.

With Immaculate Conception Parish well established, parishioners can benefit from and participate in a wealth of programs and ministries. Liturgical ministries consist of lectors, Eucharistic ministers, altar servers, ushers, greeters and musicians. The liturgy is “our reason for existing,” stated Father Murphy. The liturgical ministers “assist in the smooth running of services and are critical to the mass.”

Prayer groups bring people together in contemplative thought and prayer. Adult enrichment programs help adults enhance their faith experience with groups such as Backyard/Fireside Theology, Small Christian Communities and more. Father Murphy noted, “Folks are looking to connect between everyday life and faith.”

Religious education and sacrament preparation guide children through their early years and into adolescence. The junior and senior high ministry programs bring fun to faith with retreats, Peer Ministry Team, social and service events.

Pastoral ministry, social justice and social services all provide programs that couple volunteerism with avenues to offer assistance to those in need. Parishioners can join any of these numerous organizations, some nationally recognized. From blood drives to constructing homes with Habitat for Humanity and from bereavement ministry to fighting hunger, there is a group that can satisfy anyone’s passion to serve. Parishioners gain “a sense of fulfillment” from participating. “Our faith is not a private thing,” stated Father Murphy.

The Immaculate Conception Parish Hospitality Team makes new members feel at home. An orientation programs familiarizes newcomers with the parish. The team “hosts monthly meetings to welcome new parishioners,” said Father Murphy. “These small personal gatherings extend that personal touch.” Other clubs and organizations invite men, women, children, seniors and families to join in and connect with their peers.

Immaculate Conception Parish has grown into a thriving parish community serving more than 2,400 households with worship services, education, volunteer opportunities, faith building programs and much more. The deep roots that it has formed in Elmhurst remain steadfast and will continue to flourish into the future.

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