Menu

History

St. Thomas the Apostle Church was chartered in January of 1925 by Bishop Griffin to be the third Catholic Parish in Decatur. The first Mass of this new parish was celebrated on Easter Sunday April 12, 1925 by Fr. Andrew Smith.

We have been blessed with great Pastors throughout the life of our Church: Fr. Andrew Smith, Fr. Thomas P. Masterson, Fr. Terence Tracey, Fr. Robert N. Porter, Fr. Dennis Kollross, Fr. James O’Shea, and currently Fr. Rick Weltin (who is also the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church).

Our Parish campus includes our present Church which was dedicated in November of 1977, our parish rectory– which houses the parish offices of Deacon Kevin Richardson and Fr. Dave Zimmerman, and two meeting rooms on the lower level. Our Pastor, Fr. Rick Weltin and Pastoral Care Coordinator, Phyllis Howley, have their offices at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

The largest of our Parish buildings is the former Church/School building (school closed May 1991). Angela Hall, our parish fellowship hall and kitchen is in the lower level. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have their own meeting room in the lower level.

 View a gallery of historical photos.

Our History

Population growth brings forth many things. On Jan. 16, 1925, it brought forth the announcement of a new Catholic parish in the city of Decatur.

Rev. Andrew Smith, the first pastor of St. Thomas Parish

It was just a few days later, Bishop James A. Griffin appointed Rev. Andrew Smith, a native of Ireland, as its first pastor. Father Smith, then pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Franklin, was no stranger to Decatur. He had previously served as assistant pastor at St. Patrick Church. The 2100 Block on North Edward Street was chosen as the location for Decatur’s third Catholic parish.

When Bishop Griffin suggested the church be named after an apostle, Father Smith chose St. Thomas. The boundaries outlined by the bishop comprised that section of the city north of Grand Avenue and east of Edward Street and north of Packard Street. The number of parishioners, the majority of whom attended St. Patrick Church, came to about 800.

With a pastor, location and name set, the next important goal was a temporary building.  Work began April 1 on the 36-by-96 foot structure and in just nine and one-half days it was completed. Cost was $7,000. It seated 400.

April 12, 1925, was a very special Easter Sunday. The first Mass was celebrated in St. Thomas’ temporary home that morning. Dedication took place that afternoon.

Thomas E Byrne and Dan Dineen were appointed as St. Thomas’ first trustees. The Altar Society’s first officers were Mrs. Anson Gale, president; Mrs. William Henebry, vice president; Mrs. J.M. Howley, treasurer; Miss Margaret Doran, secretary. Mother Margaret Mary was the first organist in the temporary church. Later in 1925, Mrs. Howley became organist and formed the adult choir.

May found Father Smith a resident in the church rectory a house purchased from E.F. Stringer.

Plans for a permanent building were soon underway. It was to be of brick and stone with a seating capacity of about 600 in the church and four classrooms. At that time, it was said to be a departure from the traditional, the church and school being housed under one roof.

Aschauer and Waggoner served as architects and James McCarthy and Sons, contractors. Total cost of the general construction was $90,000. The cornerstone was laid in August, 1925. Approximately 3,500 attended. The Knights of Columbus marched from downtown.

Altar Carving from original altar at St. Thomas the Apostle Church

The dedication took place Sept. 5, 1926, with Bishop Griffin presiding. Various objects in the church were gifts. The main altar was donated by Margaret Allman in memory of her uncle, Edward Allman, with the side altars donated by Mrs. Ed Dunn and William Donovan.

St. Thomas School opened Sept. 7 with four Ursuline sisters in charge. Records list 600 parishioners and 185 students for 1926.

The pipe organ was a gift of Anton Spaeth in memory of his wife. Dedication took place Dec. 13, 1928. The parish’s first mission was held in 1930. Nine years later the Sorrowful Mother Novena began.

The church was redecorated in 1941. In the early 1940’s, the parish debt was completely paid off and a building fund was started for additional classrooms, cafeteria and a new rectory. Father Smith served as pastor until his death on April 13, 1948. He was succeeded by Rev. Thomas P. Masterson.

On Nov. 5, 1950, the classrooms opened. Later that month the entire $165,000 addition opened.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Decatur, Illinois built in 1926.

In December, the old frame building, which served as the original church and later parish hall, was taken down.

In March, 1951, the priests moved into the new rectory. The old rectory was sold and moved across the street.

Electronic bells were installed on April 13, 1952, a gift of Mrs. Mary Irons and her sister, Margaret Burke.

The sound could be heard 12 blocks. The interior was decorated that same year.

The number of parishioners rose to 3,150. School enrollment had reached 403. Totals peaked in 1957, with 4,350 parishioners and in 1958 with 600 students.

The church sanctuary floor and aisles were carpeted in red in 1964; in 1965, an altar facing the people was installed.

Father Masterson resigned in May, 1970, due to ill health and died four months later. Rev. Terence Tracey became St. Thomas’ third pastor June 1,1970.

In January 1971, the parish approved its first constitution. In April, the first parish council of 16 members was elected. The following year, the first school board was formed in May.

The new St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Decatur, Illinois built in 1977.

A major step occurred in the fall of 1976 as work began on a new church building. Philip Miller & Associates were architects. The new church, seating 700, with a chapel seating 100, was completed in 1977. First services were held the first weekend in July. Bishop Joseph McNicholas dedicated the church Nov. 6.

The circular church has a geodesic dome. Exterior walls are buff brick; interior walls, colonial antique brick. Seat cushions are rust. Carpeting is rust striped. Windows are colored chunk glass. The church features a baptismal font and pool with continuously running water signifying the living water which is the Lord. The tabernacle is in the eucharistic chapel, which has a ceramic clay mural by Nancy Pease.

In 1978, the old sanctuary was converted into Masterson Cultural Center and the old church was converted into the gym and renamed Smith Hall.

In 1985, Father Tracey was succeeded by Rev. Robert N. Porter who served four years as pastor. In August, 1989, Rev. Dennis Kollross became pastor of St. Thomas.

St. Thomas was served by a number of assistants from 1948 to 1989. They included: Rev. James O’Hara, Rev. James Hughes, Rev. Henry Kozak, Rev.Anthony Tamulus, Rev. Richard Buchanan, Rev. Robert Morris, Rev. A.D.LeBreton, Rev. Bernard Meyer, Rev. Donald Meehling, Rev. Roy Bauer, Rev.Walter Weerts, Rev. Vincent Worland, Rev. Richard Chiola, Rev. Larry Boehler, Rev. Michael Kuse, Rev. Robert A. Porter, Rev. Steve Pohlman, Rev.Jeffrey Holtman, Rev. Robert Jallas.

Because of low enrollment and work needed on the building, St. Thomas School closed its doors at the end of the 1990-91 school year. One hundred seven students were enrolled at the time. Because St. James School building was of superior construction and the enrollment was low, St. Thomas and St. James officially combined their schools.

Renovation took place in several areas of the St. Thomas building, such as restrooms and cafeteria. The latter was made over into a parish hall. It was dedicated as Angela Hall on May 17, 1992, honoring the 65 years of ministry to the people of St. Thomas the Apostle parish by the Ursuline Sisters.

A lift was installed to provide access to the hall for the handicapped and elderly people.

The parish community building has been used by many area groups and organizations. It continued to serve as classroom space for religious education for children, through eighth grade, not attending Catholic schools.

Father James O’Shea was named pastor of St. Thomas in July, 2004.

The crucifix above the altar in the daily chapel was a gift given in 2005 from our sister parish, Immaculate Conception Church in Comapa, Guatemala.

Kevin Richardson was named Permanent Deacon of St. Thomas beginning in June, 2007. St. Thomas serves approximately 400 families and works together in a pastoral unit with Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

With profound sadness, the parishioners in 2008 discovered one weekday morning that the church had been broken into and the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament had been stolen. The entire parish grieved the loss. One of the chunk glass windows was smashed, but was able to be restored. The tabernacle from the original church on Edward Street was installed in the new church. It had been carefully stored in 1977 when the new church was dedicated.

Fr. Richard Welton was named Pastor of St. Thomas and Fr. James Palakudy was named Parochial Vicar in July, 2008.

Fr. Marianna Sathuluri was named Parochial Vicar in July 2012.

Fr. David Zimmerman was named senior priest in residence in October 2016.

Search