Ste. Marie Elementary
Southeastern Special Education
Early 1800s -- French became greatly concerned and dismayed by the effects on the Church from the French Revolution and the attacks by unbelieving philosophers.
Some French including the Picquets began to consider the possibility of emigrating in order to establish elsewhere a new social order based on the principles of the Gospel.
1835 -- Joseph Picquet (19 years old) was sent to American to "spy out the land" and report back to the family. His father and elders could not afford to be away for such a long time. Joseph was selected because they could depend on his loyalty, wisdom and good sense.
1835 --– Joseph lands in New York. Being unfamiliar with the language and customs of this new land, he worked for nine months in a business house in Philadelphia.
Early 1836 -- Joseph begins explorations of the country. His travels took him to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Lima, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; Vincennes, Indiana; Vandalia, Illinois; and Saint Louis, Missouri.
Instructed to stay away from large cities, he turned eastward and finally decided on the land (now Ste. Marie) of rolling prairie and virgin timber partly because of its proximity to Vincennes, a strong French city and because of the availability of priests to say Mass. At that time there was not a single house between Newton and Olney.
Oct. 1836 -- Joseph returned to France and gave a favorable report of the land.
Jan. 29, 1837 -- An association of five including Jacques Picquet, Joseph Picquet, Joseph Schifferstein, Charles Hoffman and Joseph Picquet was formed with the intent of the organization to be the acquisition and development of land in the United States so that they could build their own estates, free of oppression. A contract was written and signed by the members of the association.
June 20, 1837 -- Joseph returned to the United States with the nucleus of a colony, all related by either blood or marriage, twenty-five in all, on the ship, the Mogul. Because they were all related, the new settlement was to be named Colonie des Freres or Colony of Brothers.
July 20, 1837 -- The new immigrants bought a small farm near St. Francisville where they stayed for several months.
Oct. 1, 1837 -- The settlers left St. Francisville and came to begin their new settlement. They boarded with William Price who had a cabin nearby.
Oct. 12, 1837 -- Ferdinand Hartrich, Etienne Lauer and Joseph Picquet went to Palestine and recorded approximately 12,000 acres in the Land Office there.
Father Stephen Theodore Badin, a Frenchman came during this time to bless this work of their own hands and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in their presence. Father Badin was the first priest ordained in the United States. A stone monument fashioned to look like a log cabin stands on the grounds of the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, as a tribute to him. There is also a mosaic on the east porch of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. in memory of him.
Oct. 28, 1837 -- The settlers gathered on a knoll, just south of the Embarras and with proper pomp and circumstance took formal possession of the land, dedicating the village to the Virgin Mary, who has a privileged understanding of the human and the Divine, unlike any other person. The newly acquired land was called "Colonie des Freres," or Colony of Brothers. Eventually the name of the new settlement was changed to St. Marie with the French version of the spelling changing in 1892 by request of the French settlers.
Joseph Picquet made many more trips back to France to bring other family members to the new colony.
The history of Sainte Marie since 1837 has been well documented in the three books published during past celebrations – the Quasquicentennial in 1962, the Sesquicentennial in 1987 and the Quartoseptcentennial in 2012. Because of circumstances beyond the control of its bright and ingenious founders (such as a cross-county railroad that failed) and their equally ambitious successors, the village never grew beyond a population of 350. Today the population stands at 250, still a respectable number based on the increasing numbers of small rural villages that are not surviving in this fast-changing world.
Like all rural communities, residents were tapped for soldierly duty during all USA wars, but most especially during the Civil War, World War I and World War II, with some 87 serving during WW II. Most of those worldly-aware individuals returned home to grow their families in Sainte Marie, but their children became educated and left for other places to pursue their careers. Farms became larger and needed fewer workers, again forcing people to leave for urban areas.
Fires burned through the village over the years, the most devastating being the one that consumed the huge, beautiful, stately St. Mary of the Assumption Church in 1933. A smaller version of the church was rebuilt; even so, St. Mary’s was always one of the larger churches in the region. Another major fire in 1969 in a dormitory at the Sacred Heart Novitiate initiated the closing of that facility in 1972 after some 45 years in the community. Today, this large facility is home to the South Eastern Special Education offices.
Despite all its setbacks, this small rural village thrived, with businesses that adapted to changing times and the fervor of committed residents who believed Sainte Marie was a town worthy of survival. Organizations such as the American Legion, its Auxiliary and its very-active Sons of the American Legion can be credited with helping -- as would the influence of the dominant St. Mary’s, whose spiritual life wove its way into nearly all facets of village life.
But times are changing. For the first time since its founding in 1837, Sainte Marie did not have a full-fledged elementary school in 2013. The Post Office now has only half-time hours, with a constant threat of closure hanging over its head due to declining population and increasing federal budget deficits. Small businesses struggle to survive with “big box” stores popping up in nearby larger communities that are easy to access. St. Mary’s has no resident priest and no Sunday mass. The St. Thomas Church (Newton) pastor conducts mass several times during the week and on Saturday evening.
Yet, each Labor Day weekend, over a thousand people return to attend the annual Church picnic. Hundreds of others return for family reunions during the summertime. Many who left choose to be buried in the town that they left so many years ago, testifying to the fact that their hearts still remain in this lively, little community where they grew up – still a beautiful, quaint, little village that forever communicates pride of place and loyalty to the honesty and principles of a Midwestern upbringing.
For more details about the history of Sainte Marie, contact:
PO Box 185 Sainte Marie, IL
SAINTE MARIE FOUNDATION