HISTORY OF SS. PETER AND PAUL CHURCH
Our parish can be traced to 1838 when masses were held in a home in Upper Alton - a year after the death of Elijah P. Lovejoy. The Reverend George Hamilton was the first pastor, sent by Bishop Joseph Rosati, C.M., of St. Louis. In 1840 Fr. Hamilton’s parish, named St Mathew, consisted of 14 families, about 75 people. Masses were held at the home of Andrew Clifford, one of the prominent parishioners. Later a frame structure was built on his private property.
In 1843 the Reverend Michael Carroll, who had succeeded Rev. Hamilton, built a new stone church on the north side of Third Street between Alby and Easton Streets. In 1853 a fire destroyed the building. For the next three years, masses were held in a large hall over Harts Livery Stable at 310 State Street, blocks from the recently abandoned State Penitentiary. Father Carroll received $5,000 from fire insurance and $4,000 for the lot and the ruins; there was an indebtedness of $1,800. The site was purchased by the Unitarians and a church was rebuilt. On April 7, 1854, a purchase agreement was signed between Peter and Harriet Wise and the Most Reverend Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis for a parcel of land. The purchase price was $600.
The church building was started in 1855 and was completed in 1857. It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture constructed with local native limestone. Architect Thomas Walsh designed the building for a fee of $200 with a total cost of $35,000. On May 15, 1859, the Rt. Rev. Peter Richard Kenrick, D.D. Archbishop of St. Louis solemnly consecrated the church. The original spires were built in 1866 and in 1931 the first clock was installed. The original altar was constructed of wood. In 1902 T.G. Schrader and Sons of St. Louis constructed a more ornate altar of marble, plaster, and wood.
The most significant part of the church’s history occurred during the construction of the building. On January 9, 1857, the Diocese Episcopal See was transferred to Alton from Quincy. The diocese comprised the southern half of the state while Chicago comprised the northern half of the state. The Most Reverend Henry Damien Juncker became Alton’s first bishop. The Most Reverend Peter Baltes became the second bishop of Alton in 1870 at the death of Bishop Juncker. In 1886 Bishop Baltes died. A third and last Bishop of Alton was appointed, The Most Reverend James Ryan.
THE BISHOPS OF THE ALTON DIOCESE
Below the church are the tombs of the first two bishops of the Diocese of Alton, Bishop Henry Damien Juncker, and Bishop Peter Joseph Baltes. The third and last bishop, Bishop James Ryan, is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
Bishop Juncker was born in 1809 at Feretrange in Lorraine, France. He was ordained in 1834 and appointed pastor of the first German parish in Cincinnati. He later transferred to Alton and was consecrated as the first bishop of the new diocese in 1857. Bishop Juncker died in 1868 after a long illness. At the time of his death, the diocese had grown to 123 parishes with 100 priests. There were 2 colleges, 2 hospitals, 6 academies, 56 schools, an orphanage, and a catholic population of 85,000.
The second bishop of Alton, Bishop Baltes was born in Ensheim, Bavaria in 1827. He was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood by the Diocese of Chicago and completed his theological studies in Montreal. He was ordained in 1853. He was appointed the second Bishop of Alton in 1869. His consecration took place at St. Peter’s Church in Belleville making him the first bishop to be consecrated in Illinois. Immediately after becoming the leader of the diocese, he set out to establish uniformity in the parishes of the diocese, writing a three-part Pastoral Instruction. The chapter on the use of church bells and beeswax candles is characteristic of his organization. He died at the Bishop’s residence in1886. At the time of his death, the diocese had 190 parishes, 100 parochial schools, and over 11,000 students.
The third and last Bishop of Alton was Bishop James Ryan, born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1848. He was ordained in 1871 after a divinity course at St Joseph’s in Bardstown and at Preston Park in Louisville. After several assignments to different parishes in Illinois, he was consecrated as Bishop of Alton in 1888.
During its life as the Diocese Cathedral, our country experienced the Civil War, Spanish-American War, the St. Louis World’s Fair, paved roads, and revolutionary inventions: electricity, the telephone, the automobile, and man’s venture into the air.
Our physical buildings have been through many planned transformations. In May of 1965, the former Bishop’s residence was razed due to prohibitive insurance costs for insuring the structure. The 52-room residence was built in 1862 for the first Bishop of Alton, Bishop Henry Juncker. An auction was held for mementos and $3000 was raised from parishioners. A new rectory was completed and occupied on May 15, 1966. Parking facilities were also expanded.
In 2015, Ss. Peter & Paul Parish had a beautiful Carillon installed in the bell tower of the church, inviting all to come and worship.
PASTORS OF SS. PETER AND PAUL CHURCH
Rev. George Hamilton 1839 to 1841
Rev. Michael Carroll 1841 to 1857
Rev. John J. Menge 1857 to 1862
Rev. Thomas F. Mangan 1862 to 1865
Rev. James Harty 1865 to 1868
Rev. Patrick Dee 1868 to 1870
Very Rev. John F. Mohr 1870 to 1873
Rev. Terence J.M. Cowley 1873 to 1875
Rev. Manasses Kane 1875 to 1876
Rev. Charles J. Zwiesler 1876 to 1888
Rt. Rev. Msgr. Edward L. Spalding 1888 to 1935
Rt. Rev. Msgr. John J. Driscoll 1935 to 1937
Rt. Rev. Msgr. William T. Sloan 1937 to 1961
Msgr. James J. Haggerty 1961 to 1968
Rev. Michael J. McGovern 1968 to 1976
Rev. James J. Sullivan 1976 to 1977
Rev. Peter J. Donohoe 1977 to 1990
Rev. Tom Meyer, O.M.I. 1990 to 1998
Rev. Roger Schoenhoffen, O.M.I. 1998 to 2009
Fr. Délix Michel 2009 to 2013
Msgr. Kenneth C. Steffen 2013 to 2016
Rev. Albert F. Allen 2016 to 2017
Rev. Jason P. Stone 2017 to 2020