History of St. Raphael
The same Spirit that breathes life into our mission inspired the founding of our faith community in the 1960s. Built onland donated to the Diocese of Joliet by Harold and Margaret Moser, our community began in 1961 as an outgrowth of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish with the opening of St. Raphael’s Mission School. St. Raphael was the original name of Sts. Peter & Paul Church when it became a parish in 1846 and was also the name of its first pastor, Fr. Raphael Rainaldi.
We emerged officially as a parish in 1963 when Fr. William Condon, was introduced as our first pastor. Our faith community celebrated Mass together for the first time on June 30, 1963 in a converted classroom with the altar, communion rails and lecterns built by parishioners from Sts. Peter and Paul. The Mass was in Latin with a reader leading the congregation in Latin responses.
At that time, Naperville had a population of 16,900 and our parish numbered just 400 families. Today Naperville’s population exceeds 140,000 and St. Raphael’s is nearing 4,000 families!
The timing was perfect! We were meeting the challenge of building a new parish and creating a community in the early 1960’s while being inspired by Vatican II’s vision of Church as a "people of God".
The first Executive Board was elected in June 1963. The administration of parish activities relating to finance, CCD, social functions, liturgy, etc. were all coordinated by committee chairpersons reporting to the Board. Through CCD youth and adults alike were invited on a spiritual journey that continues today encouraging all to seek God in their lives and to choose values that reflect the gospel message of Jesus.
Right from the start, volunteers came forward to organize the essentials of parish life. We were developing a music program, athletic programs, social groups, adult discussion clubs, Bible studies and a rich liturgy that continues to this day.
In 1964 while the church and school were under construction, the church moved into temporary quarters in the warehouse section of the Montgomery Ward catalog store at Naperville Plaza. It was at this location in November 1964 that St. Raphael’s celebrated its first Masses in English. Commentators and lectors were used for the first time and the altar was turned around so that the celebrant faced the congregation.
Masses began in the new church (currently the school gym) in December 1964; and by September 1965, the new construction of the parish complex was completed and dedicated on October 28, 1965. The layout of the church facilitated interaction among the people in many ways including its semi-circle design.
Our community continued its growth with the expansion of St. Raphael School, which graduated its first class of 43 eighth graders on June 7, 1967.
By 1969 times were changing. Naperville had grown to 22,000. The growth of the city brought an influx of new people and new energies to St. Raphael’s. Fr. Bill wanted the parish to be as contemporary as possible. There was a theological sense that "We" are the Church versus the pastor as "boss." Fr. Bill challenged people to recognize their gifts and to take responsibility for the renewal.
A parish council was established to discern those needs. This Diocesan "First" was the outgrowth of the Executive Committee. Over time, the commissions and ministries were formed, and full-time parish staff hired. We responded to the spiritual challenges of the day with renewal movements like Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, Renew and Charismatic Renewal.
We clarified our values of what it meant to be Church. We concluded that Church is worship, teaching, service and administration. We decided we were about serving others rather than ourselves. A Social Concerns committee grew and prospered. Projects like State prison and Illinois Youth Center visitations, various ecumenical outreach programs and thanksgiving dinners for the needy were undertaken.
By 1978, Naperville’s population reached 40,000. After this incredible population boom, we began to be a transient community. We changed from being the small, stable neighborhood community to a highly mobile one. Our function was to provide some kind of base for spiritual life for people, even if they came in briefly, so that they might be touched by the Lord. People were touched and changed by the Spirit life they experienced at St. Raphael’s. They went as missionaries to other parts of the country. 1978 was also the year that Fr. Bill Condon left Naperville leaving behind his vision of church as a servant of the people.
July 1978 St. Raphael’s community welcomed its new pastor, Fr. Michael O’Keefe. Fr. Mike knew St. Raphael’s as an active and involved community, progressive, and admired – a community where the people felt a strong sense of responsibility. The years ahead were years of challenge and growth. A time of hunger for renewal and confusion and pain in letting go of old ways. Fr Mike as comforter, healer and counselor continued to build on the foundation which Fr. Condon had begun.
As the Naperville population grew exponentially, new parishes were started: St. Margaret Mary (1980), St. Elizabeth Seton (1983), and St. Thomas the Apostle (1984). There was the excitement and joy of new beginnings and the pain of old friends leaving. Many of our parish leaders were drawn into these new communities.
This was a perfect time to embark on the Parish Evaluation Project (PEP). The PEP process began in September 1988 under Fr. Mike and continued when our new pastor Fr. Bill Donnelly arrived in 1990 with a re-organization from Parish Council to our current Pastoral Council. St. Raphael shifted from a "voting" process to one of consensus building and shared wisdom model. We continue today to share our wisdom by ensuring that everyone is heard and the will of the Holy Spirit is discerned. We reach consensus when everyone agrees or can live with a decision and we follow the process by talking, listening, praying with the knowledge that wisdom comes from the collective insight of the group.
St. Raphael’s reputation as a contemporary church grew as we reached out to care for the community at-large. Various outreach programs caring for those in the hospitals and nursing homes as well as the homebound and the bereaved and the variety of support groups offered by St. Raphael for the separated and divorced; Newcomers; and Young in Spirit created this reputation.
The Naperville community became aware of St.Raphael’s commitment to social concerns. Parishioners volunteered their services outside the parish at development centers, counseling centers, and at PADS providing for homeless people at night. In the early 80’s the Loaves and Fishes church food pantry became a reality.
St. Raphael’s commitment to caring for all in need continues to be recognized by the Naperville community. The St. Raphael community is known throughout Naperville for sharing its time talent and treasure to promote peace and justice in the world.
Our response to the Spirit and to the needs of our community led us once again to embrace change and growth. Begun under the direction of Fr. Donnelly, and continued under Fr. Ted Weitzel, we built our current church, converted our old worship space into a parish center and gym, enlarged our school, and replaced the administrative wing of the parish. Now building on the work of those who served before him, Fr. Mark Jendrysik leads us as a faith community. Our story, our history and our response to the Spirit of the Lord continues…. Compiled by Sandy Benson October 2007