St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Aviston celebrated 150 years of faith Oct. 4, on the feast of its patron with an 11 a.m. liturgy.
Bishop Edward K. Braxton was celebrant and homilist. Bishop Stanley Schlarman, DD, who lived in the parish a number of years while filling a post at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, was also present.
The choir filled the church with song throughout the liturgy, and enhanced the celebration.
The bishop reminded people that the reason everyone was gathered, and the one reality that remains is Jesus of Nazareth.
“Let this day be a day of rededication to Jesus Christ,” Bishop Braxton said.
Pastor, Father Daniel Friedman, thanked everyone for participating in the liturgy and invited the people to a reception and dinner at Aviston’s American Legion where memorabilia were on display as well as a slide show of photos.
Many vocations came from parish families, including three young women who joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Markus sisters: Theresa and twins, Joan and Carol.
Early Settlers. The First Church
The first Catholic settlers in the territory of the present St. Francis Congregation of Aviston were emigrants from Northern Germany, Hanover, Westphalia, and Oldenburg. Among them were Bernard Huelsmann (1839), Diederich Overbeck (1841), Herman Henry Markus, Gerhard Feldmann (1848), Bernard Wempe, Henry Stroot, Henry Merscher, Herman Robbe, Carle Stuever (1849). They engaged in farming and by hard and persevering labor and by the practice of rigid economy converted the wild and weedy prairies of the region into rich and fertile farms. Their parish church was at Hanover (now Germantown); their Post Office was Aviston, located on the old State Route about one mile North of the present village of Aviston.
When the Ohio and Mississippi (now B. & O.) Railroad was built through this territory in 1854, a station was located here through the influence and efforts of Mr. Samuel Hull, and called Hull Station. Some time later, because the mail was now transported by rail, the Post Office was moved to Hull Station, and the small hamlet became known as Aviston, after the name of the Post Office, and was later incorporated as “The Village of Aviston.”
In the early 60’s the number of Catholic families had increased to such an extent that a movement for the erection of a church and the organization of a new parish was general. At a meeting of the Catholics held in the depot building in the Spring of 1864 it was decided to seek the sanction of the Bishop for the formation of the new parish. A heated discussion of the question whether to build the church on the north or sough side of the tracks was finally settled by the generous offer of Samuel Hull, not a Catholic himself, to donate blocks 20, 21, and 28 on the south side, together with a cash contribution of one hundred dollars, provided the church would be built on one of those blocks. On an appointed day, Bishop Henry Damian Juncker, of Alton, came to Aviston accompanied by Father A. Reinecke, of Breese, and celebrated the first Holy Mass on Aviston Territory in a private residence. The house, which has since been replaced by a new building, was the first house north of the tracks on the west side of the west crossing. After the services the Bishop inspected the property of the proposed congregation, and decided that the church should be built on block 28.
Encouraged by their Bishop, the doughty pioneers, without the assistance of a priest, began to build their church in the Spring of 1864. A brick structure 80 by 50 feet was erected by Gerhard Rolfmeyer and Henry Dillmann, local contractors at a cost of $11,741.25. Owing to many difficulties caused by outside interference, lack of pastoral leadership, and shortage of labor, due to the war, the building was not completed until September, 1865. Mr. Rolfmeyer, one of the contractors, while engaged at work in the construction of the church, slipped and fell from a height of fifty feet, and died a few hours later. When the church was completed, Bishop Juncker appointed the Rev. Henry Boecker as Pastor of Aviston and Trenton. He arrived at Aviston, October 2, 1865, blessed the church, and celebrated the first High Mass on October 4, 1865, the first patron feast of the new parish. The records of the church date from that time.
Rev. Henry Boecker, First Pastor 1865-1875
Rev. Henry Boecker was born at Wessum, Westphalia (Germany), July 12, 1827. After his ordination in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 17, 1858, he labored in the missions of Mercer County, Ohio, for seven years. Following the invitation of Bishop H. D. Juncker, D.D. he came to Alton, October 1, 1865, and took charge of Aviston the following day, where he labor zealously and successfully until his death January 18, 1875. When Father Boecker came to Aviston, he found a newly-built church, but there were no vestments, altar linens, sacred vessels or other things required for Divine Services. On the occasion of the first Mass in the church he appealed for donations, and the sum of $678.00 was realized with which to purchase the necessary equipment. Other generous gifts followed soon after, so that in a year’s time the church was completely furbished; even a pipe organ was installed at a cost of $1,600.00. When Father Boecker took charge of Aviston, the parish had an indebtedness of $7,000.00 and a membership of 70 families.
During the first six months of his pastorate, Father Boecker resided at Trenton, but as soon as work on the rectory at Aviston began in May, 1866, he transferred his residence there, and thereafter said Mass at Trenton every other Sunday, until Trenton received a resident Pastor in 1868.
The rectory, a two-story brick building with four rooms on each floor, was built by Henry Dillmann in 1866 at a cost of $2,571.00. This same building served as a rectory until the new one was built in 1949.
The First School
The first school of St. Francis parish was a small frame building, the property of the Public School District. When the parish was organized, the territory of the congregation contained two Public School Districts known as District No. 1 and District No. 2, Sugar Creek Township. Since the families living in District No. 2 (South of Aviston) were almost exclusively Catholic, in order to facilitate the religious instruction of the children, the school house of that District was moved to the village of Aviston in 1866 and placed on the church grounds. Two years later this building was replaced by a two-room brick structure erected by the parish for the sum of $1,395.00. Father Boecker then urged the families living in District No. 1 (north of Aviston) to send their children also to the school of District No. 2 standing on church property, so that they might be able to attend religious instruction, which they did.
For more history, please go to http://stfrancisav.org/history/