In the beginning of the last century this section of the country was but
thinly settled. Most of the country was timber. The first Catholic
settlement in this neighborhood was that of Ste. Marie. In 1838, J. Picquet
landed on the shores of this country from Alsace to seek for himself and
countrymen a home in the new world. He journeyed on horseback from
Philadelphia to Chicago, which was then a little town. He did not tarry long
but started out for St. Louis, Missouri, from which city he came to Jasper
county, Illinois. This section of the country with its wide prairies and
extensive timber lands along creeks and rivers pleased him. He secured a
grant of one thousand two hundred acres of land from the government. With
his few companions he repaired to the spot he had selected for his home.
His first act was to erect a cross on a little hill and kneeling down he and his companions sang the "Salve Regina," in honor of the Heavenly Queen. The spot was named "Ste. Marie." In the course of time a church was built and the spiritual wants of the little faithful band were attended to from Vincennes. Later on a resident priest, or rather a missionary, was located at Ste. Marie, with headquarters at that place. The various missions in the surrounding neighborhood such as Mt. Carmel, Flora, Carlyle and others were attended from here. When the parish had grown to such an extent that two priests were required for all the work, an assistant was sent to Ste. Marie to attend to the outlying missions.
Meanwhile the town of Olney had sprung up on the Baltimore & Ohio line, fifteen miles southwest of Ste. Marie. Some few Catholic families from Ste. Marie moved to the new place. The first priest to visit them was Father Loghren. He came in July, 1859. Services were held in a brick building, the so-called O'Donnell home. This l house is still in good condition at 122 West North Avenue. Father Loghren attended Olney until June, 1860, when Father Sandrock, pastor of Ste. Marie, took charge until February, 1861. So far no services had been held on Sundays. In February, 1861, Father John Vahey was intrusted with the Olney mission. Father Vahey was a good organizer. It seems to have been his particular work to visit different places with the result of establishing churches. His principal work in Olney was to collect funds for a church building. Father Vahey was originally an Irish lawyer and very fond of debating. He was called away in July, 1861. For the next six months Father Sandrock had no assistant. The continuation of the work was left to him. He succeeded in building the church in the fall of the same year. The site was donated by Tom Lilly. The church was erected by the firm of Gadus & Lutz. It was situated on what in now Fair street.
From January until July, 1862, the Rev. H. J. Koven attended to Olney and was succeeded by Father Thomas Walsh in October, 1862. Father Walsh was a fine specimen of manhood physically and a neat dresser. He left in December, 1862. For the next eighteen months no records of baptisms are found on the books. During this time Father Sandrock was without an assistant and baptisms were conferred at Ste. Marie. He would, however, occasionally come to Olney and minister to the spiritual wants of the faithful.
In June, 1864, the Rev. James Harty was assigned to Olney as its first resident pastor. He boarded for the greater part with private families notably Frank Gillespie. Father Harty was true to his name, a hearty, genial gentleman, and a good "mixer." He was in consequence well liked by both Catholics and non-Catholics. His health, however, was not robust. He stayed but one year. From July until December, 1865, Father Sandrock again took charge of Olney. In December, 1865, the Rev. Patrick Dee was sent to Olney. He boarded with a family named Hines. He was a young energetic priest. During his administration of the parish two acres of ground were secured in the extreme southwestern part of town and set apart for a Catholic cemetery. Father Vahey also organized a private school for Catholic children with Miss Gillespie as first teacher. Father Vahey went from here to Alton, but soon after died in the St. Vincent hospital at St. Louis.
Rev. A. "T. David succeeded him in June, 1868, but remained only until October of the same year. Father David was an elderly gentleman. In the fall of 1868 he built an addition to the parsonage, added a steeple to the church and placed bells in the belfry. Messrs. Gallagher and Schilt were the contractors. In January, 1869, Rev. P. Kearney came to Olney and stayed until October of the same year. He was advanced in years.
Next came Father Meckel, who is at present in Alton, Illinois. He had just arrived from the old country and was at once assigned to Olney parish. He was pastor from November, 1869, until August, 1874. In 1871 Father Meckel built a school and engaged a private teacher. Heretofore the school had been conducted in the parsonage. He was succeeded by Rev. J. B. Molitor, who is now Rural Dean of the Alton diocese and stationed at Newton, Illinois. Father Molitor was in charge until January, 1877, when Rev. J. W. Merscher was called to Olney. In September, 1884. Rev. F. H. Budde, who is now in Mt. Carmel, took charge of Olney. He stayed until March, 1888. During his time the mission of Stringtown was added to Olney.
In March, 1888, the Rev. J. B. Schnelten was commissioned to the congregation at Olney, which he faithfully held until November, 1906. In 1893 Father Schnelten moved the church building to the corner of East Chestnut and South Elliott streets. The property consisted of three lots and was bought of the Dowling estate and is favorably situated. A new parsonage was also built in connection with the old church. In 1906 Father Schnelten resigned the pastorate on account of ill-health. He retired to Carrollton, Greene county, Illinois. Father Schnelten was very well liked by all who knew him. He was very genial and gentlemanly in his character and diplomatic in his ways. His successor is the present incumbent, the Rev. J. B. Henken.
The Rev. John B. Henken was born September 4, 1870, near Germantown, Clinton county, Illinois, of German parents. He received his early education in country schools. At the age of sixteen he began to study Latin, and in the year 1888 entered the Franciscan College at Teutopolis, Illinois. The next year found him in Ouincy, where he finished his classical studies. In 1893 he took up theological studies at the St. Francis Seminary near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was ordained priest June 16, 1895. His charge was as assistant at the Belleville cathedral where he stayed one year. For the following twelve months he acted as substitute for different priests in the diocese, viz: Four months at Ridgway, six months at Damiansville, six weeks at New Baden, six weeks at Centralia. In 1897 he was sent to Rosiclare, Illinois, as the first pastor of that congregation. Here he remained six years when he was transferred to Sandoval, Illinois. Here he stayed three years, but through all that time he was in poor health owing to a siege of typhoid fever. In 1906 his bishop asked him to take charge of Olney. During his stay here Father Henken has succeeded in erecting a two-story, brick building which now serves the manifold purpose of school, church and sisters' dwelling. The school was opened January 1, 1908, with a roster of forty-five. In the fall of the same year four Ursuline sisters from Paolo, Kansas, took charge of the school which now has about seventy pupils. In February, 1908, the furniture was moved from the old church building to the second story of the new school building which for the present serves the purpose of a church. The congregation now numbers eighty-five families. The parish is well organized, having different societies which look to various needs of church and parsonage. The old church building serves as a hall for entertainments. All in all the parish is prospering and bids fair to become one of the foremost in this section of the country.
Extracted 21 May 2019 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 504-506.