How did a little parish in Coal Valley, Illinois
become dedicated to an Italian Saint?
In 1879 the first Catholic church in Coal Valley was built. However that church was struck by lighting and destroyed during a severe thunderstorm. It wasn't until 1967 when the mission reorganized that Catholics again had worship in Coal Valley.
St. Maria Goretti Parish was first founded as a mission of St. Ambrose Church, Milan, in 1965 during the pastorate of Father John Callahan. During WWII Fr. Callahan had served in the army in Italy. While there he developed a personal devotion to the highly popular Italian, Maria Goretti. Once, when he was in a tight spot Father Callahan promised "if I get the chance I'm going to name a church after St. Maria Goretti.”
The original church building was purchased from Trinity Lutheran Church in 1967, and became a mission under Father Callahan. The Lutheran parsonage, built in 1945, became the rectory, where Father Callahan's assistant, Father Raymond Lukoskie lived.
On June 1, 1972 St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Coal Valley, IL was granted parish status. Father Robert Schladen served as the first pastor, and was succeeded by Father Joseph Nickerson in 1976. Father Duane Jack took over the parish in 1981.
In 1984 the old church building was demolished, and construction of the present building began. During the year of construction Mass was celebrated at Trimble Funeral Home. The new church was dedicated on September 9, 1984 by Bishop Edward O'Rourke.
The original church seated only 150 parishioners. The current structure seats 360, and retains many elements of the former building. The cross which adorns the altar was made from timber from the old church, and the original stained glass windows were reframed and reinstalled in the current sanctuary.
When Fr. Jack was re-assigned in 1991, the parish welcomed Father Harold (Harry) Schmitt as pastor. Father Richard (Dick) Bresnahan arrived in 1994, and served until his retirement in 2002. Father Michael Schaab was St. Maria Goretti's administrator from 2002 until 2005. Father Raymond Guthrie was pastor from June 2005 until 2007. Fr. James DeBisschop became pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley and Mary Our Lady of Peace in Orion in June 2007.
Fr. DeBisschop was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2012 and the severe nature of his illness necessitated he take a leave of absence. During his treatment and recovery St. Maria Goretti was administered by Fr. Deo Gracias and then Fr. Anthony Bernas.
Fr. Jim was able to return to his pastoral duties in the summer of 2014 and currently serves as the pastor of St. Maria Goretti and its sister parish, Mary, Our Lady of Peace.
St. Maria Goretti has also welcomed the service of several SMA (Society of African Missions) priests in recent years. These include Fr. Nimorious (Nimo) Damanzing, Fr. Paulin Kouassi and Fr. Mike Adrie.
Additionally, St. Maria Goretti has been blessed through the years with the dedicated service of ordained deacons. These include Dc. Bob Zimmerman who retired in 2000, and Dc. Chuck Breeden who retired in 2014. Dc. Tom Gainey currently serves at both St. Maria Goretti and Mary, Our Lady of Peace.