The Old Log Church at Holy Family Parish in Cahokia Illinois *
By Howard Brandt, Treasurer
Credo of the Catholic Laity
Holy Family Parish in Cahokia Illinois is the oldest continuing Catholic Parish in the United States. French Canadian missionary priests stopped here and offered the first Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December the 8th 1698. They gave the Mississippi river the Christian name of The River of the Immaculate Conception. The parish was officially established on May 14th 1699 when the first pastor Father St.Cosme and two workmen erected a missionary cross, a chapel and a log rectory. This was seventy-seven years before the founding of our country. Father St. Cosme was apparently killed by Indians in the lower Mississippi the following year.
The early eighteenth century was a time of great difficulty for the newly appointed priests who stayed among the Indians and French Canadians. Of course there were no levees in those days and the parish was situated on low lying land in close proximity to the river. This caused the area to be subject to frequent flooding. No doubt the flooding brought with it mosquito related and other diseases. The second pastor, Father Bergier, died in 1710 and is buried in the row of priests behind the church.
In 1763 the French surrendered all claims to her colonies including Cahokia, an Indian name meaning Wild Geese.
In 1778 the "patriot priest’ Father Pierre Gibault and his parishioners were quietly supporting the American Revolution. On July 6, 1778 George Rogers Clark and his troops entered Cahokia and the people joyfully switched their allegiance from the British to the Americans. Not one drop of blood was shed.
In 1783 the church was destroyed by fire. Nothing was saved but a bell suspended from a tree in the churchyard, a missal printed in 1683, a monstrance made in 1717, a chalice and a paten. The pope used that chalice in his Mass when he visited St.Louis.
On September 24, 1799 the present log church was dedicated. It sits on a stone foundation 74 X 34 feet. The walls are hand-hewn walnut placed upright and leaning in nearly eight inches from the base. The roof timbers are oak and the roof is cypress clapboards with sycamore covering. No nails were used in construction of this structure. It is held together entirely with wooden pegs. Father Gabriel Richard oversaw the rebuilding. Father Jean Oliver dedicated the new church.
In 1836, the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived from France to staff the Holy Family School, fondly called the "Abbey school". All instructions were in French. This was the sisters' first mission in America. Mother Fontbonne was the Sister Superior.
In 1844, a great flood hit Cahokia that stranded the sisters on the second floor of their school convent before they were evacuated by boat.
In 1889, the Precious Blood Sisters came to teach and stayed for 90 years.
In l949, Father Joseph Mueller was Pastor of Holy Family Parish. He "rediscovered" this old log church which had been covered over with white clapboarding. The treasure of the Log Church was restored for the parish’s 250th anniversary.
When Father John Myler was pastor of Holy Family, he asked Bishop Wilton Gregory for permission to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass in the Old Log Church. Permission was granted and the traditional Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 was celebrated here by Monsignor Harry Jerome on September 25,1994. He continued to say the Mass here with occasional help from one other priest for over five years.
When Monsignor Jerome was transferred to Du Quoin Illinois, Father Phillip Kraus S.J. said the old Mass for another four years. Currently Father Martin O’Keefe S.J., with occasional help, says the Traditional Mass at the Old Log Church every Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
I understand that this is the only remaining Catholic Log Church in the country. Certainly it is the only one with this unique form of early French architecture. The church stands as a tribute to God and to those good priests, nuns and parishioners who built this church in the wilderness and have kept it going for more than 300 years.
If you have not been to a traditional Mass for years or if you have never been to one, you might want to attend a Sunday Mass at this historic church.
Cross over the Poplar Street Bridge. Take the Rt. #3 Cahokia turn off going south. The church will be about 2 ˝ miles on your left at Camp Jackson Rd. It’s less than 10 minutes from downtown St. Louis.
* Most of this information was taken from a pamplet and a video entitled "Ever Ancient Ever New"