Photos by Shelby Haag
Faith on the plains: Immaculate Conception Catholic Church of Leoville
Quietly nestled in a somewhat forgotten region of the plains, the twin bell towers of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church magnificently reach to the sky. Among the miles of spacious fields and level horizon, the grand church proudly stands as a symbol of the hard work, determination and faith of the rural community of Leoville.
Just off highway 383 between Selden and Dresden in Decatur County, the unincorporated town is home to a mere handful of residents and one grand church, rich in history.
According to church records, in the spring of 1885 a group of pioneers who had built their homes in the Leoville area welcomed the celebration of the first Mass in the region by Rev. August Reichert. By September of that year this group had erected a frame of structure on the church property and on December 8, 1885, dedicated it to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On November 12, 1922, the people of Leoville saw their beloved church go up in flames, the result of a furnace fire during Sunday morning mass. Men of the parish assisted in carrying out the only three items saved; the sanctuary lamp, Sacred Heart statue and the Pieta. After the fire, only the chimney, bell tower, and brick walls remained.
The broken hearted parishioners were crushed but not disheartened to see their beautiful church, a monument to their many sacrifices, lying in a heap of smoldering embers. They immediately set plans for a larger and more beautiful church.
Under the supervision of the pastor, parishioners labored with great adore. A most significant and unusual part of the labor force was the contribution of the school children. During the noon hour and at recess the children of Leoville’s Catholic school helped clean the old bricks from the destroyed building. Boys used hatchets to clean the mortar away, while the girls stacked and sorted.
The present day church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1923, just one year and 15 days after the fire. The church finished and furnished cost $118,000 despite the meager income of the parishioners, their zeal for the building prompted them to make the necessary sacrifices.
While the Immaculate Conception church no longer supports a convent, school, or large number of parishioners, it continues to stand as a testimony to the faith and perseverance of its founders.
The church was built of fine Harvard rug mat brick with a Spanish tile roof. The structure measures 140 feet by 52 feet and boasts twin towers standing 97 feet tall. Its large stained glass windows each depict a scene in the life of Jesus.