Saint Stephen Parish has brought the presence of the Catholic Church to the village of Caseyville and surrounding area for 118 years. The village dates back to the year 1849. By 1893, enough Catholics had settled in the community that Bishop John Janssen, DD. The first Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville delegated the Reverend Charles Kuhlmann to organize these faithful into a parish and to erect a church building. This building was erected at 2nd and James Streets on the new parish property. This simple frame church building served the parish until 1963 when the parish facilities were located at the present site and a new brick building was constructed. The first celebration of the Eucharist to take place in the frame church was on December 26, 1893, the feast of St. Stephen.
During the years 1893 to 1942, the parish was under the care of the pastor and assistant pastor of St. Philip Church in French Village (now East St. Louis). Saint Stephen was formally made a mission of St. Philip in 1905.
Soon after the founding of the parish, though, fortunes began to change. Expected growth did not happen in the community. Some coal mines in the area that were expected to provide employment were abandoned. A street car line between Edgemont and Collinsville made it easy for people to attend Sunday Eucharist at larger parishes in the area where the size of the church buildings enabled more people to attend. The Catholic Children of St. Stephen attended school at the parochial schools in French Village and Collinsville, so families associated themselves with those parishes. Therefore only weekday Masses began to be celebrated in Caseyville followed by religious instruction for the children through 1918.
The plaster ceiling in the church building also became a growing problem. In bad repair and in danger of falling the church was temporally closed in 1918. Parishioners were able to raise funds for several repairs and improvements over the next several years. By the late 1920’s the fortunes of Caseyville were improving and the population growing. Bishop Henry Althoff assigned an associate pastor to St. Philip Parish with the specific duties of reopening and ministering to the flock of St. Stephen. After repairs to ceiling, new pews were purchased and a heating system installed in the summer of 1931, the parish reopened it’s church building and began having regular celebrations of the Eucharist.
In June of 1942 care of the parish was transferred to the priests at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Belleville. By the 50th anniversary of the parish in 1944 there were 273 members. There was an active St. Anne Altar Sodality and Holy Name Society. The parish was free of debt.
August 19, 1948 is a significant date in the parish history. On that day St. Stephen was appointed its first resident pastor, Fr. John Grote. He was assigned the responsibility by Bishop Albert Zuroweste of building a school for the parish. Ground was broken on Easter Sunday 1951 and the school opened August 31, 1952, staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame of St. Louis, MO. For the first few years the sisters lived in part of the upper level of the school until a convent was purchased next door.
The parish was growing. In 1959 the first assistant pastor was named to St. Stephen. But by 1956 Father Grote, began planning for a new church building to accommodate the growing Catholic population of the area. A capital campaign was organized and successful. In 1960 ground was purchased at the current site for a new church building and rectory. Ground was broken in March of 1962. Despite a wind storm that blew down the arches of the church under construction the building was able to be completed and dedicated June 30, 1963. The rectory also suffered damage during construction due to a fire but was ready for the priests to move in by the Fall of 1963.
The old church continued to be used by the school children for weekday Mass until 1967 when the building was abandoned and demolished.
Over the next 50 years the parish has seen much growth, several pastors, a return to just one priest serving the parish and a changing church at large with much more lay involvement in parish ministry.
Voigt Hall, used for parish activities and meetings with a gym for school sports was built in 1975. It was named after major benefactors who made the building possible, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Voigt. Fr. Joseph Hays was pastor during this period. He is also responsible for the installation of the impressive 2-manual, 22-rank
(1,172 pipes) Casavant-Frères Organ from Canada in the church building.
Besides adding to the parish’s physical plant, Fr. Hayes began many of the organizations and activities that still make St. Stephen an vibrant parish. Each pastor since his leadership of the parish has followed his example worked to help the parishioners appreciate and fully participate in the Liturgy of the Church as reformed by Vatican II so that the parish has become known for it’s attempt to strive for excellence in liturgy. Committees to assist the poor of the area, pastoral and finance councils, various lay ministries, Bingo and Fall Festival have been a continual part of parish life.
The pastors of the parish since the building of the new church have been: Msgr: Charles Nebel December 3, 1969 to 1971; Fr. Joe Hays 1971-1980; Fr. James Blazine 1980-88; Msgr. Thomas Flach 1988-1998; Fr. Joe Rascher 1998-2011 and Very Reverend Raymond Schultz, V.F. and Associate Pastor Rev. Anthony Onyango 2011-present. During these years the pastoral staff began to include the new face of parish ministry. A parishioner, Julius Gasawski became the St. Stephen’s first permanent deacon on October 18, 1980. He served the parish until his death in September of 1998. Another parishioner, Bill DeWolf was ordained a permanent deacon in April, 1997 and serves the parish in a variety of ministries. Sister Mary Ellen Backes, O.S.U. served the parish as Director of Religious Education from 1982 to 1989. Mrs. Sue Huett, another native of the parish, became the parish’s first lay professional minister, serving as pastoral associate from 1997 to 2001. Ms. Kathleen McCabe served as associate for one year, 2002-04. Currently Mrs. Carolyn Starr, who served for many years as Coordinator of Religious Education took on additional duties in 2003 after her retirement from teaching and serves as Coordinator of Religious Formation. Beginning in 2004 she also began serving in this position at the neighboring parish of Holy Trinity, Fairview Heights while continuing to serve St. Stephen.
In 1992, due to decreasing enrollment and increasing costs, St. Stephen Parish School merged with the parish school of Our Lady of Assumption in Fairview Heights, IL. Named in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the school continued to operate at two sites for 7 years. The school building in Caseyville at the original parish site was used for Kindergarten through 4th grade. The building at OLA parish on Bunkum Road served as the campus for grades 5 through 8. The gym at St. Stephen was used for athletic programs and school assemblies. In 2003, because of the merger of St. Albert the Great and Our Lady of Assumption Parishes in Fairview Heights in June, 2003 which created the new Holy Trinity Parish, Elizabeth Ann Seton School was merged again with St. Albert the Great’s School to become Holy Trinity Catholic School. The school is now located in Fairview Heights off Hwy 159.
The parish of St. Stephen has begun a process of self-evaluation and “visioning” for the future as new challenges face it in the 21st Century including a shifting population base, different cultures moving into its boundaries and the rediscovered responsibility of lay ministry as the obligation of all the baptized. With gratefulness that God has brought this community through challenges before since it’s beginning in the 19th century, the people of St. Stephen continue to make present the compassion of Christ in the 21st, carrying on His mission in the Caseyville, Collinsville and Fairview Heights territory assigned to it’s care.