Interlude in Illinois

On Tuesday, May 13th, 2003, the editor and two girlfriends landed in the laps of Springfield, Illinois, and Father Elstan Coghill, OFM, the last Franciscan priest who served  the St. Victoria Catholic Church, from 1985 to 1996.   Then Fr. E. semi-retired and worked at The Cross in the Woods in Indian River, Michigan, until the fall of 2002 when he went to Illinois.  Grounds of the St. Francis Convent and St. Francis of Assisi Church at Springfield, Illinois, are green, spacious, and peaceful in a beautiful country setting.

We found Father Elstan not reading his own popular book, PRINTS OF A PRIEST, but his breviary -- a book of daily prayers to help keep him honest and holy.

Hi, Mary Moore.  Hi, Julianne Wartman.  Hi, Father dear.  Thanks for letting me sit at your knee.

With my car waiting just outside the convent, we kidnap Father Elstan and whisk him away for a day of card playing (500), cherry malt lunches, and fine dining later in the evening.

As we leave the sacred grounds, we drive past the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua.  He's the saint, as you probably know, who helps us find keys, wallets, and anything else that gets lost in our lives.

The Franciscan St. Clare also sits at the edge of the woods near a stone shrine.

Standing at attention for the benefit of all who dwell within and all who pass by, St. Francis of Assisi finds himself at home with Mother Nature and Father Time and others in his canticle.

Breakfast is delicious!  Father orders his usual "one egg over easy, one pancake, and one small glass of orange juice."  The mustard was for my ham sandwich.  The ketchup was for Julianne's sausage.  Mary's home-fried potatoes were served already perfect.  Food gets lots of priority with us, in both spoken and written word.

In the evenings, after a delicious dinner at  Cheddar's or a night at the Outback Steakhouse, we get Father back to the convent where he is greeted by other Franciscans, many of them hanging on the wall at the place.

There are a lot of male Franciscans at the convent, and also the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis who help with Fr. E.'s therapy and exercise.

Before Father hops in bed, he has more prayers to say:  "Thank you, dear God, for helping me get back safely to my room.  Sue is a very good driver but sometimes she gets lost."

After a sound night's sleep at our hotel a couple miles away, we drive the next morning back to Father's place for Mass at 7 a.m.  Father attends the 7 a.m. Mass every day.  Yes, it is early indeed!

St. Francis of Assisi Church is "Romanesque in style and cruciform in plan."  The building is 70-feet long, 128-feet wide, and 120 high to the upper cross.

Sister Jane Marie Lamb, a Hospital Sister of St. Francis, helped us find our way down hallways and around corners from Father's place over to the church; and then we were privileged to receive from her a guided tour.  The church reminded us of a small Cathedral.  Sister Jane Marie reminded us of an angel.  You can find out more about the hospital sisters at www.springfieldfranciscans.org.

We were in awe of its magnificence.  Says  I, "How come they could build a church like this in 1920 and today in 2003 we are forced to build churches that look like warehouses and gymnasiums?"

The gold-covered tabernacle, which was bought in Holland and designed in Belgium, was modeled to represent the Ark of the Covenant.  Above this tabernacle are two gold-covered angels in an attitude of adoration with wings spread upward almost joining one another.  The gold-covered crucifix above the tabernacle was made in Belgium and is the only one of its kind in existence.

Not far from the main altar is the Shrine of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  This large center painting portrays the striking Pieta surrounded by smaller medallion-like pictures which tell the story of the other sorrows of Mary.  Telling stories is a great function of religious art and stained glass windows.

Also seen in the previous photo with Sr. Jane Marie, the life-sized, hand-carved wooden crucifix is from the Swiss Mountains in the Tyrol.  At the foot of the crucifix is a skull and serpent representing Christ overcoming both sin and death.  There are many other outstanding features in this beautiful House of God at Springfield, Illinois.

It's always hard to say goodbye to our friend, hero, and mentor, Father Elstan.  Anticipating our next visit makes it a little easier.  Love you, Fr. E.

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