History of St. Patrick Church
St. Patrick Catholic Church is not only the oldest church in Lake Forest, it’s one of the oldest in Lake County, and was among the earliest dozen parishes established in the Chicago Archdiocese. Did you know the stained glass windows in our old church are directly tied to the founding families of Lake Forest? How are our windows tied to the founding families? Before we answer that question we need to examine the beginnings of our community and the history of our church. Here’s how our parish community came to be St. Patrick Church and the families who were responsible for our beginnings.
In 1832, an immigrant couple from County Meath, Ireland named Michael and Bridget Meehan came to America and lived in Salina, New York. In the fall of 1835, after a few years in New York, they moved to the Michigan Territory and settled on a farm, but Michael Meehan began traveling west to Illinois in a prairie schooner pulled by his oxen. When he arrived, American Indians were still living in the area but had recently sold their land to Illinois and had not yet left. Michael and Bridget decided to settle here and began building their homestead. They built a log cabin along Telegraph Road, approximately one-mile south of Everett. The Meehan home became a travel station for pioneers and a setting for meetings. Within a year, in 1836, under the Treaty of Chicago, much of the Potawatomi Native Americans began leaving the area. The land in Lake County was officially surveyed and made available for purchase. Michael Meehan gradually acquired over 200 acres of land. Michael and Bridget Meehan are credited with being the first European settlers of the area and pre-date the exodus of the Potawatomi tribe.
Another man, an Irishman named Michael Yore, born in 1798 in Nobber County Meath, Ireland, came to America aboard the John Adams and arrived in New York on August 2, 1827. Michael, and his wife, Roseanna, settled in New York and had a young, expanding family; however, they had aspirations to move to the midwest. In 1838, three years after Michael Meehan came to Lake Forest, Michael Yore and his family left New York and arrived here by way of the Great Lakes. Lake Forest wasn’t their planned destination; his ship was supposed to land in Milwaukee but a storm blew them off course and they anchored here. At first, he considered purchasing property along the shores of Lake Michigan but ultimately decided against it, thinking the bluff off the lake could be washed away and the area was not suited for farming due to the ravines and heavily wooded land. He and his family ultimately settled in the area near what is now Everett School, which was then called Corduroy.
In 1839, shortly after the Yore’s settled their homestead, Bishop Hailandiere of Chicago selected a Frenchman named Father John Guegnin as his missionary circuit rider for the Northern Illinois
area to spread the word of the Catholic faith. He built a log cabin near what is today Green Bay and Buckley Roads in Waukegan. Father Guegnin would pack his possessions in saddle bags on his
horse and travel for months as far west as Galena, southeast to Joliet, east to Chicago and home to Waukegan spreading the word of God and establishing his missions. Father Guegnin’s local
mission began meeting in the home of Michael and Roseanna Yore for Sunday worship. This is the early beginning of our church.
The Yore Cabin
Michael Yore in his 90s
In 1839 the Lake Forest area’s growing population was mainly Irish. At the time, some of the earliest names on the pioneer roll in the Waukegan Road area were: Atkinson, Barker, Bolger, Burns, Carolan, Carroll, Cole, Conway, Dawson, Doyle, Duffy, Dulanty, Dwelley, Dwyer, Fagan, Gibbons, Hickox, Hinckley, Kennedy, Lancaster, Ludlow, Masterson, McGuire, Meehan, Melody, Murphy, Nullery, O’Boyle, O’Connor, Redmond, Swain and Yore. The decedents of some of these original settlers still live in Lake Forest today and they can be considered the founding families of our community.
In 1840 two ships collided near the Lake Michigan shoreline and dozens of Irish sailors perished in the accident. The deceased Irish seamen were brought here for burial due to the number of Irish families that had built homesteads near what became Waukegan Road. Michael and Roseanna Yore, along with another resident, Lawrence Fagan, donated land for a proper cemetery along Telegraph Road. They named it St. Patrick Cemetery and it continues today.
Within a few years, there was a large enough population in the area of west Lake Forest to organize a Catholic church. Michael and Roseanna Yore, eager to move the growing mission from their home, urged the construction of a new structure where their members could worship. The first church building was a log cabin adjacent to the grounds of St. Patrick cemetery built in 1844. The small 40 feet by 30 feet structure was named St. Michael’s to honor the patron saint of the donor, Michael Yore.
Among the first members of the church were the families of Michael Meehan, Michael Yore, Patrick Dawson, Michael Davan, John Atkinson, Patrick Carlin, James Mahan and John Conway. To serve the growing church community, and in quick succession of the missionary rider Father Geugnin, came Fathers McGorish, Kean, Hampston, Coyle and Magee who led the early beginnings of our church.
Drawing done by local pioneer Patrick Doyle in 1897 when our original log structure was a school.
During this period of our growing community, the first newspaper is published in May of 1845 and is called the Little Fort Porcupine & Democratic Banner. The first post office opens in May, 1847 near what is today Waukegan Road and Route 60 and is called the Emmet Post Office. In 1847 construction of the first telegraph line begins along what is known today as Waukegan Road. The first telegraph message is sent through Lake County on January 15, 1848.
Within 5 years of our first church being built the membership outgrew the small log structure and Bishop James Van de Velde of Chicago urged the community to build a new church. It was in 1849 our local parish was officially founded. A new site at the corner of what is now Route 60 and Waukegan Road was chosen. Two and a half acres of land were conveyed by Peter and Margaret Bichel to the bishop for $86. Patrick Melody offered his nearby farm to store, fire bricks and board the construction workers. Construction began and the corner stone was laid on October 22, 1853. The new brick church and adjacent parish house were completed in 1855 at a cost of $14,000.
Father Magee was the first resident pastor in 1855 and the former log constructed church on the grounds of the cemetery became the community school with as many as 137 students crowding into its cramped quarters. The school continued until 1905. The new St. Patrick church was called ‘Corduroy Church’ by the local members. By the 1860’s it was officially known as ‘St. Patrick’.
In 1861 the City of Lake Forest was officially chartered and by 1875 the population in east Lake Forest was growing rapidly. St. Patrick’s resident pastor, Reverend James McGovern wanted to build a church in east Lake Forest to serve the area. A local resident, J.W. Kennedy purchased property and Reverend McGovern oversaw the construction of the Church of Saint Mary near the town center in Lake Forest.
By 1883, St. Patrick’s 30-year-old brick church was becoming unsafe and needed to be rebuilt. The members tore it down and built a new church on the same plot of land. Workers recycled materials from the former building and the same bricks were used to construct a new church. Unfortunately, in 1895 the building was struck by lightning and destroyed. The members, determined to have their worship space, rebuilt again in the same location. Then, in 1908, lightning struck the church and once again fire destroyed the building.
1908 photo of St. Patrick Church after it was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire.
The members decided to abandoned that location and the church was rebuilt again, relocating about a mile to the south at the intersection of Everett and Waukegan roads, where we remain today. The land was purchased from Thomas Yore, the grandson of Michael Yore. A Chicago architect named Henry Lord Gay was commissioned to design the new building. When construction was completed, the church was dedicated by the resident pastor Reverend Thomas F. Quinn and Archbishop James Quigley on October 16, 1910.
1909 photo of St. Patrick Church shortly after construction was completed
View of St. Patrick Church looking north on what is today known as Waukegan Road
As our parish community grew, in 1968, a Parish Center was added to provide classroom space for Religious Education, social space and an air-conditioned environment for worship during the summer. As the parish grew, it was used as a second site for Mass, accommodating the large group that regularly attended the Mass at 10:00 am.
In 1986, an extensive renovation of our old church was completed. The steps on the south side of church were enclosed in an addition which also added bathrooms and a source of water to the sacristy. A walkway from the parking lot to the main doors of the church gradually ascended to a landing on the same level making it more accessible and eliminating the hazard of icy steps in the winter. A vestibule was created by removing a wall under the balcony and moving the confessional to the sacristy area. In addition, a sound system and new lighting were added. New oak pews were installed and plum colored seat cushions and carpet were used to complement the dominant colors of the windows, reds and blues.
An overriding concern of the committee at that time was to retain the basic simplicity of the church. The exterior brick had been painted white during a prior period. It was sandblasted to remove the white paint and tuckpointed. One of the two altars in the small sanctuary, a vestige of the time before Vatican II, was removed while retaining a solid walnut altar installed in 1964. The Resurrection window over the altar was elongated to bring in more light and marble windowsills were installed throughout the church. The final touch was the completion of new Stations of the Cross by a local artist and member of the parish, Franklin McMahon. The renovation was completed in July 1986. At that the time St. Patrick had 365 families.
As new homes were built in the area around St. Patrick, our congregation grew rapidly. In 1995 ground was broken for a new church, which would include additional space for meetings and for offices. The design incorporated the existing Parish Center uniting what could have been three separate buildings; the Parish Center, the church and the office/meeting area. The church, reflecting it's pivotal place in the life and worship of our parish is the center of the complex with the two other areas connected by means of two enclosed cloister walks. They extend like arms welcoming and enclosing the congregation arriving for worship. The new church remains close to its Irish roots by incorporating the Celtic cross and the Celtic symbolism of the spiral in its decorative elements. Words from the prayer of the Breastplate of St. Patrick are stenciled on the walls of the large Family Gathering Area. Franklin McMahon's daughter was responsible for the design of these elements. On December 13, 1997, the first liturgy was held in our new church. On March 22, 1998, it was dedicated by Cardinal Francis George in a joyous celebration. Today St. Patrick is central to the religious lives of about 1,780 families. We now have two beautiful worship spaces. Our old church reflects our history and our new church provoides a modern appeal.
St. Patrick's old church,
dedicated October 16, 1910
St. Patrick's new church, dedicated March 22, 1998
This brings us to our beloved stain glass windows in our old church. Restoration of the windows were completed in August, 2016 by the Jon-Lee Art Glass, Company. The history of the windows are deeply tied to beginnings of St. Patrick and the Lake Forest community. It’s believed the windows were produced by Detroit Stained Glass Works, originally known as Friederichs and Staffin, founded in 1861. Each stained glass window was donated by local members of our church, many were the founding families of Lake Forest and it's surrounding communities.