Nicole and Michael Ranz found treasures in their attic far too valuable for a garage sale. In a house once owned by the Catholic Diocese of Rockford's first bishop, they found a private chapel that included an oil painting of the Virgin Mary and a stained-glass window picturing the Holy Spirit.
Nicole and Michael Ranz found treasures in their attic far too valuable for a garage sale.
In a house once owned by the Catholic Diocese of Rockford's first bishop, they found a private chapel that included an oil painting of the Virgin Mary and a stained-glass window picturing the Holy Spirit.
"Everyone was shocked that the artifacts were still there, just rotting away," said Nicole Ranz, who lives in the Bishop Muldoon home with her husband and their three school-age children.
"Our children's perspective is different because it's their home. When people come over, they're like, 'Do you want to see our church?' "
Ranz, who grew up Catholic, is honored that an image of the Holy Spirit window she donated will grace the cover of a 368-page history being published as part of the diocese's 100th anniversary.
"I feel good that I can preserve something that is so important to so many people," she said.
The yearlong celebration of the diocese's centennial will include special Masses, a history book, a calendar, an official prayer and parish banners.
The centennial is a milestone, and celebrating it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, said Ken Ring, who attends St. Patrick Church of Rockford.
"The long and rich history of the diocese is an amazing story that should be shared and celebrated by all," Ring said.
It's a special time for Catholics who have been faithful through recent controversies, said Nancy Schultz, who attends daily Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rockford.
"The diocese has been strong and responsive to its parishioners, and we have survived this crisis," she said. "To celebrate 100 years is a great thank you and reward to those who have remained faithful and still know the diocese will continue to grow throughout the area."
Century of Change
Growth is one of the most significant ways in which the 11-county diocese has changed, said Michael Cieslak, head of the diocese's Research and Planning Office.
"We have gone from a diocese where most of the parishes were in rural areas or small villages to one where most of our Catholics are found in very large parishes, most of which are in suburban counties," he said. "Sixty-four of our 104 parishes have weekly attendance over 500, and 38 are over 1,000."
Overall population has grown from about 50,000 Catholics to nearly half a million.
Here's another sign of growth: St. James, Rockford's first parish, the original cathedral and a congregation older than the diocese, paid $17,000 for a new school in 1891, according to The Register-Gazette's Historical, Biographical, Industrial Edition. When the parish expanded its downtown parish in 2002, the cost was $3.5 million.
Changes in the demographic makeup of the diocese are significant, too, Cieslak said, noting the special ministries for Hispanics, Filipinos and Vietnamese Catholics, as well as those geared to families and the deaf.
The role of the layman has changed, with many taking the lead in those ministries, Cieslak said.
"Parishes have greatly increased their ministries in the last several decades, and most of these are led by lay people," he said. "The Ministry Formation Program has trained and certified over 900 lay ministers since 1989."
Change has been a constant, Cieslak found while working on the centennial history book.
"I don't know what the future will bring," he said, "but it is safe to say that it will involve change, as the church tries to respond to God's call in our increasingly complex world."
Recognizing the People
The history book is just one of the highlights of the centennial observance.
The celebration is book-ended with special Masses on the anniversary date: a diocesan-wide Mass Sept. 23 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb, and another to be led by Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago on Sept. 23, 2008, at Rockford's Cathedral of St. Peter.
The official opening is expected to be a standing-room-only event at the 10,000-seat Northern Illinois University venue, with a diocesanwide chorus, dignitaries, a specially built altar and every priest in the diocese adorned in vestments tailored just for the occasion.
Plans for the centennial have been in the works for three years, said Penny Wiegert, Diocese of Rockford director of media relations.
One of the goals is recognize the people who made the church what it is, she said.
"The parishes go back so much further than the diocese, because there was a groundswell of believers," Wiegert said. "It's because of their work that we're even here. Even with all our lumps and bumps, there's still something to be grateful for."
Staff writer Edith C. Webster may be reached at 815-987-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.