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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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082014frontstaugustine.jpg

St. Augustine Church Will Mark 125 Years on Sunday

St. Augustine Parish of Wausaukee will celebrate its 125th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 24, starting with a 10 a.m. Mass officiated by Bishop David Ricken and new pastor, Fr. Frederick Sserugga. The start of the Mass will complete 125 hours of continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The hours of Adoration began at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 19, and end at 9 a.m. Sunday. There will be a parish rosary at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by the 10 a.m. Mass.

At about 11:30 a.m., when Mass is over, parishioners, friends, family and everyone who wants to enjoy the festivities will enjoy a dinner, in the parish hall or outside under the big tent. There will be raffles, refreshments, and music provided by the Burie Family from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Drawings for the special Anniversary Quilt and other prizes will be at 2:30 p.m., followed by blessing of the time capsule and final blessing by Father Sserugga.

It all started 125 years ago, when Wausaukee was a fledgling settlement. The first white settlers, mainly lumberjack immigrants of Irish or French descent, were struggling to establish a community. The first cabin had been built there just six years earlier, in 1883.

Those early settlers worked hard to carve a civilization out of the wilderness. One of the first things they did after building their own homes was start a church.

Before the church was built, even before the congregation was formed, the settlers held services in the basement of a small school house.

The first church possessions consisted of “a rough table, two candlesticks, a few well-worn vestments,” according to an early pastor, Fr. William Ruel. Mass was celebrated in Wausaukee on a somewhat regular basis by priests from neighboring parishes.

The area had been established as a hub for the logging and timber industry. A railroad station had been built along the Milwaukee & Northern railroad line in 1883 and the rail stop was called Wausaukee. The second of three sawmills was built in 1887. The original cabin, built by John S. Monroe, eventually became a boarding house, post office, eatery, and later a hotel.

The village grew, and so did the little congregation. The number of Catholic families increased from about 10 to 35, and they started talking about building a church. Members were unanimously in favor of the idea.

In August 22, 23 and 24 of 1889 the little congregation raised $557 at a church fair. That was the total treasury, and members voted unanimously on Aug. 25 to use the money to build a church. They also voted unanimously to make provisions for the support of a resident priest.

St. Augustine Congregation was formally organized on Aug. 25, 1889. One of the first things parishioners did was start plans to build a church, a home in which they could share their faith. Charles Felix Wittock was baptized on the day the parish was founded. There had been a few prior baptisms in Wausaukee, officiated by Rev. Charles Hoegstoel, from St. Patrick’s in Stiles.

Selection of a site created considerable dissension among parishioners for a time, but eventually the vote was unanimous in favor of the present site on Church Street. The site had been donated by Mr. C. F. Dutton.

The construction contract was let to Peter McNally, who agreed to build the church 32X60X20 feet high for the sum of $208.50. Work started shortly thereafter, and in spring of 1890 the first services were held in the new church. A fair held in April of 1890 netted the parish $441, and with this money the most essential articles were purchased for the church and a house was furnished for the pastor’s rented residence.

The village continued to grow. The new church, and the new resident pastor, Rev. J. Selbach, increased interest in the little congregation. Before long there were 75 families.

In 1892, under the pastorate of Rev. Father Pele, who succeeded Father Selbach, the parish added a steeple to the church, had the building painted, and purchased an organ and a bell. The church and bell were blessed by Rt. Rev. Bishop Sebastian Messmer on Nov. 15, 1892.

Parish trivia notes that the congregation bought the organ on faith - they had no one to play it. And the church did not form a choir, “because they all sang so badly.” Their faith was rewarded. On June 29, 1890, it was announced that a doctor named Lefresiere had come to town and offered to play the organ and set up a choir that he would direct.

The rectory was built in 1899, at a cost of $1,025. A sanctuary and sacristy were added to the church building in 1901, at a cost of $900. This is the same church used today, and the parish has grown to 285 families.

A school, large enough to accommodate 190 students, was built in 1906 and served by the Dominican Sisters of Racine. A new convent was built in 1961, and a new school was built in 1963, under direction of Father Robert Francis Sladek. Building committee for the convent was Andrew Nejedlo, Richard Edlbeck, Steve Stumbris, Frank Orlando, John DalSanto and Lawrence VanCaster. The same committee, with the addition of Al Novak and Rudy Messar, were in charge of building the school.

Due to a severe lack of teaching nuns, the school was closed in 1970. With a farewell Mass followed by a picnic lunch, games and outside activities for students, Wausaukee bade farewell to Sisters Viola, Mary and Clementia. The building is now home for CCD classes and other meetings.

The Aug. 24 events will be the culmination of what has been a year-long anniversary celebration for St. Augustine Parish.

Last fall there were 125 daffodils planted land day lilies this spring on the church grounds. Parish members crafted an anniversary quilt in the style of 1889. It will be raffled on Sunday.

An anniversary seal, chosen from designs submitted by CCD students, has been used for invitations, the anniversary booklet, and the front of the Aug. 24 Mass program. Winning design was created by Dalton Menger.

The Steve and Margo Renikow family designed a parish float for the village’s Independence Day celebration.

A history booklet and a CD featuring old photos submitted by parish members were compiled.

Throughout the year hymns were chosen by the parish choir based on those that might have been sung in 1889.

Bulletin boards were placed in the church vestibule to show the history of the parish school, the church, and weddings that took place there.

Another bulletin board, “125 Acts of Random Kindness,” was posted to receive anonymous tallies of the quiet good works that no one speaks of. Deacon Patrick Whitcomb, parish coordinator at St. Augustine for four years until he retired last year, said he was impressed with the many kindnesses he witnessed there.

He said in Wausaukee, as in most small towns, “There are fine people, sharing their resources.” The entire community shares the local veterans’ hall, chairs from St. Augustine’s are loaned all over the village, no charge. Parish people belong to local rescue squads, serve on the fire department.

According to the diocesan newspaper, The Compass, Deacon Whitcomb was struck by the impression that almost everyone in Wausaukee seemed to be Catholic, and how many people stay after Mass for the Baptisms. He commented that everyone seems to be related, or family friends.

Pastors, Parish Administrators, Sacramental Ministers over the years have been:

1887-1889: Rev. Charles Hoegstoel, from St. Patrick’s, Stiles

1889-1890: Rt. Rev. Monsignor John Augustine Selbach

1890-1895: Rt. Rev. Peter Pele

1895-1898: Rev. Peter S. Dagnault

1898-1804: Rt. Rev. Monsignor Julius J. Looze

1894-1894: Rev. James H. Brady

1894-1923: Rt. Rev. Monsignor William Aloysius Ruel

1923-1939: Rt. Rev. Monsignor Louis Martin Schorn

1939-1947: Rev. Michael Jacowski

1947-1948: Rt. Rev. Monsignor Joseph Charles Kalisek

1948-1951: Rev. Ladislaus Polaczyk

1951-1954: Rev. Peter Joseph Novitski

1954-1959: Rev. Casmir Stanislaus Tomczyk

1959-1966: Rev. Robert Frances Sladek

1966-1999: Rev. John McLaughlin

1984-1987: Rev. Dennis G. Drury

1999-2003: Rev. Joseph E. Dorner

2003-2005: Rev. Vincent Ssewagudde

2005-2009: Rev. Matthew Settle

2005-2010: Rev. Donald Burkart

2005-2010: Rev. John J. Hephner

2009-2012: Rev. Ronald C. Belitz

2009-2013: Deacon Patrick Whitcomb

2009-2014: Rev. Walter Stumpf

2013-????: Rev. Frederick Sserugga


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