The history of the Diocese of Superior dates back to the 17th century. Our Journey Through Faith offers a glimpse into the historic events that played a role in the growth of Catholicism in Northern Wisconsin.
Our Journey through Faith: A History of the Diocese of Superior,
The Irish heritage of Erin Prairie and St. Patrick’s parish has its roots in the early 1850’s emigration of about 20 families who left behind the potato famine and political turmoil of mid-century Ireland.
In their quest to find a bit of the “auld sod” in America these pioneers ventured westward until they came upon the fertile soil, woods and streams of the rolling prairie they would come to call Town of Erin Prairie (officially organized in 1853).
Little is known of Erin Prairie as a parish prior to 1857. In the fall of that year Father J.J. McGee was stationed in Hudson and said the first mass in Erin (Diocese of Milwaukee) of which there is any record. To show their gratitude to God the people immediately started the erection of a little log church, but as Father McGee remained only a short time in Hudson, the church was never completed. The people of Erin Prairie were again without divine services. In the fall o 1858, Reverend Napoleon Mignault was sent to Hudson, becoming the second Catholic pastor at the county seat. From there he attended Erin once month, saying mass at the homes of parishioners.
With the prospect of having a priest visit them regularly, the people of Erin Prairie again decided to build a church. The church that had started the year before was abandoned, owing to the fact that it would be too small to accommodate the large number of families settling in the then rapidly developing country. A larger structure was decided on, but there was a delay for some time while deciding upon the location that would be mot convenient for the greatest number of people.
In the spring of 1860 the late John Meath donated two acres of land, on which a frame church was erected on the site of the present structure. During the summer of 1862, Father Mignault left Hudson and Erin Prairie was again without a pastor for some time except for an occasional visit made by Father Coffee of Hastings, Minnesota. By the latter part of 1862 the Reverends Nicholas and James Stehle were sent to Hudson and Erin was again attended from that place until February 1864.
Coloring the period there are stories of Indian raids, barn-raising bees and prolonged Irish wakes characterized by ample supplies of food and whiskey, “criers” to chant when mourners got quiet and pipe smoking prayer ceremonies. One source tells of parishioners walking up to fifteen miles carrying their shoes. Careful not to wear out or ruin their shoes in the mud, folks didn’t step into them until they reached the church steps.
In February 1864, the first resident pries, the Reverend John Conroy, was sent to minister the members of the Erin congregation. His parish in all of that territory which now comprises the parishes of Erin, New Richmond, Cylon, Stanton, Wilson and Hammond. Those were days of magnificent distances, yet the sturdy pioneers thought nothing of that, prizing highly their rare and somewhat limited religious privileges.
Shortly after his arrival in Erin, Father Conroy began the erection of a new parsonage. In the spring of 1866, work started on a new church forty four by eighty feet and twenty four feet high. The structure was completed, except for the plastering, when it was destroyed by fire in February 1867. The loss was total. In most cases this would have had a seriously discouraging effect upon those most interested, the people themselves, ut the residents of Erin were made of “sterner stuff”. Their faith was steadfast, even in the face of such a calamity and before the fire had fairly died out, the frame of the new church was in readiness and upon the ground. The contract for its erection had been let. Naturally, however, the work was slow, it was not until two years later that the new edifice was completed. In the furtherance and completion of this undertaking the congregation of St. Patrick’s was greatly aided by the generous donation of five hundred dollars worth of lumber by the late S.A. Jewett, then engaged in the lumber manufacturing business in Jewett Mills. In 1868, the Diocese of LaCrosse was formed, which St. Patrick’s became a part of.
In May 1869, Father Conroy was transferred to another parish. In September of that year he was succeeded by Reverend H. Quigley, D.D, who remained until July, 1872 and followed by Reverend P.J. Lavin, who arrived October, 1872. Father Lavin had charge of the parish for seven years and left a lasting impression on the people by his eloquent sermons. He was sent to another parish in January, 1880, his duties were assumed by Reverend M. Connolly. His successor, the Reverend Daniel Reddin, came shortly after his ordination to Holy Orders and spent practically the remainder of his life as pastor of the parish.
By 1884 the Erin church had become far too small to accommodate so large a congregation. A distant portion o the congregation, desiring more convenient services, resolved to build a church at Cylon, to be considered as a mission and yet a part of St. Patrick’s parish. Father Reddin undertook the task of organization and within six months a beautiful structure, thirty six by seventy feet, known as Holy Rosary Church, was ready for use. The Cylon church cost thirty five hundred dollars and the congregation attending it numbered but twenty five families. The people were in earnest; consequently in less than two years from the time of the building’s completion the entire amount involved in it’s construction was paid.
In 1898 Father Reddin built a substantial parish house near the church. This was later modernized and improved by Reverend Patrick A. Walsh, who came here October 31, 1904, to succeed Father Lee as assistant to Father Reddin, who resigned the pastorate in the fall of that year because of failing health. Appointed pastor of St. Patrick’s parish by Bishop Schwebach n January, 1905, Reverend Walsh energetically and capably continued the work of his predecessor. Until now, the parish was included n the Diocese of LaCrosse. With other parishes in St.. Croix County, St. Patrick’s was transferred to the Diocese of Superior when that new diocese was created. Father Walsh with his industry and persistence, coupled with the cooperation over member o the parish, made possible the erection and completion of the new beautiful church, said to be the finest country church in the Diocese of Superior.
The work started in 1913 with the support of about 250 families from Erin and Emerald. The 1869 structure was moved across the road and used as a community center until it blew down in a 1938 windstorm.
With solemn and impressive ceremonies the new house of worship in Erin Prairie was dedicated June 16, 1914, with the Rt. Reverend Joseph M Koudelka, D.D., Bishop of Superior, officiating. The building was erected at a cost of twenty five thousand dollars, exclusive of the pews and interior furnishings, which amounted to about six thousand dollars, mostly donated by societies of the parish and individuals.
The church was designed in Spanish mission style and built of dark red colonial brick ly in Flemish bond, with ranked joints. The edifice was on hundred and five feet in length and forty feet wide. The sanctuary proper was twenty-one feet, six inches wide and twenty-five feet deep. The sacristy was twenty-two feet by sixteen feet three inches. The plastering had a carpet float finish, and the entire ceiling beamed. Under the entire church there was a nine foot basement with a cement floor, partitioned off into dining hall, a serving room, a kitchen and pantry.
The pilasters, tower, both front and rear walls, arches over he entrance, and tops of chimneys ere capped with blue Bedford stone, making a handsome finish, combining admirably with the brick. The floor was of maple and the woodwork of red oak done in English mission finish.
The three altars and communion rail were of pure white composition with gold trimmings, the high altar weighing twenty eight hundred pounds. The communion rail was capped with a ten-inch marble slab.
With the support of the parishioners, Father Walsh purchased and additional ten acres of land graded and beautified the church property with landscaping and an ornamental fence.
In those days pews were assigned to each family. It was considered improper to sit in an unassigned pew unless invited to do so. Similar etiquette as practiced in the buggy parking lot. Each family was assigned a post to tie their horse or team and tempers were known to flare if the status quo were breached.
The fall bazaar was the social event of the year and served as an annual homecoming event for former parishioners.
It included a chicken diner with all the trimmings, a fishpond and “Who has the lucky number?” wheel. The chance to win money at this game was a big attraction for many erstwhile gamblers.
The parish “boom” saw its end in the next few years.
The dismal drought of the 1930’s coupled with the depression, had its impact on the parish. Area banks closed and farmers were faced with foreclosures. People began to move to the cities.
The debt for the church had not been retired. Few families could afford to make payments but they managed to keep up the interest payments despite the hard times. There was no excess for maintenance, however, and the church fell into disrepair.
In October 1938, Father Walsh was called upon to serve the Spooner parish. (He passed away two years later after a struggle with throat cancer and was buried next to Father Reddin in the St. Patrick’s cemetery). For the first time since 1864 the parish was without a resident priest, making do with a visiting priest on alternating weekends.
After Father Walsh had left, St. Patrick’s was placed as a mission church under the care of Father Daniel Slattery, who was in charge of St. Bridget’s in Stanton and Holy Rosary in Cylon. In 1940, Father Slattery was forced to retire due to poor health.
In July of 1940, the Reverend James Griffin was appointed to St. Patrick’s and served Holy Rosary (Cylon) and St. Bridget’s (Stanton) as well.
During 1945 Father Griffin and the parishioners were dealt another blow---the church was destroyed by fire. With World War II in full force there was a shortage of building materials, but a new generation of parishioners joined forces in rebuilding the church immediately in an effort to keep the parish together.
The new building, which stands today, was built in 1946 and dedicated on May 12, 1947 by The Most Reverend Albert Gregory Meyer, Bishop of Superior. In 1953 The Reverend Philip Krembs replaced Father Griffin who moved to Minocqua. During his five year stay the parish celebrated its centennial. The Reverend Walter Torkildson succeeded Father Krembs in 1958 who is remembered for his skill in money management and reducing the parish debt considerably.
The Reverend George Gleason the “silver tongued orator” arrived in June of 961. During this period the Holy Rosary parish in Cylon merged with St. Patrick’s. In 1965, Father Gleason attended the University of Minnesota and the Reverend Peter Maak attended to St. Patrick’s and served the Carmelite Nuns in Hudson.
The Reverend John Tomre became pastor in 1965 and made Erin his home until October 1978.
At that time Erin became a mission of the Immaculate Conception parish of New Richmond, under Reverend Daniel Dahlberg and Assistant Reverend Brian DuBois.
Deacon jerry Harris came to help with the parish work and was ordained in March 1979. He remained with St. Patrick’s until June of 1979. Deacon David Lusson came in July of 1979 to help Father Dahlberg serve the needs of both parishes. The transition was made with cooperation and support of both parishes. During 1981, Father Vincent Lynch assisted Father Dahlberg at St. Patrick’s. Father James Gutzler of Holy Family Hospital also assisted during this period. Sister Martha Kormendy was CCD Coordinator for both parishes.
In June 1984, Father Charles Murphy and Father James Tobolski were assigned to serve both Immaculate Conception in New Richmond and St. Patrick’s. Later in 1984, Father Tobolski transferred to Superior, Wisconsin and was replaced by Father Martin Gibbons. Father Murphy initiated many remodeling projects, interior painting and landscaping around the church.
Father Dennis Mullen came to St. Patrick’s in June of 1988. At that time, responsibility for serving the needs of St. Patrick’s was transferred from Immaculate Conception in New Richmond to Immaculate Conception in Hammond. It was Father Dennis’ goal to make parishioners feel at home at either church. He coordinated many joint parish events, including a pig roast and a chili feed, and invited members of both parishes to be there. Father Mullen also improved the landscaping at the cemetery, planting blue spruce and pines at the parking lot. He assisted the parish in its decision to remove the parish house due to its run-down condition. A parking lot now stands in its place. Father Mullen guided the parish through its tow year RENEW program. He also began the deaconship instructions for Larry Hennemann and Joe Paron.
In June 1992, Father James Kraker came to Immaculate Conception and St. Patrick’s. On November 21, 1992, Larry Hennemann and Joe Paron were ordained as deacons. Deacon Larry Hennemann was transferred to River Falls. Deacon Joe Paron aided Father Jim at Mass as well as with other duties, including instructions of new catechumens.
In 1998, Father Charles Murphy was appointed Assistant to Father Kracker with the assistance of Father Leonard Fraher, helped with masses in Erin. On June 30th, 1999, Father Murphy left for an undetermined sabbatical and Father Kracker also left on a sabbatical leave due to health problems.
On July 1, 1999, St. Patrick’s once again became a mission of Immaculate Conception ---New Richmond. Father Allan Bradley assisted by Father Leonard Fraher and Deacon Hugh Mayer plan to lead the parishioners of our little, but mighty church into the millennium---the years 2000 A.D.----143 years from our beginning.
Deacon Hugh “Doc” Mayer passed away on July 27, 2004 and was greatly missed. Deacon Michael Germain took over as Deacon Mayer’s replacement. In September 2004, Father Bradley left due to health reasons and was replaced by Father James Brinkman in November of that year.
Though Irish families are a minority now, the Irish tradition of St. Patrick’s Parish in Erin Prairie lives on as several descendants of the original settlers still make this their home.
This history of St. Patrick’s Parish is based on input by many of the parishioners and former parishioners—Father Philip Krembs, Agnes Ring, Catherine “Kate” Ring, Eileen Henry, Mary Ross, Edna “Edie” Donahue and many others who furnished books, documents and pictures of “who we used to be”-----
(The above history was gathered from seven existing histories written by parishioners of the past.)
Researched and submitted by Don Maloney 2007 A.D.