History of St. Patrick Parish, Tolono

A community of faith for more than 150 years

Before there was a church in Tolono, a priest came from Urbana to say Mass in a section house for the men who were building the Illinois Central Railroad and their families. In 1859, St. Patrick Parish was established and a 20 x 40 foot frame church was constructed. People came from what is now the Philo and Pesotum areas. That church served the greater part of Southeastern Champaign County.

St. Patrick Church and rectory in 1912. Photo from In 1869 construction began on a new, larger church. It was completed and dedicated in 1871 and served the parish until August 2, 1929. Lightning struck the belfry of the church during a thunderstorm, and both the church and rectory were destroyed.

Photo to right: St. Patrick Church and rectory in 1912. Photo from Tolono Topics.

The Methodists offered their church for use, and Mass was said there until a temporary location could be prepared. A former grocery store on Daggy St. served as a gathering place for St. Patrick until a new church was built.

The present St. Patrick Church of Gothic design was dedicated on May 27, 1937. Twenty years later a basement was excavated and finished using much volunteer labor. In 1969 the church was re-dedicated following extensive remodeling, done with a legacy from Peter and Elizabeth Wilhelm. The choir loft was removed and a beautiful floor to ceiling stained glass window was installed. New weather protected entryways were built along with a new sacristy. The old sacristy became an air conditioned chapel and a soundproof "cry room."

The side stained glass windows and those in the chapel were designed by Fr. George Wuellner, brother of former pastor Fr. Frank Wuellner. Jerry Harden made and installed them around 1991. The seven sacraments are depicted on seven of the windows. Former pastor Fr. O'Riley helped with the installation, and he was also responsible for the carving of St. Patrick located at the rear of the church.

A new parish hall was completed in 1999, again using much volunteer parish labor. Fr. O'Riley was instrumental in this project. Religious education classes are held there, along with parish activities and dinners. It can be rented by both parishioners and non-parishioners for receptions and meetings.

Those early settlers who celebrated Mass in a section house began our 150-year faith journey. We remember them and all the others who have gone before us at St. Patrick Parish in Tolono and thank them for laying a foundation for our faith community.

Please use the links at the top left of this page to view a history of priests of the parish and for details on our recent 150th Anniversary celebration.

Priests of St. Patrick Parish Tolono

1854 ................... Rev. Ryan of New Arm
Services held in railroad construction camps.

1858 ................... Rev. Lambert
Served Champaign, Tolono, Danville and intermediate communities.

1859 ................... Rev. J.B. Force (or Frolich)

1860-1861 ........ Rev. Scanlon
Served until his death on Oct. 3, 1861.

1861-1864 ........ Rev. Thomas Ryan (different than earlier Rev. Ryan)
Served present Champaign-Urbana area, Danville, Tolono, Rantoul.

1864 ................... Rev. Noone

1865 ................... Rev. Michael Pendergast
Mission was divided. Became resident priest at Champaign, serving surrounding stations.

1866 .................... Rev. Patrick Toner
Served until retirement in 1879.

1879 .................... Rev. A.J. Wagner
Tolono became a separate church. Rev. Wagner was first resident priest. Transferred to St. Mary’s parish on May 4, 1888.

1888 ..................... Rev. M.J. Byrne Served temporarily.

1888 ..................... Rev. J.F. Donavan

1888-1890 .......... Rev. Thomas Devaney

1890-1898 .......... Rev. Thomas Kinnery

1898-1902 .......... Rev. John Cummings

1902-1905 .......... Rev. D.A. Kelley

1905-1906 .......... Rev. P.J. Quinn

1906-1910 .......... Rev. E.J. Kniery

1910-1924 .......... Rev. Joseph Flanagan

1924-1935 .......... Rev. E.C. Leonard

1935-1942 .......... Rev. B.J. Tomaszewski

1942-1948 .......... Rev. Charles Martell

1948-1958 .......... Rev. Arthur J. O’Brien

1958-1960 .......... Rev. Michael Cottrell

1960-1965 .......... Rev. James Martin

1965-1986 .......... Rev. Frank Wuellner

1986-1988 .......... Rev. Richard J. Means

1988-2001 .......... Rev. Dennis H. O’Ri|ey

2001-2003 .......... Rev. Thomas Gibson

2003-2009 .......... Rev. Joseph Dondanville

2009-2010 .......... Rev. William Keebler

2010-2013............Rev. John Cyr

2013-2017............Rev. Patrick Riordan

2018-Present........Rev. Fredi Gomeztorres

- History compiled from “Tolono Topics" by Marion Moore and previous church directories

150th Anniversary Celebration - 2008

Our Year of Celebration:

  • Opened with 40 Hours Devotion on Fri., Nov. 28 — Sun., Nov. 30, 2008
  • Family Bowling and Pizza at Old Orchard Lanes on Sun., Jan. 11, 2009
  • St. Patrick’s Day Solemn Mass followed by Wine and Cheese on Tues., March 17, 2009
  • St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Potluck and Silent Auction on Sat., March 21, 2009
  • Sacrament of Confirmation on Thurs., April 23, 2009
  • First Communion on Sun., May 3, 2009
  • St. Patrick Float in Tolono Fun Day Parade on Sat., June 27, 2009
  • Parish Mass and Picnic at Parish Center on Sun., August 9, 2009
  • The year concluded with a very special homecoming Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving with Most Rev. Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria on Sat., Dec. 5, 2009 at 5 p.m.
    • Mass was followed by a sit-down dinner catered by Classic Events Catering, Urbana which included:
      • Musical Entertainment by "Celebrate Life"
      • Blessing of Memento Ornaments by Bishop Jenky
      • Distribution of Ornaments
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