It is said there are many reasons spirits of the departed refuse to pass from this world into the next. Some may have been so religiously devoted in life that they do not want to abandon the people and places they love. At Mysterious Heartland, we have found examples of some of the most religious ghosts in Illinois. But which ones will prove to be the most haunting?
10. Phantom Organist
Founded in 1828 by the United Methodist Church and originally known as Lebanon Seminary, McKendree University is the oldest college in the State of Illinois. Bothwell Chapel, one of the oldest buildings on campus, is home to a phantom organist whose otherworldly tones echo through the corridors. A former security guard claims to have heard this organ or piano music playing in the sanctuary after hours. Also, according to legend, a student hung himself in the bell tower, and to this day his ghost can be heard pacing the upper floors.
9. St. Anthony’s Ghostly Nun
St. Anthony’s Health Center began in 1925 when five Sisters of St. Francis traveled from Germany to America and settled in Alton to establish a hospital there. After raising donations, they purchased the Nazareth Home, a combination orphanage and infirmary, in 1925. This became the core of St. Anthony’s, with several additions over the next few decades. The physicians at St. Anthony’s are independent practitioners and not directly employed by the hospital. At least three ghosts are alleged to roam its halls, but one seen most frequently is the ghost of a former member of the order of nuns in residence at the hospital, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. She has been spotted wandering the third floor near the sterile processing department.
8. Lourdes’ Ghostly Schoolmarm
Richard T. Crowe, Chicago’s most respected authority on local ghost lore, taught English and journalism at Lourdes High School in 1972/73. During that time, he heard stories about a nun who haunted the third floor. Tales of the phantom nun had been told for decades. Heavy footsteps were sometimes heard echoing down the empty corridor, and a ghostly specter was seen on more than one occasion. Stitch Hall, an auditorium added during the 1950s, also reportedly experienced this activity. Several years ago, Lourdes closed and John Hancock High School opened in its place. It is unknown whether the ghostly activity has continued.
7. Brother Otto
St. Bede Academy has a tradition of academic excellence dating back to 1890. For a century, this Benedictine school and abbey has prepared young men and women of the Illinois valley to enter college upon graduation. According to longtime campus legend, there are two eternal residents at the school. “Brother Otto” is the ghost of a monk who is sometimes seen on the third floor. His mortal life ended in a tragic accident, but now he is free to watch over his students for eternity. The second ghost to haunt St. Bede is named “Val.” Val was a janitor who stayed in a room above the stage. After his death, his room was used for storage, but his ghost is believed to turn lights on and off, open doors, and move furniture.
6. The Sisters of St. Francis
For more than 130 years, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have been caring for Peoria’s sick and infirm at St. Francis Medical Center. Some say that a few of those dedicated women have remained at their posts long after passing from this world. The hospital began in 1877, when five Catholic nuns purchased a two-story framed house along the Illinois River to provide care for area residents. Today, their hospital has over 600 beds and employs more than 800 physicians. Over the years, patients and staff have reported encountering two nuns who appear to comfort the sick before mysteriously disappearing. No one knows who they were in life, but their presence is appreciated.
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5. Father Lechert
St. Turibius is an old Roman Catholic church on Chicago’s southwest side. According to Chicago ghost expert Richard Crowe, a priest named Father Joe Lechert led St. Turibius during the 1950s and ‘60s. When he was replaced due to a reorganization of the local Catholic hierarchy, he was said to have died of a broken heart. It wasn’t long before parishioners whispered that his ghost still lingered. There were whiffs of cigarette smoke, an altar boys had seen the figure of a man wearing a biretta, just like Father Lechert once wore. His ghost has also been seen walking around the other parish building.
4. Father Ryan and his Hilltoppers
In 1990, St. Francis Academy, an all-girls school, and Joliet Catholic High, an all-boys school, merged to create Joliet Catholic Academy. Both the Carmelite Order and the Joliet Franciscan Sisters now sponsor this coed school, which is located along Larkin Avenue. The Joliet Catholic High School building is currently a retirement home known as Victory Centre of Joliet, and its classrooms have been converted into apartments. Between 1972 and 1990 (when the school relocated), it was widely believed to be haunted by the ghost of a priest and educator named Kellen Ryan, who died in an auto accident when he fell asleep behind the wheel. Janitors claimed that lights turned on in his former classroom after hours, and they occasionally witnessed the apparition of a priest wandering the halls. Rather than a frightening presence, students and faculty alike saw the ghost of Father Ryan as a protective spirit, watching over his “Hilltoppers.”
3. Holy Family’s Devoted Altar Boys
Built between 1857 and 1859, Holy Family Church was one of the only buildings of its kind to survive the Chicago fire. According to Father McCarthy, the church’s pastor in 1973, its altar was positioned above a stream that ran under the church, which itself was considered sacred ground by Americans Indians because of a battle that took place there. Statues of two boys holding candles hang high above the altar. These are thought to be representations of the spirits of two altar boys that led a priest to a dying woman in need of receiving last rites. Once, Father McCarthy also witnessed a figure standing in the choir loft, although it had been closed to the public for years.
2. All Souls Day’s Procession
St. Rita’s in Chicago is known for one particularly hair-raising event on All Souls Day (November 2) in the early 1960s. More than a dozen parishioners had gathered there to pray and bore witness to the strange occurrences. Sometime in the early evening, the organ began to play by itself. Then, suddenly, six robed monks appeared, three wearing black and three wearing white. The parishioners attempted to flee, but they found the doors of the church were locked. The phantom monks advanced and the organ wailed. Finally, the vision faded as a disembodied voice whispered, “Pray for us.” Eyewitnesses estimated that the whole incident lasted about two minutes.
1. Phantom Monks of St. James-Sag
St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery, abbreviated as St. James-Sag, sits on a bluff overlooking the juncture of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet Sag Channel. The church and cemetery have distant origins. One burial can be traced to 1818, but the graveyard began to be heavily used in the 1830s when Father St. Cyr built a log chapel to accommodate the spiritual needs of the Irish canal workers. The limestone building that exists today was built in 1850, and in the past few decades phantom monks have made appearances here. According to Richard Crowe, a police officer by the name of Herb Roberts encountered nine of these monks in the early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving, November 1977. The officer reported that the robed figures ignored him when he ordered them to stop, and they seemed to disappear as he pursued them beyond the gates of the cemetery. No monks have ever been stationed at this parish, but these sightings have led the church to be popularly known as “Monk’s Castle.”
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