In 1924, Bishop Joseph Schlarman designated the Mission of St. Thomas to serve the Catholics in Peoria Heights which at the time was part of the northern territory of St. Bernard Parish. Father M. P. Sammon, the pastor of St. Bernard Parish, sought out a building that could serve as a place of worship for this community. On August 15, 1924, he purchased what had been well known as Herbstrith’s café on the corner of Lake and Monroe streets for $8,500. Anthony Herbstrith had built the café in 1915. It was a popular supper club and dance hall with the reputation for serving the finest food and wines, but the establishment was forced to close after Prohibition. Herbstrith’s café was transformed: the sacristy was created out of what was the bar; the dining room became a meeting room; and the dance hall was transformed into the church.
The Mission was served by Father D. J. Williams and Father E. M. Farrell, who were both assistants at St. Bernard Parish. The third assistant to care for the Mission was Father Bernard Rank.
In 1927, Father Sammon purchased a vacant lot on the other corner of Lake and Monroe from Mr. Herbstrith. This property later became the location of the parish church and school.
In 1937, Bishop Schlarman elevated St. Thomas from a Mission to a Parish. He appointed Father Bernard Rank to serve the new parish of 100 families.
In 1940, work began on a permanent church, which was dedicated by Bishop Schlarman on December 9.
The church was built in a modern Romanesque design. At the compass points of the church were the round windows with symbols of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the round window framing the crucifix. Below the window of faith are two windows symbolizing incidents in the life of St. Thomas. Below the windows of hope and charity are windows depicting the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. In the nave of the church are 12 windows, six on each side, representing points of the Apostle’s Creed. Hand carved wood stations were hung on the wall. (These were later moved into the new church, dedicated in 2002.)
In 1942, Father Rank opened the school, converting the old mission church into four classrooms. Father Rank purchased the Herbstrith family home, located next to the church, to become the new rectory. The Dominican Sisters used the upper floor of the old mission as their convent.
In 1945, four more classrooms were added, and the original gym (the old gym) was built. Father Rank purchased a used boiler for the original gym from the Country Club of Peoria. (That boiler served the old gym from 1945 until 2018.)
In 1953, ten classrooms of the present school were constructed. Bishop Cousins dedicated the school building the following year. Five additional classrooms were added in 1957. A new rectory was built the following year.
In 1960, the gym and cafeteria were improved. The year after that, the convent wing was added to the school.
Father Rank purchased a new altar and renovated the church in 1966, following the directives of the Second Vatican Council.
In 1976, Father James Campbell was named co-pastor with Monsignor Rank
In 1981, Monsignor Bernard Rank retired at the age of 81. He passed away on March 25, 1983. Father William Watson was assigned as the second pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.
In 1995, an addition to the school is completed to add a library, classrooms, a new gym and cafeteria, using the theme: I make all things new.
After many years of preparation, Monsignor Watson added onto the existing church, completing the new church. The new church was dedicated on October 6, 2002. The new church was built on the site of the parish rectory which was torn down to make room for the expansion. A new rectory was constructed next to the new church a few years later.
In 2015, after serving 34 years as pastor, Monsignor Watson retired at the age of 79. Monsignor Jason Gray was named as the third pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.
The work of the parish and school continues as upgrades to our facilities keep our parish and school strong. In 2018, security upgrades to the school were implemented, including the relocation of our parish food pantry.