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Francis George Lentz

LENTZ, (Father) Francis George. — A career wholly devoid of selfish aims and purposes, dedicated to the vital needs of humanity and consecrated by the solemn vows of religion, is always an interesting and instructive object of study to the philanthropist, and furnishes a strong incentive to emulation on the part of those who believe that the paramount object of life should be to uplift mankind and make the world better and happier. Such a career is that of Rev. Francis George Lentz. of Macomb, Ill., pastor of the Catholic Church in that city and of the parish included in its ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Father Lentz was born in Cumberland, Md., December 15, 1846. Originally, his family was of English derivation, its record in America dating back to the settlement of Maryland by Lord Baltimore. During his youth he spent considerable time in business pursuits, thereby acquiring a practical experience that proved quite serviceable to him in subsequent years. His collegiate education was partially obtained at Bardstown, Ky., and on the termination of his course of study there, he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he graduated from St. Mary's Seminary July 6, 1877. He took holy orders from Rt. Rev. Bishop Purcell, afterward Archbishop of that diocese, and was ordained to the priesthood by Rt. Rev. Bishop Dioenger, of Ft. Wayne, Ind., immediately afterward taking charge of St. John's Catholic Church at Tipton, that State. There he arrived July 24, 1877, and remained until June, 1901. On assuming the pastorate at Tipton, he found a nucleus for the work of upbuilding in twelve Catholic families of the town, with three small lots and a diminutive frame edifice for worship, constituting the sole church property. The capacity of the latter was less than one hundred persons. On the last Sunday of July, 1877, the first mass of Father Lentz at his new post of duty was celebrated, with seventeen communicants in attendance. In October of that year, he began the erection of a comfortable pastoral residence, built of brick, which he occupied on the 8th of December following. During the next year he improved the humble church building by the addition of a sacristy. He infused his own personal energy and religious spirit into the little group of parishioners about him, and they were soon in hearty accord with his plans, earnestly co-operating in his efforts to extend the sphere of church operations and influence. Realizing the productiveness of Tipton County as an agricultural region, he made strenuous exertions by advertising, travel and lecturing to induce an influx of people of his faith to that locality, and by these means soon succeeded in increasing his congregation to the extent of more than a hundred families, mostly engaged in farming. In 1881 he enlarged the church edifice to more than twice its original dimensions, surmounted the building with a suitable steeple and, by the construction of a gallery, increased its seating capacity almost two-thirds. The success resulting within a few years from the indomitable perseverance of Father Lentz in the Tipton Parish had hardly a parallel in the records of church development in that part of the country. In connection with his other labors. Father Lentz commenced the erection of St. John's Lyceum and Parochial School, the corner-stone of which was laid, with appropriate ceremonies, August 15, 1885. The Lyceum structure is of brick, with trimmings of hewn stone, and makes an attractive appearance. It contains four rooms on the ground floor, with a capacity of 300 pupils, and a library apartment, 34 by 35 feet in dimensions. The upper story has a hall accommodating 600 pupils, the entire building costing $8,000. In the last named year the old church was destroyed by fire, and in 18S6 the congregation, in common with all residents of the locality, suffered an additional misfortune of a very serious character from a tornado, which damaged crops and caused the ruin of much other property. As soon as his flock had to some extent recovered from the effects of this disaster. Father Lentz made preparations for the erection of a new church edifice, the corner-stone of which was laid June 16, 1889. The limits of the present narrative necessarily preclude the details of progress made in this work, but, suffice to say, that in June, 1889, the parish property had increased in value from $700 to $50,000, and the church congregation to 120 families.

To the great regret of his parishioners, and of the people of Tipton and the surrounding country, representing all classes and religious sects. Father Lentz received the summons of his recall from the Tipton pastorate on June 1, 1890. His departure from Tipton was made the occasion of demonstrations of unfeigned sorrow throughout the community, whose material and spiritual interests he had striven so zealously and constantly to promote. On leaving Tipton, Father Lentz was sent to take charge of the church of his denomination at Covington, Fountain County, Ind., where he remained until 1901, continuing the good work previously prosecuted, with undiminished ardor and unabated success. From September, 1897, until May, 1901, he gave missions for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., when he was sent to Bement, Ill., and on June 1, 1901, assumed charge of his work at Macomb. On locating in Macomb he found the church edifice and parsonage somewhat the worse for age, and proceeded to have these buildings thoroughly renovated. He then built the St. Francis Hospital, the parochial school in Macomb, and the church in Tennessee, Ill., at a total cost of $50,000. Within a period of four years, through his energetic labors, supplemented by the aid of his congregations, the church membership was increased by eighty families, or 560 persons; the school was placed upon a basis of 110 attending pupils, with two teachers, and a curriculum including music; and the hospital was completed, with forty rooms, at a cost of $30,000. The school building has four rooms for classes, a spacious hall and a large and convenient basement, adapted to purposes of amusement and social gatherings — the entire expense of construction and equipment being $15,000, which includes an item of $1,800 for the heating plant. After completing these various Improvements, but $2,500 of indebtedness remains on the whole.

Father Lentz is a gentleman of broad scholarly attainments, vigorous habits, genial temperament and affable bearing. He has greatly endeared himself to his parishioners, besides gaining the esteem and confidence of the citizens of Macomb irrespective of religious predilections.

Source: The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McDonough County, compiled by Dr. Newton Bateman, and Paul Shelby, 1907, volume 2, pages 936-938, extracted 15 Jun 2019 by Norma Hass.

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