German immigrants who
settled in the Solomon Valley near Beloit established St. John
the Baptist Catholic Church in 1852. By 1898, the walls of the
original small stone church were bulging and were held together
only with the help of a steel rod. It was Monsignor Michael
Heitz who decided a bigger and better church was needed. In
1899, he secured the well-known architect Joseph Marshall of
Topeka, Kansas, to draw the plans.
For two years, farmers
quarried and hauled limestone to the church site. From professional
stonemasons, Msgr. Heitz learned to dress stone himself so he
could instruct parishioners who contributed their help.
work began in the fall of 1900, and the cornerstone laying
and blessing by Bishop Cunningham was on June 4, 1901.
1904, the church was built around the old church in
the form of a Latin Cross. It measures 150 long and
74 wide at the front (south) entrance. The nave (middle
body) is 61 long and 66 wide. The transept (forming
the arms of the cross) is 87 long and 34 deep. The
church walls have a thickness of 24". The towers
are 22 by 22.
Original plans were
for the towers to rise to a height of 112, but because it was
decided that the extra height would add too much weight, the
towers are only 100 tall, 108 including the crosses adorning
each tower. As work progressed around it, the old church was
torn down in March 1901.
The stone from the old church was used for the arched
nave ceiling which reaches a height of 40.
said St. Johns was the first church in the USA built
with flying buttresses and a ceiling entirely made of
stone. It was, at the time, the largest church west
of the Mississippi River.
The post rock
church is trimmed with Indiana limestone. At the arched
main entrance are six granite pillars in three colors.
Inside are eight
huge Vermont granite pillars bracing the high arched
granite shafts are topped with sculptured capitals, each
a bit different. These pillars form an arcade on
either side of the nave. The pillars were so heavy that
they were left on railroad flat cars until there was a
good snow. Sleds were built to bring them, one at a time,
to the church site by horse power.
are twenty-nine colored windows in the entire church.
Those above the central entrance and in the lower portion
of the larger windows are stained glass. The others are
of a special process of painting. These beautiful windows
depict various saints, biblical characters and scenes.
Especially striking are the windows of the east and west
transept, the window of St. John the Baptist over the
high altar, and the Ascension scene in the choir loft.
of the Cross are cast in plaster in a type of raised
figure known as "bas-relief." These are beautifully
and realistically designed.
large white Carrara marble altar with brown African marble
trim was installed in 1906. It is a duplicate of an altar,
which the French erected in a church in Rome to honor
Pope Leo XIII. Monsignor Heitz brought a picture of this
altar back from a visit to Rome. This is now called the
altar of repose, where the tabernacle containing the Holy
Eucharist is kept.
The new Mass
altar, side altars, lecterns, and Communion stations
are also of imported Carrara marble.
delicately carved Carrara marble statues, one of St. Joseph,
patron of the Universal Church, and a second of Mother
Cabrini, Patroness of the Missions, enhance the sanctuary
the parish out of debt, Monsignor Heitz decided to complete
his "dream church" with fresco paintings, a
form of painting applied directly to wet plaster rather
than to canvas.
knew of an outstanding church artist from New York, Gonippo
Raggi, who had decorated churches in the dioceses of New York
and Boston. Raggi studied at the Academy of Santa Lucia, Rome
and earned renown for his designs and paintings for St. Cecilia
across the Tiber in Rome. Monsignor wrote to him, describing
what he desired for decorating the sanctuary.
Gonippo Raggi, assisted
by his brother, Palamedo, completed work on the sanctuary paintings
by Easter 1913. The paintings represented the "Birth of
St. John the Baptist," "St. John Preaching in the
Wilderness," "His Trial before Herod," and finally
"His Head on a Tray Being Presented to Salome." The
brothers came back in June to do the transept paintings.
In 1923, the brothers
returned to paint the remainder of the church walls and designs,
some of which have been covered up with subsequent remodeling.
It was on this return trip that Gonippo brought St. Johns parish
a tremendous gift -- two huge canvas paintings, which even today
grace the south walls of the of the church.
huge pipe organ was purchased from the Estey Organ Company,
and the dedication organ recital was on October 18, 1921.
The organ has 749 pipes, some of wood and some metal.
A blower sends air across the pipes and notes are produced
by controlling the amount of air sent over and through
the pipes. Vaughn Organ Co., Holdrege, Nebraska restored
the organ, in 1980.
Heitz was the man whose vision and leadership inspired
the creation of this marvelous church. He showed a parish
of mostly German and Irish descendants that united effort
could produce what they first thought impossible.
St. John the Baptist
Catholic Church was placed on the National Register of Historic
Places on April 14, 1975, by Congressman Keith Siebelius. This
registration was achieved through the efforts of Helen Louis
Ross, Louise Matheis and Father Henry Kieffer. These people
performed the necessary rsearch and established required facts