By JENNIFER TOWERY
of the Journal Star
Posted Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:41 AM
Last update Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:49 AM
Twice a day, at noon and 6 p.m., the bells from St. Joseph Church peal through the neighborhood that surrounds it.
"It's just in some subtle way to let people know we're still here," said the Rev. Larry Zurek, pastor of St. Joseph and Sacred Heart Catholic churches.
Though this church has stood on the same spot since 1879 - the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb - time has taken its toll on both the building and its congregation. Not more than 70 people call St. Joseph their church home. It remains the oldest Catholic church in Peoria, located at 103 S. Richard Pryor Place.
"This was one of the bigger parishes," Zurek said. "There was a school right here."
St. Joseph was re-named St. Martin de Porres when St. Joseph and St. Patrick churches merged in 1975.
A fire in April 2005 - on the eve of the feast of St. Joseph - motivated the return to the original name. Parishioners felt the intercession of St. Joseph saved the structure.
But the damage was extensive, requiring $1.3 million in renovations to repair.
Just four years later, the building's interior is still strikingly beautiful. But Zurek can point to places where plaster is raining down, drywall is warped, and other damages point to an inescapable conclusion - the 130-year-old slate roof needs to be replaced.
"You'll see water coming down right there and right there," Zurek said, pointing out trouble spots. "You'll see plaster coming down."
The church roof had a $55,000 patch job recently. That should help the leaking. But within five to 10 years, the roof will need to be replaced entirely. Depending on whether a new slate roof is installed or another option is chosen, current estimates range from $68,000 to $220,000.
And the roof repairs don't begin to touch the full problem. The front doors need replacing, and much work is needed on the white exterior, which is crumbling in places.
It's all worth saving, Zurek believes.
"The church is its people. And yet, there's something to be said about preserving a place for future generations," he said.
A lot of people happen to agree.
Mark and Brennan Rapach of Peoria were married at St. Joseph on June 27. Parishioners at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Peoria Heights, they went to St. Joseph for their nuptials.
"Brennan was enamored by the beauty of the church. In our minds, it's the most beautiful church in Peoria," Mark Rapach said.
Sacred Heart Church has a German Fest every year. It's not a fundraiser, but it does make about $6,000 every year. This year, though, German Fest is going to be held at St. Joseph. All the proceeds from the Oct. 4 event will go toward upkeep at St. Joseph.
"I'm pastor of both parishes, and we felt the need was greater here," Zurek said.
Terri and Rod McKimson of Tremont are co-chairs of the German Fest. They attend Sacred Heart but are happy to help St. Joseph.
"That was my family's first church. Our roots are in that church," Terri McKimson said.
This year, more of an effort is being made to have the general costs underwritten, so more money will be raised.
"It's just a church that needs a little bit of help. Everybody at Sacred Heart - we're glad to help," she said.
The affection Sacred Heart parishioners feel for the old church is evident in the care that's being taken to plan German Fest.
"It's just a really special church to me. It's just so beautiful," said Lynn Stump of Peoria.
She's a member at Sacred Heart, but she has a soft spot for St. Joseph. She's taken on the task of collecting raffle prizes for German Fest to help raise money for St. Joseph.
She's already collected $1,600 in raffle prizes, and is hoping for more help.
"In the end it all goes for one cause. It's really going to be rewarding," she said.
St. Joseph was originally a German church, so the fundraising celebration is an appropriate choice for it, Zurek said. He hopes it also brings some attention to the need there.
"It's a grand old place. A lot of people have a lot of history here," Zurek said. "Got married here. Went to school here."
Jennifer Towery can be reached at 686-3119 or email@example.com.