Our History

Our Parish History: Saint Patrick Church of Merna

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 schoolhouse. It was not until 1891 that a church was dedicated, which was built for $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 destroyed the church in Merna. Under the leadership of Bishop Edward O’Rourke, the Diocese of Peoria decided 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, and 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 a 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.

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 to construct 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 1800s. The tower includes the original bell from the church in Merna. The bell was recovered from the ruins of the church after it was destroyed by the tornado in 1982.

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.

Our new addition includes a 900 square foot nursery that opens to a playground. 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.

History and Meaning of our Stained-Glass 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 the west. The east window, brilliant with color, reminds us of all that 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 sign 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 dominant 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)


This 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 are symbolized by the yellow and gold passing through the darker color of the background.

Confirmation Confirmation is the sealing of the Spirit, and with it comes the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This window features the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and fire.


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.


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 his 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 of Jesus in our own suffering, thus the red cross. Even in times 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.


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

Holy Orders

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

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.

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

The angel is robed in a violet mantle and holds the Root of Jesse, a symbol taken from the prophecy of Isaiah.

The angel is robed in a golden mantle and holds 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.

The angel is robed in purple and holds the crown of thorns, a symbol of Christ’s passion.

The angel is robed in gold and holds a bouquet of lilies, a symbol of the Resurrection.

The angel is cloaked in deep red and holds a bowl of fire, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Manna in the Dessert
The manna, 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 selfless act 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, as well as 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 Erspamer, OSB.

Brother Martin Erspamer, OSB, is a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He received his MFA 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.