Rev. Francis H. Zabel, D.D., one of the most distinguished members of the Catholic clergy in the Alton Diocese, Illinois, dean of that body, and for the past 24 years the beloved and reverenced pastor of the Catholic Church at Bunker Hill, Macoupin County, was born February 9, 1839, at Erbeviller, Lorraine, France. He is a son of the late Francis Stephen and Mary (Midon) Zabel.
Father Zabel comes of Swiss ancestry, the founder of the family having located in Lorraine at the time the province had been desolated by war and pestilence, and, although a poor watchmaker, he was thus enabled to secure a very large tract of land which in later days became very valuable. Both the Zabels and Midons have been consistent Catholics. The Midon family, especially, has contributed many faithful sons to the service of the church. Joseph Zabel, the grandfather of Father Zabel, was wounded while serving in the army at the siege of Mainz, and two of his brothers perished during the disastrous campaign of Napoleon in Russia. Fair Lorraine has figured so conspicuously in the various wars on the Continent, that its dwellers have been called upon to bear many hardships and their various experiences were often tragic. Father Zabel's maternal grandfather was the mayor of Eulmont at the time of Napoleon's invasion and was the only man who remained at his post of duty in the hour of danger. At this time the mother of Father Zabel was but a little maid of seven years, but the impressions made then were never forgotten by her. She died in her old home, in 1896, at the age of 89 years. She was a woman of great force of character, a most admirable wife and mother, and a deeply devout member of the Catholic Church. The father of Father Zabel was born August 24, 1807, in the same house which was his son's birthplace 32 years later, and there his useful, worthy, virtuous life ended on June 1, 1884. His pursuits had been entirely agricultural and he owned a large estate which is now managed by his youngest son, Charles A., who is an educated man and a practical farmer. The family consisted of but three sons, Father Zabel being the second in order of birth. The eldest, Rev. Joseph Zabel, is a Catholic priest now in charge of a church at Maron near Nancy, Lorraine.
Until he was 19 years of age, Rev. Father Zabel remained in his native place, attending the municipal schools until the age of 11 years, having private instruction for one year and then was placed by his devout father in the seminary at Pont-a-Mousson, where he continued the study of Latin, and where he remained for seven years, completing the classical and scientific courses. Thus prepared, he was accepted as a student in the great seminary at Nancy, where he was grounded in philosophy for one year. Leaving France, he went to Ireland, and at All-Hollows College, in Dublin, spent two years in the study of philosophy and theology, going thence to Rome. There two years were passed in the Roman College in the study of theology and the Roman University for the study of canon law, and graduated at both institutions in 1862.
In America Father Zabel sought a field of usefulness. the way was opened to a Western diocese and in November, 1862, he reached Alton, Illinois, and in May, 1863, was appointed to a charge at Springfield. In July, 1864, he was transferred to East St. Louis and given charge of St. Patrick's Church, where he remained until December 1, 1873, when he took charge of St. Patrick's Church at Cairo, Illinois, where he was continued until November, 1869, when he came to Bunker Hill.
Father Zabel's long pastorage has been productive of great results, his efforts not only resulting in the erection fo convents and church additions and adding to the financial prosperity of his various charges by good business management, but also in spiritual things. During all these years he has gone in and out among his people, administering to all alike in brotherly love, and showing forth on many occasions the same spirit which so recently excited the admiration of the country, when a prelate of his church risked his life offering Catholic consolation to perishing creatures hemmed in by fire. Such was the brave attitude of Rev. Father Zabel during the fearful epidemic of yellow fever, in Cairo, in 1878, when regardless of self, his services were given to all who suffered.
On various occasions, Rev. Father Zabel has been honored by his church. He represented the Alton Diocese in the Baltimore Council, taking the place of the bishop of the Diocese, the latter being sick. He is a member of the board of examiners of the clergy and counselor to the bishop and is censor of books. In addition to his clerical labors and priestly offices, he is one of the church historians and his work issued in April, 1900, is a complete history of the Alton Diocese, including all bishops, congregations and all matters pertaining to the diocese.
At Bunker Hill where he is so well known and where the result of his labors is so apparent, few men are held in higher esteem. By education admirably fitted for his work, he possesses also all the attributes which go to fill up the ideal of a true pastor. The energies of his life and the gifts of his intellect have been given to his fellow men, and that many more years may be added to his beneficent life is the sincere wish of all who know him.