The Church that was Cursed by God

Built in 1926, the present-day church stands on the site of the old St. Patrick's church

Because of its many greenhouses and thriving floral and plant-growing industries, the central Illinois city of Pana has come to be known as the "City of Roses". Yet, beneath its pleasant veneer, the city of Pana has a dark side and a lurid past. It is home to the infamous Pana Massacre and Riots of 1899, a labor strike that turned deadly on April 10 when a skirmish between African-American miners and strikebreakers left seven dead and several more wounded. The entire black community of Pana was driven out of the city, even though historians agree that the first shot was fired by a white policeman.

Perhaps then it is fitting that, in the years following the massacre, one Pana church seemed to suffer a bizarre fate. Some would call it a curse from God Almighty Himself. This is the true story of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church or, as some might have believed, the most cursed church in the world.

In 1906 the church's pastor, Father William Weigand, came forward and told his congregation one Sunday morning that he believed his church was suffering from the wrath of the Lord. "I sometimes think in my prayers and meditations that this parish is under a curse," he said in his sermon. This statement caught the attention of the local press, and it wasn't long before the Curse of St. Patrick's Church became famous throughout the Midwest.

While some may scoff at the notion of a curse from God, even the biggest skeptic would have to admit that something mysterious was certainly taking place at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. These "punishments from God" that occurred over a single ten year span include:

Steeple blown down: A freak storm on August 2, 1902, blew down the church's steeple, causing tons of bricks and debris to fall through the roof, resulting in $2,500 worth of damage (approximately $69,500 in today's money). Another windstorm destroyed a large chimney at the back of the church. This is remarkable because Pana's otherwise ideal weather is responsible for the city's reputation as a grower's paradise.

Boiler explosions: An improperly installed heating system caused a boiler explosion in 1896, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of damage. The a new boiler was installed but exploded again a few years later. Strangely, both boiler explosions occurred in the middle of church services.

Altar boy nearly burns to death in freak accident: During the 1905 Christmas mass, the surplice worn by an acolyte caught fire from a candle. The fire was quickly put out by a member of the congregation and the altar boy escaped with only minor injuries; however, the altar carpeting was thoroughly scorched.

Flooding: The church's cellar has been flooded numerous times after heavy rainfall, causing significant damage to the heating system. Oddly, nearby buildings and homes were always spared from the flooding.

Theft: In the late 19th century, a thief broke into the church and stole a valuable chalice from the altar. The parish's poorbox had also been robbed several times over a ten-year period.

Blight: At one time, five stately shade trees surrounded St. Patrick's Church. Three were uprooted by windstorms and the two remaining trees were killed by blight.

A mysterious dead zone: For a period of several years no shrubs or hedges could be grown on church property. Tiny shoots would emerge from the ground, but they quickly withered and died. The city of Pana may be a "gardener's paradise", but the church grounds never were.

The "cursed" church as it appeared in 1906

A roof leak that could not be stopped: The church spent tens of thousands of dollars in today's money repairing its roof. Copper gutters were installed, but some mysterious force seemed to "eat" into the copper shortly thereafter, rendering it useless.

Priests flee: At least three former priests have fled from the parish to avoid the curse. Father Hockmiller fled in the middle of the night without telling anyone goodbye. His successor, Father Hensey, left the church to avoid a factional dispute. A third priest, Father Quatman, also left the church suddenly, without disclosing any reasons.

Bell nearly falls: Father Weigand, the priest who first admitted that the church was cursed, discovered that the bell's supports were ready to fall. His discovery came just in the nick of time; the next strong wind could have easily caused the heavy bell to fall.

James Comerford's grave: The ground surrounding the grave of parishioner James Comerford opened into a mysterious fissure, causing the dead man's headstone to fall into the gaping crack. Comerford had died after being kicked in the head by a horse. A fellow parishioner named Joseph Lehn also died after being kicked in the head by a horse. Comerford's infant grandson died as a result of accidental smothering.

Church fence blown down: A woman who owned an adjacent property built a large fence dividing her property from church grounds. She asked Father Weigand if he was willing to pay for half of the fence. Just days after he refused, a mysterious gale blew down the fence.

Lithuanian babies cursed: The parish cemetery contains an inexplicably high number of babies of Lithuanian heritage who died in infancy. No one has ever been able to explain this abnormality.

The strange death of Birdie Kiely: Kiely had just finished digging his mother's grave at the parish cemetery when he was struck down and killed by a train on his walk home. Another parishioner, Peter Kelley, was also killed by a train around the same time.

Parishioner suicides: Mrs. Ignatz Urisk committed suicide after she disovered her husband had another wife in the old country. The husband himself later committed suicide at her grave. A barber named Tony Wagner shot himself in the head with a pistol. Wagner's grief-stricken mother died shortly afterward.

Strange parishioner deaths: Michael Deniar died after falling out of a window, and a few days later his sister, Mary Kneer, died from injuries sustained in a brawl. A church member named John Cox started up some machinery at the Pana Coal Company plant and his father became caught in the machinery and was killed. Church members Fred Millot, William Lynch, "Turkey" Moore, James Bagnell, and John Ninki all died either as the result of unusual accidents or under mysterious causes. Parishioner James Lecocq was the only white miner killed in the 1899 Pana Massacre. 

The Cody family curse: Edward Cody moved from Notre Dame to Pana and died suddenly soon after his arrival. His young daughter, Anastacia, died shortly after. His brother George died next, followed by their father, Patrick Cody. A sister named Louise joined a convent in the hope of escaping the "curse", but even though she managed to survive, her mother perished shortly after Louise joined the sisterhood.

The "cursed" church, originally built in 1882, was demolished in the summer of 1923. The current church building occupied by St. Patrick's Parish was built on the same site in 1926. The "curse" appears to have been lifted with the completion of the new church. Father Weigand, who served as pastor for thirteen years, left St. Patrick's in 1908. He died in 1925.

A detailed history entitled "Souvenir History of Saint Patrick's Catholic Parish" was published in 1926 to celebrate the new church. Not surprisingly, this elaborate history makes no mention of the curse.