For a small town I have to say Riverside has a lot of churches — six as a matter of fact — although at one time there were seven, counting the Christian Science Church, which has now been converted into a single-family home.
Most of the churches have made minor changes in recent history — the exception bring St. Mary’s, which has made major changes.
When my family moved to Riverside in 1941 and joined St. Mary Parish, it was one building. The church faced Herrick Road and the school was attached to the back of the church.
The parish had its beginnings in Lyons before moving to Blackhawk Road and finally settling at its present site. Across from the church on Herrick Road were two buildings, one was a rectory for the priests (there were three living there at the time) and the convent, where the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught at the school lived.
Over the years the parish grew, school enrollment increased and changes had to be made to accommodate the population boom. In my classroom, we had 36 students and one teacher.
A new school was needed and the first of what was to become many additions to the parish began. The “new” school was joined to the side of the church by a breezeway, which later was removed.
A new convent was needed if the school was to have more nuns available for teaching, and at the time there were only nuns teaching at the school. The convent was razed as was the rectory, both coming down easily. The land where the convent and rectory were located left enough land for an open area, appropriately named Mary Park.
A new convent and rectory were built – the convent was later sold and converted into a single-family home while the rectory eventually also came to house parish offices.
The parish center, which I call the “churchagymatorium” because of its multiple uses was constructed in the 1990s. We never had a gym when I went to school there. Now plans are in the works for a separate office addition on the east side of the church.
I still see the small church that my family has attended for over 70 years, and I remember how it was but also what it has become.