Catholic feet first trod on Morris’ lands over 300 years ago. The first white explorers of this region were Catholic French missionaries, Hennepin, Marquette, LaSalle, and the namesake of the diocese, Joliet. These men came to spread their faith to new horizons. Later, Rev. Gabriel de la Ribourde, who came to preach the faith to savage Kickapoo Indians, found martyrdom at their hands in 1680.
To provide for the spiritual needs of the Irish settlers, who came during the 1840’s to work on the canal, Father Patrick Terry established the first Catholic church in Morris in the year 1852. Father Michael Lyons succeeded him in 1859. The present church was built in 1866 by the next pastor, Father Thomas Ryan. An assistant, Father Peter Corcoran, was procured so that he could care for the outmissions that were attached to the Morris parish.
The rectory was constructed after the appointment of Father Dennis Hayes as pastor in 1881. The first Immacualte Conception school was built under the direction of Father Lawrence Meehan, who served as pastor from 1889 to 1901. His brother, Father William Meehan, succeeded him in 1901 and was responsible for the reconstruction of the church after it was nearly destroyed by fire in 1905.
Father J.J. D’Arcy, whose diplomatic oratory accomplished much towards dispelling religious prejudice in Morris, was the pastor from 1907 until 1915. When the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Edward P. McDonough became pastor in 1936, the church was in run down condition due to the depression. He was able to accomplish the redecoration of the church through his persuasion to get volunteers to do most of the work. Father Lloyd Bowden, who replaced Msgr. McDonough in 1961, guided the building of the present Immaculate Conception school and again the redecorating of the church. The former school was then converted into a gymnasium and an auditorium complete with a kitchen. It was named Kenrick Hall.
Father James Kinzig replaced Father Bowden in 1967, and in 1973, Father Donald Kocker, who had been Father Kinzig’s assistant, was named pastor. Father Kocker established an adult religious education program, and a new $26,000 pipe organ was installed during his pastorate.
In 1978 the Rev. Edward Poff became pastor, and remained until 1990. During that time the old Kenrick Hall was demolished, and by 1986 it was replaced by a $1.2 million dollar parish center. On November 5, 1988, lightning caused $90,000 of damage to the church. The extensive renovation was completed on February 8, 1990, shortly before Father Poff was replaced by Father Michael Gibbney.
The Rev. Thomas Fleming was pastor from 1992 until 1994 when Father Michael Foley replaced him. Father Foley’s untimely death from cancer in 1998 greatly affected the parishioners, especially the children. Discussion regarding the construction of a larger church began while Father Mike was pastor. With the leadership of Father Robert Hoffenkamp, who became pastor in 1999, and a building committee of parishioners, a fund drive for the new church began in 2002.
On December 8, 2002, a 150th anniversay celebration of the establishment of the parish began with a Mass concelebrated by Bishop Imesch and Father Hoffenkamp.
Fr. Richard Smith followed Fr. Hoffenkamp in 2004. On October 4, 2009 following our 11:00 a.m. Mass, Rev. Smith presided in a ground breaking ceremony for the building of the new church building. Our Men’s Club grilled hot dogs, brats and hamburgers while our Hispanic community grilled skirt steaks. Cotton candy, sno-cones, water, soft drinks and coffee were provided by the parish. Each family brought dishes to pass.
Rev. Smith was moved on prior to the actual building of the new church. On August 22 2010, Rev. Edward J. Howe, CR, was appointed to Immaculate Conception Parish and coordinated the building of the new church.
On September 25, 2011 the dedication of our new church building located at 600 E. Jackson Street was celebrated with Bishop R. Daniel Conlon and Rev. Edward J. Howe, CR. presiding.