You are here : Home  >  History of our Parish
History of Saint Malachy Parish

Mass was celebrated for the first time in Henry County in 1857 by Fr. Alleman from Rock Island in the home of James Warren in Geneseo. At that time, Fr. Alleman had charge of all the territory along the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.

The first St. Malachy Church was built in Beautiful Valley - the Indian name - for Geneseo in 1866. Earlier in 1863, Fr. McElherne, during one of his visits, made plans to build a church. A building committee was elected and they began soliciting funds for a permanent building. Land was purchased on Russell Avenue for $243.00. With the first attempt, $2,559.00 was raised and another $862.00 on a second attempt and finally a loan for $1,446.00 was taken out to complete the church. The total was $5,110.00. At this time, the interior was still unfinished and there was no altar nor pews. Worshippers sat on planks for benches and a table was used for the altar. The early parishioners were natives of Ireland, Germany, Alsace-Lorraine and Poland.

The first resident priest was Fr. Ackley who had been an assistant to Fr. McElherne. Through a fair and other sources, he raised the money needed to complete the church’s interior and for the altar, a chandelier, vestments and sacred vessels. He, also, made a small payment on the debt.

1867 Fr. R.W. Smyth was assigned to the parish. He purchased the first organ for the church at a cost of $688.00 and formed the first choir. The parish at the time consisted of 400 persons.

Fr. Smyth stayed until 1874 and was replaced by Fr. J. Beinke. His parish consisted of Princeton, Colona, Tiskilwa, Sheffield and Geneseo. Fr. Beinke had been ministering to the Germans in the area since 1870.

During this time Bishop Foley of Chicago gave First Holy Communion and First Confirmation in Geneseo.


An Irish priest came to Geneseo by the name of Fr. O'Hara McShane. Fr. McShane was a devout temperance man going about giving speeches on this subject at different places. He was transferred to Sheffield in 1877.

The next priest to be assigned was an interim priest, J.J. Grogan.

1877 At this time the Diocese of Peoria was formed and headed by Bishop Spalding.
1877 Fr. Grogan was replaced by Fr. Dunne. Fr. Dunne had served as a missionary in Africa before coming to Geneseo. Fr. Dunne was assisted by Fr. M.L. O’Connor, who later became Chancellor at the Cathedral in Peoria in May 1884.
1883 Fr. Dunne had become ill and was unable to continue leading the parish, so Fr. M. L. O’Connor took over. It was Fr. Dunne who organized the Altar & Rosary Society.
1884 Fr. Martin Fallihee replaced Fr. O’Connor.
1888 Fr. O’Hara took over for Fr. Fallihee. Fr. O’Hara purchased the lot next to the church and a rectory was built. At this time a number of Belgians moved into the area and, since most were Catholic, the parish grew. A temporary priest came after Fr. Fallihee. Fr. Hauser came to say Mass in Geneseo and Colona. He was only here three months.

Fr. Martin Foley came to our parish. Since it had been fifty years since the first mass was said in Geneseo, Fr. Foley and the parish planned a “Golden Jubilee” to honor this date. It was also time to build a new church, the parish having outgrown the old one. The new church would be large enough to seat 400 people.

The corner stone for the new church was laid on December 4th. Most of the walls were up except the one where the corner stone was to be laid. Bishop O’Reilly from Peoria was the speaker at the corner stone laying. The cost of building this second church was $35,000.00. The new church was dedicated on October 27, 1908.

1900 At the end of the previous hundred years, the people would simply say, “The century has turned.”
1917 Fr. Foley passed away on January 16th.
1923 After the death of Fr. Foley, Fr. Enos Barnes came to serve St. Malachy. Fr. Barnes was a believer in Catholic education. His concern was to build a school for that purpose. The school was built at a cost of $48,000 and was for students from first through eighth grade. Fr. Barnes contracted with the Dominican Sisters from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin to teach. On August 8th, the footings for the school were poured and on August 30th, the first teaching sisters arrived. The church was across the street from the convent and school. Since the school was not yet ready, classes were held in the convent.

The school opened on December 3rd with an enrollment of fifty students. Seventh and eighth grade students were taught by Sister Sylvester, fourth, fifth and sixth grades by Sister Corona and first, second and third by Sister Serverenus and the housekeeper was Sister Christina. Approximately 50 women gathered to help prepare for the arrival of the Sisters.

Even though the school was not complete, the nuns made arrangements to teach in the school hall, basement, and some in the music hall at the convent. At the end of the school year, an examination was given by the pastor. The results were so good it gave promise for the future of the school.

1924 The first graduate was Francis Lipke. The next year two more boys graduated: Joseph Vandemore and Ambrose Splear.
1925 Saturday Catechism classes began with 64 students attending.
1930 Fr. Francis Walsh became pastor. He organized the Boy Scouts. The church was in need of painting and repairs. There were 800 people in the parish at that time. Fr. Walsh was killed when struck by a train in 1935.
1935 Fr. Thomas Jordan came to our parish. It was he who divided the Altar and Rosary Society into neighborhood groups or Circles. This organization had the care of the altar, altar cloths and they arranged for Mass to be prayed at the death of a member. They also took care of the wine and hosts used at Mass. The parish debt was reduced to $16,000.00 at this time.
1938 Fr. Edmund Blough became first assistant pastor and in 1940, Fr. Marvin Colgan became second assistant pastor.
1939 Fr. Francis Casey was assigned to St. Malachy and was assisted by Fr. Colgan. Fr. Casey organized dances for high school students of interdenominational faiths. They were very popular. New floors were installed in both school and church, and a Mother’s chapel was built, plus a new front entrance. Fr.Casey left Geneseo to join the navy as a chaplain in November 1943.
1941 Church redecorated.
1942 “Diamond Jubilee”
1943 Fr. Michael Callahan was pastor from August to October 1943.
1943 Fr. Patrick Martin appointed pastor.
1944 Fr. H.H. Ross came to Geneseo from being secretary to Bishop Schlarman in Peoria for 10 years. He was also editor of the Catholic Register before coming here. Fr. Ross was killed in an automobile accident in 1950.
1948 Fr. Julius Zane assistant pastor.
1950 Fr. Lyle Sheen was assigned to St. Malachy. He was assisted by Fathers Otto, Minett and Catich from St. Ambrose College. While here, he built a new altar from native and oriental woods. Fr. Sheen saw the need for a hall to hold church activities so the hall was built with the help of many parishioners. He extolled the virtue of healthy eating. He also made and sold bread locally. He was related to the well know TV personality, Bishop Fulton Sheen. Fr. Sheen was also assisted by Fr. Francis Dauss.
1950 Construction of the hall began in July.
1961 Fr. George Herbach was appointed pastor. During his time as pastor his assistants included Fr. William Ryan, Fr. Robert Creager and Fr. David Hensen. It was Fr. Herbach who started a drive to add to the school . The addition was to cost $75,000.00 and each wage earner was to pledge $250.00 to be paid over a period of three years. Even though the school increased in size, it was decided to decrease the number of grades to 6.
1961 1,831 parishioners (552 families).
1962 Vatican II began in October.
1963 Mass in English began in December initiating the first changes decreed by Vatican II.
1965 The church was remodeled and redecorated.
1966 In September, the school had the use of four new classrooms. There were four nuns, four lay teachers and 299 students.
1969 The final eighth grade graduation was held. The grade school was reduced to the first six grades.
1970 Exterior of the church was repaired and cleaned and rectory office was remodeled.
1971 2,117 parishioners (602 families).
1972 After more than 40 years of service to the community, the Dominican Order of teaching nuns left the parish. Seven lay teachers were hired to start the fall term.
1973 The first Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion were commissioned.
1974 The first Parents Club Car-Party was held at the Moose Lodge. Parents Club members made the food, served it and cleaned up afterwards. Tickets were $27.50. The following year the Car-Party was held at the Deck.
1975 Fr. V.J. Valiquette from Rock Island became pastor with Fr. T. J. Perron as assistant. It was the first year the parish joined the Crop Walk to aid hunger.
1977 The first annual Jubilee was in July. Fr. Valiquette was here only two years when he died in a motorcycle accident. Rev. John Naab was assigned pastor in November.
1979 Fr. Thomas Mack was appointed assistant pastor just after being ordained. A reconciliation room was furnished for use in place of the old traditional confessional booths. Adult Education classes were organized.
1979 In April, Fr. John Naab left for vacation in Florida and was stricken by a heart attack and died. Fr. Mack served as administrator for the parish during May and June.
1979 Rev. Thomas Brajkovich was appointed new pastor in June.

Fr. Kevin Zerull was appointed as new assistant pastor.

There were approximately 1000 families with 159 pupils in grades 1-6. The church that was built for 400 parishioners had become too small. It would have been too costly to remodel the old church and there was not enough ground for a larger building and more parking. Fr. Brajkovich began the search for property on which to build a new church. A building committee was formed for planning a larger facility. Property was found which proved to be unsatisfactory. Then the property on Ogden Avenue was purchased.

1981 Because of increased interest, the number of adult education programs were expanded. St. Malachy joined the ecumenical “Food Pantry”.
1982 A five day long parish community retreat proved to be rewarding. The Ministerial Association, of which St. Malachy's is a member, initiated formation of the “Employment Hotline” to aid the jobless.
1983 Harley Chaffee was ordained the first permanent deacon for our parish on May 21, 1983.

The Fund Drive for the new facility was completed.

Fr. Brajkovich was transferred before the building began.


Fr. John Mahoney was appointed the new pastor of St. Malachy and took over the job of directing building plans for the new church.

Fr. Valerian Laini, a priest from Tanzania, East Africa assisted Fr. Mahoney for a few months. A Parish Council was started.

1986 In June Fr. Rick Oberch came to St. Malachyas an assistant pastor.
1987 Ground was broken and the 3.5 million dollar construction project was begun in September.
1988 Walt Verbeck and Harley Harris were ordained permanent deacons on May 21, 1988.

Liz Fristensky was named Director of Religious Education. The church was to be completed in 1989.

On March 29th 1989, members of the parish and Parents Club helped to move the furnishings from the old school into the new school building. There were many sad memories from students, now grown, who had attended the old school. The students marched from the old to the new school.

On Sunday, May 14th 1989, there was a procession from the old church on North Russell to the new church.

The church is large enough to seat six hundred persons with more room in the Narthex and the chapel. There is a kitchen area, an office and a baptismal area complete with a fountain which is between the church and chapel. The first Masses were on May 20th and 21st, 1989. There was an Open House on May 28th.

The Dedication Mass was celebrated on July 2nd, 1989 with Edward W. O’Rourke, Bishop of Peoria, presiding.

1990 In September the pastor and children’s choir from our sister parish, St. Malachy’s in Chicago were brought to Geneseo by the Social Justice Committee. They spent the day on the Russ Ward farm where they rode horses and tractors. They, also, enjoyed a ride on the Mississippi River and later sang at Mass.

Prayer services here held in January for world peace as Operation Desert Storm began.

After the new church was built, a decision had to be made about what to do with the church building on North Russell. Should it be sold? And to whom? Should it be torn down and the land sold? It was decided to tear it down. Demolition began in February. The bell came down first, then the tower and then the building. The land was sold and now contains four condos. The stained glass windows were incorporated into the new building on Ogden.


The Good Shepherd stained glass window was the first window to be restored from the Russell Avenue church.

Tom Wachtel was ordained as a permanent deacon on May 8, 1991

Plans were submitted in November for a new rectory that would be built by the parishioners. Construction began on the rectory.

1993 Youth minister, students and parent chaperones attended the World Youth Convention in Denver. They participated in Mass with Pope John Paul II.

Deacon Walter Verbeck began training the first group of girls to become altar servers.

Fr. Mahoney saw to the completion of the church and school and continued as pastor for another five years. He became ill during an evening Mass and was hospitalized. He underwent a lengthy surgery during which there was an all day prayer vigil. He retired and moved into a home across the street from the church, but continued to be involved with the children of the parish.


Fr. Glenn Fontana was assigned assistant pastor.

First WATCH weekend, a three-day renewal program was held.

The “house payment” program, a plan for paying on the building debt began.

Christmas in April brought our community together with others to assist those in need of home repairs and improvements.

Fr. Mahoney was appointed Pastor Emeritus.

On June 14, Fr. Michael Pakula was assigned as pastor of St. Malachy.

A new reconciliation room was built in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.


The first Winter Festival held in February replaced the Fall Bazaar.

The Pony Express process was introduced to assist financial renewal.

Elizabeth Ministry which supports women during the childbearing years began.

1997 Larry Honzel was ordained a permanent deacon on May 17, 1997.
1999 Joyce Snyder became the first parish nurse.
2000 Mass was celebrated at 12:00 a.m. to celebrate the beginning of the Millennium Year.

Final payment on the church debt was made. (Yeah!!!)

Our St. Malalchy congregation joined with fellow Americans in praying for the victims of 9/11/2001.

2003 Fr. Mahoney died.

First Parish Life weekend held.
2004 New carpeting at a cost of $32,000 was laid in the nave of the church and in the sanctuary and tile was laid around the baptismal fountain and near the windows on both sides of the altar. New pews (with kneelers) were installed at a cost of $71,000. Air conditioning was installed in the Daily Mass Chapel.

Glass doors that separated the daily chapel from the rest of the church were installed. In the daily chapel, a new tabernacle area was constructed, new carpet was installed, chairs were reupholstered and more closet space was added behind tabernacle area.


In May, a new organ was installed at a cost of $74,090.

Mrs. Marsha Loucks retired after teaching thirty-two years at St. Malachy School.

St. Malachy Church celebrated their 140th Anniversary with a host of events during the week of July 9th -14th which included a float in the Music Festival Parade, a potluck picnic with games, music and a car show, a nostalgic bingo, and on Friday evening, Mass was celebrated by Bishop Daniel Jenky after which there was a tour of the building and dinner. A time capsule was buried that evening.

Task Force studies feasibility of Parish Activity Center.

First Steubenville Youth Conference attended by our Youth Group.


Robert O'Rourke and Art Ries were ordained as permanent deacons on May 19, 2007

Fund Drive for Parish Activity Center begins Oct. 2007

Have $750,000 in building fund already. Need $3 million in cash or pledges before construction can begin.

First JUSTFAITH Group begins


Building & Renovation begins. 20,000 sq. ft. complex to include: new school rooms and church offices, a well-equipped kitchen, school cafeteria, indoor gym & recess area/parish hall, art & music room, update on fire & health safety.

FALL 2009 – Parish supports Humility of Mary Shelter – over $40,000 donated so far.


Deacon Harley Harris dies March 31, 2011 at the age of 82.

Liz Fristensky retires from Director of Religious Education Program

Leigh Boorn hired as Faith Formation Leader – Summer 2011

Building finished in Summer of 2011

Sister Parish relationship established with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Mission in Maynardville, TN (Fr. Steve Pawelk is pastor) sponsored by Glenmary Missioners in Nov. 2011


Bishop Jenky established GIFT (Growing Together in Faith) process for our Diocese in early 2013. Parishes: St. Anthony (Atkinson) and Sacred Heart (Annawan).

Pantry Patron ministry established at St. Malachy’s “We’ll Shop For You” for Geneseo Food Pantry – September 2013


January, 2014 – The parish addition was paid off in full.

40th Annual Parents Club Car Party, April 26, 2014


Parish Council re-established July 1, 2015

40th Annual Parents Club Lasagna Supper, September 25, 2015


Year Long Celebration for the 150th Anniversary of St. Malachy Parish begins.

2017 Mike Sigwalt was ordained as a permanent deacon on May 20, 2017
2018 Deacon Harley Chaffee retires from active deacon service.
2019 Heather Francque was appointed as Principal of St. Malachy School on July 17, 2019
2020 Global COVID-19 pandemic occurs, St. Malachy church is closed for all Mass services starting on March 16, 2020 per instruction from the Diocese of Peoria.  Services were resumed in limited fashion with appropriate social distancing and other restrictive measures on June 20, 2020.  Also on June 20th, the live streaming of weekend Masses over the internet on Facebook was started in an attempt to reach those parishioners at home who were apprehensive to come to Mass in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fr. Michael G. Pakula was moved to Senior Status by the Bishop and officially retired as pastor of St. Malachy on July 8, 2020.  At that time, Fr. James G. Pallardy was appointed as new pastor for St. Malachy.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenkey, C.S.C. appointed Fr. Daniel Gifford as pastor of St. Malachy church and school effective September 8, 2020.  Fr. Gifford replaces Fr. James Pallardy.

Darci Dietrich was hired as High School Youth Minister on November 15, 2020

 2021 A St. Malachy Parish Mission was launched on April 19, 2021 with four straight nights of formation discussion, prayer and songs of Praise and concluded with the Novena for the second great Feast of Saint Joseph; the Worker on May 1, 2021.

Jennifer Higgins was hired as Parish Business Administrator on June 1, 2021.

Kimberly Souba was hired as Confirmation/Jr. High/Youth Coordinator on June 1, 2021.

Tim Smith was hired as the next Principal at St. Malachy School by the school search committee on August 17, 2021

Deacon Harley Chaffee dies October 29, 2021 at the age of 84.