Diocese of Joliet

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History of the Diocese of Joliet

A Time of Growth...

On June 30, 1979, Pope John Paul II named
Bishop Joseph L. Imesch, an auxiliary bishop in Detroit,
as the third Bishop of the Joliet Diocese. He was installed by
John Cardinal Cody on August 28 at the Cathedral of
St. Raymond Nonnatus.

To continue the process of renewal initiated by the Second Vatican Council, the diocese participated in the RENEW program (1983-1986) and RENEW 2000 (1998-2001), both of which helped nurture small Christian Communities in the parishes. With the growth in the number of diocesan agencies and offices, Bishop Imesch organized them in a secretariat model to help them work more efficiently and collaboratively. The Diocesan Annual Services Appeal was instituted in 1986 to help provide funding for the many services offered by the diocese.

Aware that women play an important role in the life and work of the Church, Bishop Imesch made a concerted effort to include the voices of women in guiding the direction of the Diocese. For many years, woman had served onthe Diocesan School Board, Board of Religious Education and other diocesan committees and the Council of Catholic Women has had a prominent role in the diocese. Bishop Imesch continued this trend by naming women to serve in several key positions in diocesan leadership, including Chancellor, Superintendent of Schools, Director of the Office of Divine Worship and Director of Catholic Charities.

On September 23, 1981, Fr. Daniel Ryan, a pastor and former chancery official, was ordained auxiliary bishop at the Cathedral of St. Raymond. In 1984, he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois.On April 25, 1985, Fr. Roger Kaffer was named auxiliary bishop. A native of Joliet, he had been the founding rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary,

Principal of Providence Catholic High School and was the Rector of the Cathedral at the time of his appointment. He was ordained bishop on June 26 and faithfully served the diocese until in death in 2009.

In 1989, the Second Diocesan Synod was held, resulting in the re-establishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Board of Conciliation and new initiatives for evangelization, lay formation and pastoral planning.New offices were established to implement the goals of the synod. All parishes were also mandated to have a parish pastoral council.

Working to promote social justice was also a priority of Bishop Imesch. Along with supporting the work of Catholic Charities, he worked with local civic officials to establish the Daybreak Shelter in Joliet, which provides emergency food and shelter for the homeless in the area, as well as low income housing for the poor. Many parishes throughout the diocese also assist with the PADS program which offers a meal and shelter for individuals and families who have no place to stay during the winter months.

Partners in Mission was established through the Diocesan Peace and Social Justice Office to provide opportunities for parishioners to reach out in service, relief and friendship to their brothers and sisters in Bolivia, the Philippines, Kenya, Ecuador and the Navajo Nation through a two-week mission experience. The diocese has a sister-diocese relationship with the Diocese of Sucre, Bolivia, and has built a hospital there.

The tremendous growth in the Latino population has seen the expansion of Hispanic Ministry in parishes throughout the diocese. It is estimated that there will be 420,000 Hispanics in the diocese by the year 2020. Masses in Spanish are offered in 19 parishes, and the Hispanic Ministry Office provides formation for lay people to help them prepare for leadership in their communities. Parishes and missions were also founded to serve the needs of Vietnamese, Korean, and Polish populations in the diocese.

Along with the construction of 36 new church buildings throughout the seven counties of the diocese, the Cathedral of St. Raymond also underwent a major renovation and was re-dedicated in 1991.

In 1998 – 1999, the Diocese celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a series of liturgies and special events, concluding with a Mass and Dinner celebrating Bishop Imesch’s 25th Anniversary as a Bishop. The theme of the jubilee celebration was “Celebrating Church; Creating Community.”

50th Anniversary Booklet - Part 1

50th Anniversary Booklet - Part 2

As with much of the Church in the United States, the Joliet Diocese struggled with the impact of clergy sexual abuse crisis, which gained national attention in 2002, and the effects of which continued to be felt in theyears following. To respond to this crisis, the diocese established firm polices and education programs to help protect children and young people as well as providing pastoral support to victims and their families.

In the midst of this turbulent time, the diocese received that happy news that Fr. James Fitzgerald, former rector of the seminary and veteran pastor, was appointed auxiliary bishop. He was ordained on March 19, 2002, at the Cathedral. Tragically, within a year, Bishop Fitzgerald contracted an extremely virulent form of Parkinson’s Disease and died on September 11, 2003.

After 27 years in office, the longest tenure of any of Joliet’s diocesan bishops, Bishop Imesch retired in 2006, at the age of 75. During his years as Bishop, the Catholic population grew to over 650,000 and fourteen parishes were established. Bishop Imesch celebrated his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination in December of 2006 and continues to be active in serving the diocese.

In an interview with the Catholic Explorer newspaper on June 23, 2006, Bishop Imesch was asked about his accomplishments: “I think it’s more a matter of service. What kind of minister was I? What kind of model was I? In my own mind, it’s been the Good Shepherd. … As much as I could, I always tried to care for the people and the priests.”


  • Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus Dedication Book (1955)
  • Diocese of Joliet Twenty-fifth Anniversary book (1974)
  • Diocesan 50th Anniversary Book (1999) History of the Diocese of Joliet by Rev. Richard Walsh
  • Various articles from The Joliet Catholic Explorer and Christ is our Hope