Since 1871, St. Francis Xavier Church in Jerseyville has brought the physical beauty of Catholicism to life for area Catholics.
“One of the things that always strikes me about beautiful churches is that they are meant to be a place that transforms us,” said Father Marty Smith, pastor. “When we come inside to worship, when we come for Mass, and when we come to pray, it’s supposed to be an experience that starts to remove us from our earthly understanding and more toward a heavenly one.”
Built in a Gothic style, the church’s body is made of brick from Jerseyville and the stone trimmings come from the Grafton quarries. The main exterior feature is the spire, towering at 150 feet tall, making it a landmark for Jerseyville.
“You can see that from about eight miles away when you are driving into Jerseyville from any direction,” said Father Smith. “It becomes a beacon home where you know you are getting closer to Jerseyville when you see the top of St. Francis Church.”
Seeing its striking beauty on the inside today, you would have never known the church went through a period of “whitewashing.” In the late 1960s, a renovation project made the walls and statues a pale, blue color, losing much of the history and richness. Then, in the late 1990s, a complete renovation of the church occurred. This included refinished pews brought in from Kentucky, exterior work enhanced, statues repainted, and new murals installed.
“When you look at the murals, it tells the whole story of Jesus Christ in the beginning of our church,” said Father Smith. “Above the altar, you see the Annunciation of St. Gabriel telling Mary she would be the mother of God, then you see the Nativity in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, then you see the Resurrection of Jesus, and then Pentecost — the birthday of the church. All our murals remind us that Christ is giving us this great gift of grace, he’s coming into our hearts, and he’s asking us to embrace this great gift of love.”
Parishioners say they are excited for their parish today and for the future. In fact, they have already seen wonderful spiritual growth, most evidenced by Father Smith having to add an additional Mass earlier this year. Father Smith says that the beauty of this church certainly helps.
“There is something beyond this life on earth,” Father Smith said. “It reminds us what our purpose is, that we are heading somewhere, and we are on a pilgrimage. This church is just a little glimpse, a foretaste. We cannot imagine what awaits us in heaven, but we recognize beauty and we know heaven is full of beauty, and so when we see beauty and
things like this church, it reminds us of what is ahead, and it reminds us of what God is leading us to.”