The community of St. Francis de Sales parish came to existence on June 27, 1948, when Lake Zurich became a mission territory. Fr. George Ballweber of Buffalo Grove celebrated the first Mass in Lake Zurich at the Ela Town Hall. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the original 97 Catholic families in town, funds began to accumulate for the building of a church.
In the fall of 1948, Fr. Joseph Firnbach, assistant at St. Mary’s Church in Buffalo Grove, was assigned to minister to the rural mission in Lake Zurich. In 1949, one year after the original Mass at Ela Town Hall, Fr. Ballweber returned to say the first Mass in the new 250-seat St. Francis de Sales Church on Buesching Road.
By 1949, The Altar & Rosary Society and Holy Name Society were established. These generous groups of dedicated Catholics helped build and beautify the parish facilities. The rectory was built in 1952. After a parish canvass displayed the need and desire for a Catholic school, parishioners pledged what they could afford for a three-year period. On November 2, 1955, ground was broken for St. Francis de Sales Catholic School. The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul arrived to staff the school.
Parish growth determined the need for a larger church. An addition, south of the school, was constructed. The new church occupied the ground level and a new gym was on the second floor. These facilities opened on October 20, 1968. Upon Fr. Firnbach’s retirement in January of 1970, the gym was named Firnbach Hall as a lasting memorial to the dedication and leadership of this good man.
Fr. John McEnroe began serving St. Francis de Sales as pastor on January 10, 1970. He built a convent for the Sisters in October of 1970. During this year, Fr. McEnroe also celebrated his twenty-fifth Jubilee. In 1974, Fr. Firnbach celebrated his Golden Jubilee and the parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee with a Mass of Thanksgiving, concelebrated with His Eminence, John Cardinal Cody.
The parish was deeply saddened by the death of Fr. McEnroe in April of 1982. Father Richard J. Valker, Associate Pastor of St. Francis de Sales, was named to succeed Fr. McEnroe in September of 1982. He celebrated his twenty-fifth Jubilee that same year.
Though he was retired, Fr. Firnbach remained active and celebrated sixty years in the priesthood in 1984. St. Francis de Sales parishioners helped him celebrate by holding a reception in his honor. His death in February of 1990 marked the end of an era at St. Francis de Sales.
Due to the rapid growth of the Lake Zurich area in the mid 1980’s, the St. Francis community initiated a new Building Program. In 1986, the parish agreed to build a new, larger church and planning began. In 1987, ground was broken for the church, which seats 850-900 people and includes a hospitality room, gathering space, nursery and full basement.
On August 19, 1989, the first Mass was held in the new St. Francis de Sales Church (poem). On January 21, 1990, the new church was dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. This church, which stands proudly today in the heart of Lake Zurich, is truly a symbol of the dedication and loving spirit that exists among the people of God at St. Francis de Sales.
In 1992, Fr. Valker left St. Francis de Sales. At his farewell celebration, the basement hall of the new church was named Valker Hall in honor of his hard work and service to the community. That June, Fr. Ronald Gollatz replaced Fr. Valker, who was named Pastor Emeritus at St. Francis de Sales. Though Fr. Valker is now retired, he resides at St. Norbert’s Parish in Northbrook, IL.
In 1996, the Facilities Development Committee surveyed the entire parish and outlined what parishioners envisioned for the future. As a result, more than eight acres of adjoining property were purchased. A Master Plan, “Building for the next 50 years,” was created to meet the growing needs of the parish. The plan called for additions to the parish that would benefit the community through the implementation of phases.
By 2000, enough money had been pledged through the Millennium Capital Campaign to begin Phase I of the Master Plan. This phase included parking expansion and the acquisition of the Ela Township Library, known today as the St. Francis de Sales Ministry Center. The Ministry Center accommodates the Parish Pastoral Staff (including Youth Ministry and Religious Education) and provides meeting space to support the parish’s many active ministries.
In 2003, St. Francis de Sales Parish was the very fortunate benefactor of a $3,000,000 gift from an anonymous donor, enabling the parish to move forward with Phase II of the Master Plan. Phase II enabled St. Francis de Sales School to build a brand new gym, expand classrooms and renovate the existing building. All school activities, including lunch, are now under one roof. Art and music rooms were moved to the school building, creating more space in Valker Hall. The new gym provides a great location for additional Masses to be held on Christmas and Easter, in order to accommodate more families.
After 14 years of serving as Pastor, Fr. Gollatz was reassigned to Transfiguration Parish in Wauconda. His last day at St. Francis de Sales was June 30, 2006. On July 1, 2006, Fr. David Francis Ryan began his service as Pastor. At present, the parish is continuing to grow. It now serves more than 4250 families through 60 plus ministries. It has grown significantly from the original 97 families that attended the first Mass in Lake Zurich in 1948.