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As with any parish, the history of St. Raymond is closely linked to the lives of the men who have led it. Their stories are our stories and it all began with an Irish immigrant with a deep brogue and great sense of purpose.
St. Raymond Parish was founded June 28, 1917 by Archbishop Mundelein of the Archdiocese of Chicago in response to the needs of the increasing population on Joliet’s new west side.
Fr. Francis Scanlan, an Assistant Pastor of Holy Cross Church in Chicago, received notice of his new assignment on the morning of June 29, 1917. By midday, he was on his way to Joliet (archives note that he was driven in an automobile) to begin his first and only pastorate.
Fr. Scanlan had three immediate needs—to find parishioners, to find a place to live and to find a temporary place to worship.
The parishioners and the place to live came together. He met with the pastor of St. Patrick Church, Fr. Philip Kennedy, and they celebrated the Sunday Masses together to explain that some of the current St. Patrick’s congregation would form the new St. Raymond congregation. Fr. Kennedy also invited Fr. Scanlan to live in the St. Patrick rectory until he could build his own parish house.
In search of a temporary place of worship. Fr. Scanlan visited the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate on Plainfield Road, and the Sisters graciously agreed to allow the new St. Raymond Parish to use the Motherhouse chapel for Sunday Masses until a church could be built.
By November 1917—just four months after arriving and with World War I underway—ground was broken for the new church on Douglas Street. Despite a break in construction because of the weather, the church was completed and the first Mass celebrated on December 8, 1918—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The school was also underway and the first 178 students were enrolled in September, 1918 under the watchful eye of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate. Enrollment increased rapidly according to Fr. Scanlan, “because we had no better boosters than our 178 school children.”
The initial classroom space was quickly outgrown and the school was expanded several times in the following decades. At Fr. Scanlan’s insistence, land to the north was acquired for playgrounds and future growth.
Fr. Scanlan served St. Raymond Parish until 1941 when he died suddenly while on vacation in Maine with Fr. Kennedy, his friend from St. Patrick Parish.
Archbishop Samuel Stritch of Chicago selected Fr. Edwin Hoover—a first time pastor—to succeed Fr. Scanlan in October, 1941.
With his many gifts and talents, Fr. Hoover immediately endeared himself to the people of his new parish as well as the Joliet community. During the war years, he was frequently found playing the piano for War Bond Drives and attending patriotic gatherings.
When the Diocese of Joliet was formed in 1948, St. Raymond’s Church was designated the Cathedral and Fr. Hoover became the first Rector. In 1950, Pope Pius XII granted him the honor of Domestic Prelate which carried the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
One of the first priorities of the diocese was to build a new, larger cathedral church. Construction on new Cathedral began in 1952 and was completed in 1955 at the cost of $2.4 million.
Msgr. Hoover was instrumental in getting the project completed—and raising the funds needed. It was he who insisted on having a bell tower and he ensured that there would be a worthy pipe organ to accompany the choir at pontifical ceremonies.
Bishop McNamara, assisted by Msgr. Hoover, celebrated the first Mass in the new Cathedral of St. Raymond on December 8, 1954—36 years to the day after Fr. Scanlan celebrated the first Mass in the original St. Raymond Church.
Under Msgr. Hoover’s watch the Cathedral parish thrived. The school expanded and at one point 872 students were enrolled. In 1959, Pope John XXIII bestowed upon Monsignor the title of Protonotary Apostolic.
For ten years, Msgr. Hoover battled throat cancer, eventually losing his ability to speak. In 1969, he resigned the pastorate and was named Rector Emeritus. He died at Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home on April 21, 1970.
After Msgr. Hoover’s death in 1969, Fr. Thomas O’Keefe became the second Rector. Fr. O’Keefe was well-known in the parish since his first assignment was to St. Raymond Parish from 1943 to 1953.
While an assistant at St. Raymond, he formed the Knights of the Altar for altar boys. This was the first time youngsters were allowed to take an active role in the Mass.
Fr. O’Keefe devoted considerable time and energy building the Catholic Youth Organization in Joliet. At its peak, more than 2,000 youth were involved in CYO athletic programs.
During his tenure as Rector, Fr. O’Keefe oversaw the building of a new marble main altar and pulpit for the Cathedral and the relocation of the organ and choir for the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese in 1973. At this time, he also purchased from Europe new chalices, ciboria and other liturgical furnishings.
He was also responsible for the construction of the Joyce Center and the renovation of the original 1917 school building which is now the junior high.
In his last years, Fr. O’Keefe battled cancer and died January 1, 1985 at St. Joseph Hospital. His funeral was celebrated in the Cathedral on January 5 with Bishop Joseph Imesch as the principal celebrant. He is interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago and rests just 100 yards from Fr. Scanlan.
In January 1985, when Fr. Roger Kaffer was named administrator and then rector of the Cathedral, he felt it was a dream come true. Throughout his priesthood, Fr. Kaffer had always wanted to serve as a pastor and now he had the opportunity to serve his home parish.
However, that dream was short-lived.
On April 25, 1985, Pope John Paul II named him Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese.
On June 26, 1985, he was ordained to the episcopacy by Bishop Imesch at the Cathedral of St. Raymond.
Bishop Kaffer was succeeded as Rector by Fr. Stanley Orlikiewicz. When he came to the Cathedral parish in October, 1985, he brought openness, warmth and friendliness to his parishioners, making special efforts to invite people of many different faiths to the Cathedral for ecumenical services.
During his pastorate. Fr. Stan oversaw an extensive renovation of the Cathedral. Under his leadership, the altar was brought out to the congregation, the baptismal font was moved to the nave of the church and a gold and cream color palette was used throughout the Cathedral.
Fr. James Burnett was the fifth rector of the Cathedral from 2002 until 2008. Under his guidance and master plan, construction began on the Commons, which will forever link the Cathedral and the school.