Church of the Sacred Heart of Mary, New Berlin, Sangamon County, Illinois
Established in 1860
The old State Road, in the pre-railroad days one of the principal avenues of east and west traffic, runs through Sangamon County in a westerly direction, leaning somewhat to the south. About half way between Springfield and Jacksonville may be seen the village of Berlin, once a place of considerable commercial importance, and an active contender for the State Capitol before its removal from Vandalia to Springfield.
On the coming of the Wabash, Berlin lost most of its importance, and the nearest railroad stations two miles south was called New Berlin. Tradition has lost the names of the early settlers, but their origin is sufficiently indicated in the name they gave. A flourishing German Lutheran Church still attests the loyalty with which their descendants cling to the Faith.
Like most rural congregations, the Catholics in this district first looked to the larger neighboring towns for spiritual guidance, and the itinerant missionaries at first, and the resident priests of Springfield later, looked after their welfare.
The first name on the register is Father John Janssen, then pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church, Springfield, and later Bishop of Belleville. His visits began January, 1859, and continued four years. At first Mass was said in the residence of Mr. John Haugh, a building still to be seen, but it must have been rather crowded and occasionally noisy, as Father Janssen sometimes baptized as many as seven children of various ages on the monthly visits.
At this time the parish embraced, in addition to its present limits, much of the territory now included in the Ashland, Alexander, Franklin, Petersburg and Waverly parishes, and the building of a church became a necessity. On October 26, 1860, the foundation of the new church was laid. It was ready for Christmas Mass of the same year. Later on it was used as a school, and finally sold and moved off the parish grounds.
New Berlin was still attended from Springfield by Father Janssen and his successor, Father Busch. It received its first resident pastor, Father Gustavus Mittinger, in the beginning of 1866. In the summer of the next year he was succeeded by Father Francis Schreiber whose last baptismal record is dated October 6, 1872. The frame church having become too small, the corner stone of the present church, a large brick structure seating 400 was laid in the summer of 1871. The old church was converted into a school.
Father Schreiber was succeeded by Reverend John F. Mohr, who, for thirty five years ministered to the wants of New Berlin and surrounding country. Father Mohr’s first care was to plaster and decorate the church left unfinished by his predecessor. Later on he built the pastor’s residence and introduced the Dominican Sisters in place of lay teachers for his school. He passed to his reward in 1908 and is buried in the Catholic cemetery of New Berlin among those he served so loyally and so long.
After the death of Father Mohr, Reverend Adolph F. Schneider had charge until the appointment of Father William Weigand in July, 1908. About this time Alexander was made a mission of New Berlin, and an assistant to take care of it was given to Father Weigand, Father Oscar J. Wernet, and later Father Francis A. Lucius. In 1911 the latter was named resident pastor of Alexander which under his leadership has since prospered.
Under the pastorate of Father Weigand the new brick Catholic school was built in 1915 and a residence for the sisters purchased about the same time. Because of ill health, Father Weigand retired in 1918 to be succeeded for a year by Father Leo J. McDonald, who was succeeded in turn by the present pastor Father William Costello.
Father Costello’s contribution to the material interests of the parish was the remodeling and rather extensive repairing of the church, the pastor’s residence and the Sisters’ House, making the parish plant up-to-date and modern.
Besides the names of these priests, the records show the names of Fathers Anselm and Samuel, O.F.M., Father Timothy Hickey, Father Theodore Bruener, Father Daniel J. Ryan, Father Charles Manuel and others, and the well-known Vidi et approbavi Petrus Joseph Episcopus.
The service flag of this parish in the late war had forty-five stars, with four gold ones at the end.