Our Parish History


A history of Saint Theresa parish must begin with the history of Salem and Marion County, for this parish has always been an integral part of the community.

     Salem is the seat of Marion County government, having been established on January 24, 1823, by an act of the Illinois legislature.  Prior to that date, this territory belonged to Jefferson and Fayette counties.  The early history of Salem coincides with that of all the Midwest.  Great tribes of native peoples roamed here before Spanish and French explorers charted the land for later pioneers.  The early explorers not only brought European customs to the area, they also brought the Christian faith.

    The area around Salem played a prominent role in the opening of the entire Midwest region. Because of its location on the main trail between St. Louis and Vincennes, it was host to many of the great events of early American history. George Rogers Clark was a frequent visitor in his campaigns from Vincennes to Kaskaskia. Abraham Lincoln knew it from his visits to the now historic Half-way House several miles east of Salem. And of course Salem is the birthplace of William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and US Secretary of State.

     The building of the Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (later named the B & O) from the East through Salem on its way to St. Louis  brought the first Catholic settlers into the area.  The first round trip from Cincinnati to St. Louis, through Salem, occurred between 1850 and 1855.  Most of the original Catholics did not settle here but moved on to St. Louis, seeking newer and better livelihoods.  Those who remained attended Mass at St. John the Baptist and St. Matthew Apostle parishes in Odin.

     It was not until 1868 that the first church was erected on South Washington Street.  A frame structure (above left), large enough to accommodate the eight Catholic families who made up the parish at its beginning, was dedicated.  For the first thirty-five years, parishioners were served by priests from Fayetteville (1872 to 1876), Centralia (1876 to 1878), and Flora (1876 to 1907).  Priests from Sandoval served the parish from 1907 to 1922.  In 1922, the church was practically rebuilt.  The old structure served as a foundation for a beautiful stucco finish, two wings were added and the interior remodeled, repainted and redecorated.  Centralia pastors again took responsibility for St. Theresa parish from 1922 to 1940.  And in 1940, St. Theresa parish received its first resident pastor, Fr.  A.B.  Schomaker.

     Although Salem and Marion County have always relied heavily on agriculture, the 1930s saw a tremendous change with the commercial production of oil, which helped to transform a small town into the many-faceted community it is today.  A highway between Kinmundy and Salem was completed in 1930, allowing the two parishes to have Mass every Sunday.

In 1935, the first vacation school was held in Salem with the assistance of the Poor Handmaids from Centralia.  This was repeated in 1937.  In 1940, the Felician Sisters replaced the Poor Handmaids at Centralia and took charge of catechetics in Salem.

     On April 26, 1940, a giant step forward was taken by the parish.  Final plans were made for construction of the present church on the corner of West Main and Ohio streets.  The cost of construction was $28,000, with another $12,000 for decorating the rectory and the church.

     In 1954, plans were initiated for the construction of a parish school and convent.  Under the guidance of Father Schomaker and with generous support from members of the parish, these plans materialized with the dedication of the school and convent in 1955.  The first enrollment numbered 88 and eventually surpassed l00 students.  It has been staffed by sisters from a number of different religious communities, including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the Felicians, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

     In 1965, increased enrollment demanded the addition of a fourth classroom to the school.  In 1967, plans were begun to renovate the church to accommodate the liturgical changes instituted after the Second Vatican Council.  And in 1968, with 104 registered families, St. Theresa Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary.

     30 years later, a parish center and gymnasium, a beautiful rectory, and a newly-remodeled parish office and meeting house complete the complex of buildings.  The parish has grown to nearly 300 families.  Busy organizations help to ensure the continued financial viability of the parish and school.  Increased lay-participation at every level of decision making and ministry keep the faith alive and active.  St. Theresa has been, and will continue to be a vital part of the larger Salem Community.

     St. Theresa has and will continue to be a vital part of the Diocese of Belleville and Salem, Illinois.  The Church will be alive and well if we, the People of God, are alive in the Lord and seek to do His will and work. 


May God bless us in Love.

Saint Theresa of Avila


     Theresa Capeda y Ahumada was born at Avila in Spain on March 28, 1515.  Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation in Germany only two years later.  She died as Mother Theresa de Jesu at Alma de Tormes, while visiting her friend, the Duchess of Alba, on October 4, 1582.  Within the span of those sixty-seven years, she lived an amazing life.

As a child Theresa lived a somewhat sheltered life.  She was very devout and she even dreamed of being a martyr at the hands of the infidels.  But as she grew into adolescence, her religious fervor cooled and she actually became somewhat vain and sentimental.  She lost all interest in religion, and began preferring instead romance novels and beautiful clothes.  This was the Golden Age of Spain, so-called because of the vast amount of gold that poured into Spain from its Latin American colonies, and all of Spain, including Theresa, grew intoxicated by the promise of wealth.

      She grew to be a beautiful young woman, and was described by her peers as talented and outgoing, adaptable and affectionate, courageous and practical and after struggling for years with her own mediocrity and illness, she found herself searching for God more than ever.  She decided to take a bold step.  She asked for and received permission to live in a small, bare house, dedicated to St. Joseph.  Soon, other sisters followed her.  And thus it was that one of the greatest reform movements of the Church began.  She established a new form of Carmelite convent, the Discalced Carmelites of the Reform, of which there were soon houses both for men and for women. 'Discalced" means shoeless.  The women who lived there wore simple rope sandals.  Everyone shared in the chores equally, including Theresa.  They fully observed the primitive rule of Carmelite life.  And Theresa entered into one of the most difficult and dark periods of her life.

She received violent opposition from those members of her order following a less rigorous way of life, she was misunderstood, misjudged, and slandered.  She was publicly denounced, subjected to ecclesiastical investigation, and privately humiliated. But she persevered calmly and firmly and, by the end of her life (and with the help of her friend, St. John of the Cross), had established 40 Carmelite monasteries throughout Spain, which were to give rise to thousands of similar houses around the world.

     She was a mystic, a person who had a gift for deep prayer.  But she wasn't just a religious person.  She was also romantic and practical, realistic and commonsensical.  If she and her sisters grew bored during recreation time, she would grab a set of castanets and dance around the room.

     In the midst of her many activities, she also found time for writing.  Her books about the spiritual life are now considered classics.  She wrote seven major works and several smaller ones.  Although she wasn't a trained theologian, and she herself said often enough that she wasn't a professional writer, she is today called a doctor -a wise teacher -- of the Church.  She didn't know Latin or scholastic methods, she never learned to use her mind along particular and defined ways, but she wrote what she understood from her heart and from her deep, mystical prayer.  Thus it was that she became the first woman to have been given the title of Doctor of the Church, and one of the most beloved saints of Spain and Latin America.  In 1982, on the fourth centenary of her death, Pope John Paul II spoke not about her wisdom -but of the values to which she dedicated her life.

     At the end of her life and, in keeping with her personality, Theresa reluctantly agreed, in spite of her extreme illness, to be carried to the house of her friend, the Duchess of Alba, in Alma de Tormes.  The duchess wanted Theresa to be near her as she gave birth, thinking that the presence of so saintly a friend would benefit her delivery.  Actually, Theresa intensely disliked and even mocked such sentimental desires, and she despised being treated in such a way.  But she agreed to go to be near her friend.  It was there that she died, repeating over and over again the words of psalm 51: "My sacrifice, 0 God, is a contrite spirit.  A humble, contrite heart you will not despise."

     Today we live in a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation.  We have in Theresa a challenging example.  All who promote renewal and prayer have in Theresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.  She knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (her own physical illness, the opposition of many to her reform efforts, her own difficulties in prayer), but she grew to embrace suffering, even desire it, once stating "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord!  How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles!  And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value."


Her message to us who rely on her patronage is clear:


"All who possess God lack nothing; God alone suffices."