For the past 100 years, Betty Burke has been connected in some form to St. Catherine of Genoa Church.
Whether it was her father-in-law who helped build the original church on Emmett Street or her own official entry into the church 65 years ago, life without the Catholic church seems impossible.
“Any (trouble) that has come along, my parish is always here,” Burke said. “My children grew up in this church and were married in this church ... it’s very important.”
Burke is just part of one of 650 families that call St. Catherine home and will celebrate its centennial this weekend. The 100-year anniversary celebration starts Friday and will include live music, children’s games, pencil portraits, bingo, ice cream socials and cake walks.
It will conclude Sunday with a special Mass at 10:30 a.m. and a lunch banquet and silent auction to follow.
Father Don Ahles said the anniversary is a proud moment for a church he has always admired from afar and has come to love in his short time as pastor of the church. Ahles, who has been a reverend in the Rockford Diocese for 42 years, received the call to lead St. Catherine in June and said it is not hard to see why the church has thrived 100 years.
“If we’re all still here in 100 years, I think St. Catherine of Genoa will still be here too,” Ahles said. “This is a very hospitable church with someone always ready to greet you. It’s very warm.”
The church has come a long way in 100 years. It started in 1912 at a $5,000 building on Emmett Street that is now an apartment. The construction of the building was possible because of a $1,000 donation from Elizabeth Finkler, who only asked that the congregation honor her mother. The church decided to name itself after Finkler’s mother, Catherine.
The church slowly grew from its initial 52 families and needed more space in 1969, which is when the existing church on Stott Street was built. The open design with the altar in the middle of the people reflected changes that were happening to the Catholic church during the Second Vatican Council.
And while much has changed over the past century, Ahles said the core values that built St. Catherine still exist.
“I think what a centennial does is it recognizes who we are today is built on the sacrifices and dedication of people in the past,” Ahles said. “What was true in 1912 is true in 2012. People come here to worship ... they come together to build the kingdom of God.”
For some, the centennial celebration is the fruition of years of work.
Pat Riedy, who has only been a member for six years, jumped at the chance to help plan the celebration three years ago and started work on two quilts that are now featured near the altar.
One quilt features a picture of the original church with the names of church members hand stitched into the quilt around the picture. The other quilt has more hand stitched names surrounding a picture of the new church.
Riedy said the project took the help of about 20 people and hundreds of hours to complete, but it was well worth it.
Riedy, who joined the church after moving from Chicago, said she was honored to contribute to a place that has given her so much in such a short time.
“I have never been in a church community that is so caring where all they have to do is hear there is a problem and they are there,” Riedy said. “I really feel that I’ve grown spiritually.”