The village or parish of St. George was settled by French Canadians in the middle of the 19th century, as were most of the communities in this area. The children and grandchildren of the Voyageurs showed no lack of pioneer spirit, when the lack of jobs, poor crops, or bad luck made them look south to Illinois for new opportunities and a better life.
St. George Church and the surrounding area was named after St. George De’Henriville, Canada. Many of the people had migrated from there and as was the custom at the time, they named their new home after the old.
St. George was also called “Les Petit Isles”, which is French for “The Little Islands”. The area was rather low and close to the Exline Creek which frequently overflowed in heavy rains. Because of poor and slow drainage, when the water began to recede the high spots appeared to be islands. It was on one of these “islands” that the people built a small wood frame church in 1848 and dedicated it to St. George.
This small mission chapel, built on land donated by Hilaire Lanoux, was served by the priests of Maternity of Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Bourbonnais. This included Rev. Courgeaut and several missionaries until Rev. Epiphane LaPointe was appointed as the first pastor in 1853. A year later, a larger wooden chapel was built. In 1858, it too was replaced by a larger combination chapel and rectory. The congregation continued to grow and St. George became an established parish with a pastor in residence.
The first stone structure was built in January 1869 when Rev. Pierre Paradis was pastor. It was destroyed just a few months later in an April tornado. As discouraging as this might have been, the parishioners wasted no time in planning for and building another new church. The people of St. George spent many hours volunteering their time and expertise to build the church whose outer walls survive today. In 1872 this second stone church was completed. It was built of stone quarried from the Kankakee River bed and Rev. Prosper Beaudry was pastor.
In the early 1900’s, tragedy again struck St. George in the guise of a tornado. The storm took off the roof and heavily damaged the 1872 church and the adjoining cemetery that dated back to 1848. Once again, the people of St. George persevered and made the needed repairs on the building. Many of the lost or ruined tombstones were never replaced. Out of respect, this section of the cemetery has not been used for burials since that time. The church was well known for its beautiful carved woodwork and paintings of the Stations of the Cross. Rev, A. J. Tardiff C.S.V. was pastor during this time.
No new buildings, major improvements or renovations were made for many years. The parish survived two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and yet another tornado in 1954. Although the church and surrounding buildings were not damaged, many who lived in the village and nearby area suffered tremendous damage. With faith and perseverance, the people carried on.
In 1959 catastrophe struck St. George again. “Fire Leaves St. George Church a Charred Ruin” read the headline in the Kankakee Daily Journal. On July 14, 1959 the church was gutted by fire. The roof caved in and the steeple fell in flames. Late in the afternoon Lionel Ruel saw the flames from the field where he was working nearby. At approximately 4:30 pm, the pastor, Rev. John Lynch C.S.V., ran from the rectory to the east of the church to find the sacristy ablaze. The Bourbonnais Fire Department was the first to answer the call. Six other departments responded to the calls for mutual aid. Bradley, Kankakee, Manteno, Momence, Grant Park and Aroma Park sent men and equipment. They battled the blaze until 11pm, only to be called back at 2:30 am to put out embers which had re-ignited. The firefighters and neighbors used garden hoses to douse flying embers and save the nearby convent and homes, but the church was gutted.
The parishioners of St. George remained undaunted and a drive for pledges to support reconstruction was held. In a little over a year, under the leadership of their pastor, Father John Lynch C.S.V., the funds were raised and a new church emerged within the stone walls of the 1872 church. A new roof resting on laminated arches replaced the old which had been supported by pillars. A new belfry and steeple were added to the exterior. The Most Reverend Martin D. McNamara, Bishop of Joliet, dedicated the new church on Sunday, September 18, 1960.
During the 1990’s, growth in the St. George area created a need to plan the building of a new church. A contribution campaign for funding a new church began. It was at this time that the stained-glass windows of St. Mary’s church in Kankakee were acquired to be placed in the proposed new church. In 2005, much needed maintenance and improvements took precedence over the construction plans for a new church.
In 2009, Father Dan Belanger C.S.V., with the support of generous parishioners, raised funds to restore and install the windows from St. Mary’s. A beautiful new organ was also installed and continues to enhance our liturgical celebrations today.
In the fall of 2012, our parishioners again responded to the plea to beautify St. George with the addition of a specially designed stained-glass rendition of St. George for our front window. The window was dedicated in June 2013 and can be seen by everyone who passes by. St. George is truly watching over our flock.
In 2022, we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the present church. We look to our ancestors in gratitude for their perseverance to ensure the parish of St. George flourished and endured. We are willing to meet the challenges ahead to provide the same faith opportunities for future generations.