Monday, 20 December 2021 08:44

St. Francis Solanus - Quincy

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Founded by the Franciscan friars from Germany in 1860, St. Francis Solanus Parish in Quincy is rich in history and deeply Catholic. The church, built in 1885, is home to beautiful statues, gorgeously colored Stations of the Cross, a towering ceiling that makes you look up toward heaven, and a high altar unlike any in the diocese.

“This church is so spectacularly built, so well appointed, and so beautiful,” said Father Steven Arisman, pastor. “They put so much effort into making sure it lasted and truly it has because all these years later, it is still standing.” 

One of the biggest parishes by family count in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, St. Francis Solanus Parish was known for 160 years as having the Franciscan friars minister to the people of the parish. This included decades ago when dozens of Franciscans would offer Mass every half hour starting at 5 a.m. until 8 a.m. at the five different altars in the church. In 2020, the order transferred the staffing of the parish to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

7“This parish was the Franciscan’s novitiate, this is where they would do some of their studies, and formation as Franciscans,” Father Arisman said. “Beyond that, at one point, there were 55 priests who at one point lived here that took care of this parish and the people at Quincy College and St. Francis Solanus College, which is now Quincy University. Those Franciscans have left such a legacy of building a Catholic culture and people who follow the Lord as disciples.” 

Inside, the church is a treasure of everything Catholic. Relics of saints can be seen including St. Francis Solanus, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Anthony of Padua. Franciscan saints line the main area of the pews, towering above the faithful. Nearly 1,000 people can be seated inside. Most eyes, however, are immediately drawn to the white and gilded high altar. It was designed by 19th century designer, Franciscan Brother Adrian Wewer and built by Henry Schenk of Quincy. Standing more than three stories tall, the base includes a replica of Leonardo DaVinci's Last Supper and closer to the top, the statue of St. Francis Solanus. The statue depicts St. Francis baptizing a native of Peru while he was a missionary in South America. 

The statue of the crucifix that is just above the tabernacle is unlike any in the diocese. That is because there are three crucifixes with three different backgrounds. All the priest must do is spin the mechanism and depending on the solemnity or what the priest wants to portray, that is the crucifix and background that is displayed. 

4To side of the high altar is the friar’s choir, where the Franciscans would pray together. In the etching of each of the dozens of wooden seats is a phrase from the Psalms that when you read them from one side to the other, it reads that Psalm out in Latin. 

“One of the other unique things about the church is the stained-glass window on the font of the church which depicts St. Francis Solanus playing the violin for the native people,” Father Arisman said. “That was one of the ways he drew them to Christ — the beauty of music.”

Other interesting spaces in the church include the library, which includes a ladder and stairs so readers can find books on two levels. In the basement, under the sacristy, is an area where altar servers used to get ready for Mass decades ago. The old cabinets their vestments would hang in are there and are still in good shape. This changing area for the servers was accessible by an outside door. That is because with so many Masses going on daily, this allowed the dozens of daily servers to enter and exit the building without making any noise for the faithful praying in the church. 

8The church itself is 75 feet high, with the steeple climbing to 217 feet high, making it one of the prominent structures in the Gem City. Right next to Quincy University and Underbrink’s Bakery, in one of the most historic parts of Quincy, St. Francis Solanus is a refreshing reminder of the dedication and faithfulness of Catholics from the past and the present. 

“There have been so many different people who have walked through here with so many stories,” Father Arisman said. “There are so many families who are tied to this parish, and they have very large families. With that, some have been tied to this parish from the very beginning. The work the Franciscans and these families have done to build up this parish community is quite beautiful. The work they have done with native peoples, the work they have done with the Hispanic culture, and the work they did with (Venerable) Father Augustine Tolton, and to think that Father Tolton was in this building at one point in his lifetime, is quite astounding to us as a parish — to have that kind of history to stand on, a foundation rooted on Christ with Him as our cornerstone and the people of this parish following after Him.”