Our Parish History

Old St. Pat in the Winter

In 1883 when Bishop John Lancaster Spaulding established St. Patrick Church in Merna as a separate parish from Holy Trinity in Bloomington, Masses were being held in a school house. It was not until 1891 that a church was dedicated which was built at the cost of $13,500. The first tornado struck the church in Merna in 1902 and caused severe damage. Repairs took several months, during which time Masses were celebrated on the church lawn. Over the next eighty years the parish grew slightly. It remained a solid symbol of the Catholic faith in the farming community around Merna in eastern McLean County. 

On August 24, 1982 a second tornado completely destroyed the church in Merna. The Diocese of Peoria, under the leadership of Bishop Edward O’Rourke, made the decision to rebuild the church on the corner of Route 9 and Towanda Barnes Road. This property was owned by the James Dee family. The cost of the church built in 1982 was &950,000 with a capacity of 400. At the church dedication on December 1, 1985 the parish had grown to about 75 registered households. The predictions were coming true of a rapid increase in population on the east side of Bloomington. The parish went on to add over 150 new families a year. 

In 1991 the Pastoral Planning Commission of St. Patrick Church of Merna began planning for the parish’s future needs. Recommendations were to increase space for nearly every aspect of our parish life: worship, administrative, religious education, parish programs, nursery, library, parking, and elementary and high school space. After much planning and discussion, it was determined an increase in facilities would have to take place over several years. The first phase was to add space for administration, a multi-purpose room for religious education and other parish programs, a nursery and library. The parish also purchased ten acres of property for increased parking and future growth. On January 4, 1998, Bishop John J. Myers blessed a $1.3 million addition completing the first phase of expansion. 

Our Schools

Since 1998 the parish has participated in capital campaigns to build additions to Holy Trinity Elementary and Junior High Schools (now Corpus Christi) and teamed with the other parishes in the Bloomington/Normal area to build a new facility for Central Catholic High School on Airport Road in Bloomington.

St. Mary’s High School
St. Mary’s School was opened as a grade school in 1884, adding high school classes at a later date. The first graduates of St. Mary’s came in 1889, which became tradition every year thru 1928 when a new building was opened across the street from St. Mary’s and changed its name to Trinity in honor of the name of the Catholic Church located near the former St. Mary’s.

Trinity High School
Trinity High School opened in 1928 when the parish administration of Holy Trinity saw the need to open a new facility due to public demand for Catholic higher education

Central Catholic High School
Trinity High School’s name was changed to Central Catholic in 1967 when the Catholic Diocese of Peoria requested that Epiphany Parish of Normal and St. Patrick’s Parish of Merna join Trinity, St. Mary’s, and Historical St. Patrick’s parishes in Bloomington in governing and subsidizing Catholic high school education in Bloomington-Normal. Central Catholic provided a sound education with plenty of religious training. The facility at 712 N. Center St. was torn down in 2005 after Central Catholic moved into a spacious location at 1201 Airport Road along Bloomington’s east side in the fall of 2003. 

Corpus Christi Catholic Elementary School on Lincoln Street was born as St. Clare grade school and then Holy Trinity Grade School. An eight-room school, it helped meet the needs of Bloomington’s community as it continued to expand from its city-centered core.

A $3.1 million campaign was launched in 2000, adding 33,000 square feet which included a new chapel, kitchen, classrooms, offices and a gymnasium to the Lincoln Street building. The junior high, at 705 N. Roosevelt, was also upgraded and included a 2,200 square foot addition.

The school’s kindergarten program was established in 1986 and its preschool program for three and four-year-olds began in 2005.

In recent years, a special education team of teachers, including a speech pathologist, have been hired to help meet some of the special needs of the students.

For over 150 years Corpus Christi Catholic School, founded in the living Catholic tradition, has served the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional and social growth of each child. We are a community rich in faith and tradition. 

“A Dwelling for God’s Family”

A capital campaign in 2004, “A Dwelling for God’s Family,” was successful in raising pledges and donations in excess of $5.1 million. After many months of planning with Graham & Hyde Architects and contractor P.J. Hoerr, Inc., the parish broke ground for construction of the new church on June 9, 2005.

After fifteen months of construction, the Dedication of the new St. Patrick Church of Merna took place on Sunday, November 5, 2006, with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, presiding.

As visitors approach the church, they first notice the 200 foot tall bell tower dedicated to all who have served St. Patrick’s parish since the late 1800’s. The towers includes the original bell from the church in Merna. The bell was recovered from the ruins of the church after it was destroyed by a tornado in 1982. The tower includes a digital sounder that has eight swinging sounding bells and a carillon system which plays over 300 songs. 

The Primary worship space is accessible from the north under the drive up canopy or from the west main doors. The 10,000 square foot gathering space will help foster a warm, hospitable environment for parishioners to greet one another before and after Mass. 

In the gathering space, guests are greeted by the familiar stained glass window that had previously served as the visual centerpiece in the worship space of the old church. This window represents the rural beginnings of the parish. The colors begin at the bottom, with earth tones from black to red clay, and then into a spectrum of greens for the plants and the browns, tans, golds, and yellows of ripe grain. Finally the colors move into the different shades of blue for the sky. 

Upon entering the worship space, one will encounter the signature architectural feature of the church, the baptismal font. The water of the baptismal font pours out of the font into the church representing the grace of Baptism flowing to God’s people, the Church. 

The newest addition of the church features seating capacity for 1,100 in the main worship space and capacity for 100 in the chapel. The seating has been designed in a downward slope for better visibility, and semi-circle to maintain closeness within the congregation. 

The lighting system in the main body of the church and sanctuary help create a warm and inviting environment. The liturgical furnishings, statues, Stations of the Cross and other art pieces are also highlighted by the lights. 

Our new addition includes a 900 square foot nursery which opens to a playground. A room was added for CHildren’s Liturgy of the Word. Other features of the new addition include a deacon’s office, bridal dressing room, music practice room, vesting and work sacristies, and music and mechanical storage areas. 

Liturgical Windows and Furnishings

The Creation Windows

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night.’ Then God made two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars.”

(Genesis 1:1, 3-5, 16-17)

The two round windows serve as focal points facing the east and facing the west. The east window, brilliant with color, reminds us of all the God created to be governed by the daylight. The rich red sun symbolizes the brightness of God’s love in this world through His Son Jesus. The vibrant seed produces the plant, reminding us of the hope which comes from our faith, a gift from God.

From the Book of Revelation: “A great sig appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) A reflection of the sun is the moon, which is the dominate focus of the west window. Twelve stars surround the moon and the moon is transparent allowing us to see the brilliance of the sky. “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate the day from the night.” (Genesis 1:14) The high ceiling of the main body of the church filled with lights”…serves as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:15) “And so it happened. God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good!” (Genesis 1:31)

Daily Chapel Windows: The Seven Sacraments

Baptism

The window symbolizes the new life that comes to us through the waters of baptism. Life is symbolized by the green branch sprouting from the water. God’s light and grace is symbolized by the yellow and gold passage through the darker color of the background

Confirmation

Confirmation is the seal of the Spirit and with it comes the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The window features the Spirit and the fire.

Eucharist

Symbols are taken from the ancient Christian writing, the Didache. Just as wheat scattered across many fields is gathered and ground to become one bread, and grapes are gathered and crushed to become the wine, so we also are gathered into one in Christ, to share His body and blood and become one body in Christ.

Reconciliation

The background colors of this window are violets and purples – the color of penitence. Reconciliation was originally an outgrowth of baptism, hence the waters at the bottom of the composition. From the waters comes the cross of Jesus with the marks of the give glorious wounds. From Isaiah we read, “By His wounds, we have been healed.” The cross is the sign of reconciliation between heaven and earth. The branch, also used in the baptism window, calls to mind the parable of the grain of wheat – unless it falls to the ground and dies – it remains only a single grain. Again God’s grace breaks through the darkness of sin.

Anointing of the Sick

The window is darker in coloration. Illness is a part of the human experience. In some small way, we are able to identify with the suffering and passion. ofJesus in our own suffering, thus the red cross. Even in time of suffering or illness, the presence of Jesus, through this sacrament of comfort, brings us hope for new life and healing which is symbolized by the green shaft through the red cross.

Marriage

Dominant symbols in the marriage window are the interlocking rings and green branch. Rings are traditional marriage symbols, while the branch symbolizes the life together with Christ.

Holy Orders

The shepherd staff reminds us that those called to service in the church through Orders are called to shepherd the people. The stole represents the authority of Christ that is conferred to the deacon, priest or bishop.

Nave Windows: Angels of the Seasons

The eight angels on the east wall of the church represent the liturgical seasons. The angel’s mantles reflect the color of each season.

Advent: The angel is dress in a violet mantle and holds the Root of Jesse, a symbol taken from the prophecy of Isaiah
Christmas: The angel is robed in a golden mantle and holds a star…the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem.
Ordinary Time: The angel is robed in green. It holds an olive branch, a symbol of Jesus’ ministry of healing.
Lent: The angel is robed in purple and holds the crown of thorns, a symbol of Christ’s passion.
Easter: The angel is robed in gold and holds a bouquet of lilies, a symbol of the Resurrection.
Pentecost: The angel is cloaked in deep red and holds a bowl of fire, a symbol of the Spirit.

Nave Windows: Symbols of the Eucharist

Manna in the Dessert: The mana, which fell from the heavens in the Book of Exodus, is the theme of the first window. The bush at the bottom of the composition symbolizes the people of Israel, the chosen people.
The Offering of Melchizedek: The priest king of Salem offered bread and wine. Here it sits upon the altar.
Loaves and Fishes: Jesus feeds the multitudes with only five barley loaves and two fried fish. This miracle has long been a symbol of the Eucharist. These symbols can be found in the catacombs.
The Pelican: According to ancient tradition, the pelican is a symbol of Christ and the Eucharist. it was believed that if the pelican had nothing to feed its young, it would slash open its own breast with its beak and feed the chicks with its blood. The bird becomes a symbol of Christ and this act of a symbol of the Eucharist.
The Fountain: Doves drinking from a living fountain of water is an ancient symbol of the Eucharist. By drinking this water, we have eternal life.

About the artist and designer of the windows

All of the stained glass windows in the church and chapel, the altar, lectern, tabernacle and stand, presider chair, deacon chair, cantor stand, candle stands in the sanctuary, dedication candles, paschal candle and baptismal font, were designed by Brother Martin.

Brother Martin Erspamer OSB, is a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He received his M.F.A. from Boston University and certification as a liturgical designer from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He has worked on many churches and chapels across the United States as well as in Rome and India.