St. Mary’s Church

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The work among the Catholic people of the district now comprised in St. Mary’s parish began in 1838 and for four years thereafter they were visited by mission priests, including the Rev. Thomas Morrissy, who first visited Racine in 1838, at which time there was no Catholic church in the County. Following the arrival of Rev. Martin Kundig in 1842, the Catholics began the erection of a little frame church on Fifth street, on the present site of the Times building and the telegraph bureau. The church was completed in 1843 and dedicated in May of that year by Father Kundig with the permission of the Bishop of Detroit, and over the church Father Kundig presided for three years. To this church came the Catholics from all parts of southern Wisconsin, so that at the end of two and one-half years the Racine church proved too small and Mr. Reardon, a member of the congregation, donated two building sites at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Lake Avenue for the erection of a larger structure. The old church was removed to this site in the spring of 1845 and was remodeled and enlarged to accommodate more than three hundred persons. It served the entire Catholic population of the district until 1852. It had been dedicated as St. Ignatius church in the fall of 1845, and in September, 1846, the Rev. Franz Prendergast became the first resident pastor. He was unfamiliar with the German language and in June, 1847, was succeeded by the Rev. Kundig, who in turn in the following December was succeeded by the Rev. Fender, who continued in charge until August 20, 1849.

It then seemed advisable to separate the German and English speaking members of the congregation and Archbishop Henni named a committee to select. a site for a new church. They chose the present location of St. Mary’s, at the corner of Eighth street and College avenue. A good residence and a practically new business block occupied the property. The residence served as a parish house from 1849 and the other structure was remodeled for school purposes. The schoolhouse was twenty by forty feet and was first opened in 1850. Because of the poverty of the parishioners, the erection of a new church for the Germans was not undertaken until 1852. In August, 1849, Rev. Fender was succeeded by the Rev. Carl Schraudenbach, who served until the appointment of Rev. W. Norris November 15, 1851, the latter continuing to serve St. Ignatius parish until August, 1852.

In January of that year Archbishop Henni named Rev. Simon Bartosch as pastor of St. Mary’s and in April of that year the erection of St. Mary’s church was begun, the corner stone being laid by Archbishop Henni, June 27th. In August, 1852, Rev. Martin Kundig was appointed priest of St. Ignatius and of St. Mary’s and served both congregations until December, 10, 1853, He completed the new church and in November, 1853, was succeeded by Rev. J. N. Peiffer, who served both congregations until January, 1854, when Rev. Kundig was again installed. In February of the same year the Rev. Franz Fusseder was appointed pastor of the two congregations and so continued until June, 1855, when the Rev. Fabian Bermadinger became pastor of St. Mary’s church. He so continued until September, 1857, when he was succeeded by the Rev. F. X. Sailer, whose pastorate continued until September, 1862. He was followed by the Rev. Franz Uhlemayr, who continued until July, 1867, and under his direction was erected a new schoolhouse, fifty by thirty feet and three stories in height. His successor, Rev. F. X. Etschmann, continued until April, 1870, and the Rev. J. A. Birkhauser until September 8, 1873; the latter purchased two building lots at the corner of Eighth and Wisconsin streets in order to erect a new parish house. On the 10th of September, 1873, Rev. George Strickner became pastor of St. Mary’s and it was during his pastorate, which extended until August 1. 1877, that St. Joseph’s congregation was separated from St. Mary’s. From the end of July until the beginning of September, 1877, Rev. J. A. Birkhauser again served St. Mary’s for the Rev. Peter DeBerge, who had been named pastor in June of that year. The latter took charge in August and under his direction the present handsome parish house was erected in 1878. In December, 1877, he celebrated his silver jubilee, but in November, 1880, illness caused his resignation. Rev. William Engel, who was appointed, died soon afterward and was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph M. Albers, under whose pastorate a new church building was erected, one hundred and thirty-five by sixty feet, at a cost of twenty-eight thousand dollars, and was dedicated August 15, 1886. After sixteen years’ faithful service Rev. Albers resigned August 22, 1896, and the church was then supplied by different priests until Rev. Theodore B. Meyer took charge in November of that year, remaining as pastor to the present time, covering a period of twenty years. During this period a number of improvements have been made on the church and school buildings. A new roof has been put on the latter, sidewalks have been laid, in 1913 a fine new heating plant was installed in the church and school, the church was frescoed at a cost of six hundred dollars and in 1915 new seats were provided for the schoolhouse. In 1908 the church was damaged to the amount of sixteen hundred dollars by lightning.

Source: Stone, Fanny S. Racine, Belle City of the lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin : a record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement; Chicago: S. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1916.

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