The History of St. Mary's Parish in Elgin, IL

From the book "St Mary's Golden Jubilee 1851 - 1901"

Contributed by Ruth Keating at

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History of St. Mary's Choirs

Nearly half a century ago the congregation gathered one Sunday morn in the church of the Immaculate Conception to attend mass, heard not as heretofore a low mass, but a high mass sung by Father Gallagher, while the strains of Peter's mass, rendered by a choir of Elgin's best musicians, filled the small building and found a ready echo in the hearts of the sturdy worshipers.

That mass, rendered in the fall of 1854, is the first record of a choir at St. Mary's Church in Elgin. No other singers (grander though they may have been) ever had more appreciative listeners than this pioneer choir, which struggled for many months under difficulties unknown to choirs of the present.

The instrument used on this occasion was a small melodeon, two by three feet, carried that Sunday, and many following Sundays, on the shoulders of Peter Little, from the west side of the river, a distance of nearly a mile. The organist and leader, Miss Julia Little, with her choir, composed of Michael Mann, Peter Little, Joseph Little, Joseph than Fordrecher, Eliza Connor and Bridget Dooley, felt more repaid by the heartfelt gratitude and praise received from each member of the congregation.

Miss Little was succeeded in the fall of '58 by Mr. Fred C. Kothe as organist, and Mr. Mitchell as leader and instructor. Under their joint supervision, the choir rapidly increased in members and excellence. On great church festivals they were assisted by an orchestra composed of Henry Tetzner, Frank Preston, William Saunders, Wallace Saunders Christian Sexaner, Joseph Fordrecher and Nic. Hereth. The members of the choir were the Misses Julia Clifford, Margaret Clifford, Mary Clifford, Kate Meehan, Mary Meehan, Mary Spillard, Barbara Straussell, Theresa Lynch, Maggie Blake, Jennie Connor, Rose Gaffney and Elizabeth Tierney, and the Messrs. Dan. Spillard, James Sheehan, Pat. Laughlin, Joseph Corby, Matthew Duhy, John Meehan, Michael Mann, John Fitzgerald, and Mr. Louis Brown of South Elgin. Mrs. Charles Mack also sang on special occasions.

Under the leadership of Mr. Mitchell, members of this choir formed themselves into a Glee Club which was a credit to Elgin. Gray-haired singers still recall with pleasure and pride the many gatherings of this club, especially the picnic held August 15, 1860, in Colby's Grove on Park street, where James Sheehan's house now stands; and the eye will sparkle and a glow come to the faded cheek as they tell of the band and large parade which were features of that well-remembered day.

Mr. Kothe was succeeded by Mr. Tim McCarthy, a young man of much musical ability. After him came Matt Duhy and Miss Ella McOsker. The last two named kindly gave their services in the absence of a regular organist, until such could be obtained. The pastor, Father Fitzsimmons, was fortunate in securing the services of Miss Kate Quinlan (1870) of Woodstock, Ill., who was the possessor of a rich soprano voice, as well as an accomplished player. Under her leadership the choir made rapid progress. Misses Kate Meehan, Mary Tierney, Elizabeth Tierney, Mary Fitzgerald and Miss Haggerty, Messrs. John Fitzgerald, Frank Welna and Jerry Spillard, were members of her choir. This choir on special occasions sang Haydn's mass in D.

Miss Quinlan was succeeded by Mrs. Coffin, whose choir was composed of Misses Mary Tierney, Emma Clifford, Nellie Fitzgerald, Nellie Lynch, Mary and Josephine Dennis, Lizzie Hipple, Susie Spillard, Mrs. Frank Welna, Messrs. Headly and Frank Welna. Mrs. Coffin played but a short time, and was succeeded by Miss Josephine Dennis, who played for only a few months. Following Miss Dennis came Miss Lizzie Hipple, who played from the early seventies for a period of thirteen years. Much of her early success was due to Father Fitzsimmons, the pastor, who encouraged and assisted her in every possible way. He took the utmost interest in the choir, and every member felt it a pleasure to sing during his service as pastor. During her long service Miss Hipple counted among her singers the best of St. Mary's musical talent,' who will recall with pleasure the many hours of choir practice spent in preparing for the sacred festivals, and be glad that by their singing they rendered the services more impressive by giving freely of their voices to Him who bestowed them. Following are the names, as near as she can recall them, of those who sang with her:

Miss Eva Lynch followed Miss Hipple (1887) with a choir of young singers, trained by the Sisters of St. Mary's Academy. Father Mackin soon secured the services of Mr. Oliver as leader. They made rapid progress and were soon singing Farmer's and Millard's masses.

Father Mackin, in his kind, fatherly way, was very fond and proud of his "boys and girls," as he called them. They were Misses Frankie Fitzsimmons, Nellie Jones', Mame Smith, Mame and Kate Connor, Kate Murphy, Messrs. James Meehan, Edward Meehan and Stafford McOsker. Miss Lynch was followed in September, 1891, by Miss Nellie Jones,. who played but a few months, assisted by Mr. T. J. Herlihy as leader. After Miss Jones' service Miss Mame Lindsay was organist for a short time, with Mr. Frank Rogers as leader. Miss Ella Keating succeeded Miss Lindsay with the same choir. A new member was Mr. Thos. Ryan, one of Elgin's finest baritone singers. He sacrificed his life for his country in the Spanish war.

Miss Mame Kasser followed Miss Keating and with her sister Miss Rose, as leader, succeeded in establishing and keeping up a fine choir. The following well-known singers sang during her service of five years:

The program for Christmas, 1899, the first service ,in the new church', was exceptionally 'good and showed careful and efficient training. Parts of Farmer 5 and Ganss' masses were sung. A week later, on New Year's Eve, was held that grand and inspiring service, a mid-night mass. The following program, especially the offertory, was rendered in a most artistic manner: Ganss' mass, offertory, "Heavenly Light," soprano solo, with violin obligato, Miss Rose Kasser and Harry Miller,; closing hymn; "Glorious is Thy Name, O Lord," Mozart.

Prof. von Plies succeeded Miss Kasser in September, 1901, and was organist during the Jubilee year. The following were members of his choir, and sang at the jubilee and dedication of St. Mary's, October, 1901:

Mesdames Eugenia Cook, Carl Swanson, H. A. Daveler, F. A. Spillard, James Meehan, Dakin, Misses Grace Tennant, Tennie Smith, Anna Lynch, Josephine Lynch, Frances Lapeski, and the Messrs. B. A. Schevers, John Murphy, H. Herbert, E. Kohn, Wm. Ludford, F. Munime, Otto Peabody, James Meehan.

Miss Nellie Jones, of St. Vincent's Church, Chicago, assisted the choir to render the following program at the dedication: Kyrie, Mozart; Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Farmer; Offertory, Ave Maria, Mrs. F. A. Spillard.

A history of St. Mary's choir would not be complete without mentioning the singing of the children, taught by the Sisters of the academy. Many attended low mass because of the beautiful hymns sung by the fresh young voices, and felt greater devotion in their prayers.

Not many who attended the children's mass for the first time in the new church, Christmas, 1899, will soon forget the "Adeste," sung the sweet young voices, or the playing of "The Angels' Serenade "by Misses Mary Tobin, Edna Walker and Annie Souster on their mandolins, with Miss Gertrude Buel at the organ. It truly seemed as though the angel voices singing the "Gloria in Excelsis" centuries ago could not have been much sweeter. This number was most appropriately followed by the singing of the "Wondrous Story," and each listener felt very near the Crib of Bethlehem.

Misses Eva Lynch, Lucy Connor, Edna Walker and Gertrude Buel, music pupils of St. Mary's Academy, were organists for the children's choir.

Miss Gertrude BueJ generously gave her time and talents as organist for over seven years. Many of the above singers have long since joined the celestial choirs and the remaining ones who have not yet been allowed to enter the blessed portal of the skies, hope and trust that in a future happy home they may swell that joyful chorus on high, even as they gave of their best here while singing the praises of God in St. Mary's.


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