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Lee County Churches
Written by George Lamb 1970

St. Michael's Mission at Sandy Hill Cemetery, eight miles southwest of Amboy in May Township, dates back to April 28, 1840, when the Irish Catholics of the area gathered in the home of William Dolan near Sandy Hill to hear the first Mass ever celebrated in Lee County. The celebrant was the Rev. Father Parody (or Parodi) from LaSalle who, with other priests, came four times a year to say the Mass.

After the first service at Dolan's home, Mass was said in a newly constructed schoolhouse nearby with about 20 families participating. Soon many neighboring people began to construct a church of their own; some coming from as far away as Dixon's Ferry and Walnut Grove. Dolan, it is said, once walked to Dixon's Ferry carrying a pail of butter which he exchanged for the nails used in building the church. Services were then held every three months by Vicentian Fathers from LaSalle or Ottawa with the gathering after services being turned into a lively social affair which did not break up until late Sunday afternoon. The congregation of St. Michael's Church grew rapidly and in 1856 the log church, built in 1847, was replaced by a larger building of brick.

When, in the late 1850's, Amboy obtained a resident pastor Sandy Hill was cared for from there, the priests usually corning out on horseback. The little chapel now standing on Sandy Hill was a part of the old brick building; the rest of the structure, after years of disuse, was torn down in 1823 (?) with the bricks from the old church being used to build the front section of the tiny chapel By the year 1875, the congregation once again outgrew its church and since, by that time, most of thefarnilies lived west of Sandy Hill, it was decided to build farther to the West. Land was obtained where St. Patrick's Church now stands in Amboy and a large frame church was completed in 1876, at a cost of $6,000. This building was replaced in 1919 by the brick church now standing on the same spot.

In 1868, one of the members of the Sandy Hill Church, Patrick Riley, died and left his property to the church to be used to build an academy to be staffed by the Order of Benedictine nuns. His farm near the site of the old Sandy Hill Post Office was sold, reserving the residence which was remodeled for a priests house early in September, 1880, and for about ten years thereafter operated as a boarding school for young ladies; boys being accepted as day students. . However, attendance, which had been good at the start, fell off until in 1890 it was considered best to close the school.

The school building was used as an amusement hall and meeting place until 1895 when it was sold for the lumber it contained and torn down. Today no trace can be found of the academy nor can any formal record of its activities be located, but the Sandy Hill Chapel, St. Michael's, still stands amidst the old cemetery. This tiny building, a lone reminder of the very early days of the May Township area, stands in silent vigil as a sentinel both guarding and marking days gone by.

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