St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of St. John the Baptist Parish.
The event will take place Saturday, June 18 in Johnsburg.
The activities begin at 2:45 p.m. with boarding a bus in the school parking lot. The bus will take people to the site of where the first St. John the Baptist Church was located, near the corner of Calmar Road and CTH W. A 3 p.m. prayer and dedication will take place, with the Most Rev. Paul Schmitz, O.F.M. Capuchin, Bishop of Bluefields, Nicuragua, officiating. Assisting him will be Fr. Gary Wegner, O.F.M., pastor at St. John Church.
A 4:15 p.m. Mass will follow, with the Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, archbishop of Milwaukee, being the principal celebrant. Concelebrants will include Bishop Paul Schmitz, Fr. Gary Wegner, Fr. Larry Abler, O.F.M., Capuchin, Fr. Oliver Bambenek, O.F.M. Capuchin, former St. John’s pastor, the Rev. Joseph Coerber, and Fr. Michael Bertram, O.F.M. Capuchin, whose roots are from the Johnsburg area.
Following the Mass, Archbishop Listecki will bless the new cemetery crucifixion scene. The Celebration Dinner will follow in the church pavilion. Prepaid reservations are required by June 7. Please call Kaylene Lisowe, parish secretary, at 795-4316 for more information.
At 7:30 p.m., the time capsule buried 25 years ago will be opened. A social will follow where refreshments will be available.
Old St. Johannes history
Betty Dziadek is a self-taught Holyland area historian. She has a collection of more than 20 binders that are filled with information about the history of communities that stretch from St. Peter to St. Cloud to Jericho and Brothertown. Copies of her work can be found at the Malone Area Historical Museum, located in Malone.
Of special interest to Dziadek is the early history of Johnsburg. “For 20 to 30 years, I have been asked where the old Johannes Church was. I knew where it was, because, one time, I stopped in and asked Gregor Freund where the old church stood. He took me in the field and said, ‘This is the locale of the church.’ He started kicking in the ground and picked up some rocks and said, ‘This is the church.’ I asked him how he knew those rocks were from the church, and he said, ‘I’m a farmer. I know my stones.’”
The site of the first church, St. Johannes, was located near the corner of Calmar Road and CTH W in the Town of Calumet. A small business community grew up near the church to provide services for the farmers of the area. Father Van den Brock, a Dominican priest coming from the Little Chute area along the Fox River, visited the area from time to time. German Catholic immigration was in progress at St. Johannes, with most of the immigrants arriving from the Mosel River region, between the cities of Trier and Koblenz.
Fr. Van den Brock was assisted by Fr. Carabin, who traveled from the Green Bay and Little Chute areas. Dziadek shares the story of how in 1842 her great-grandmother Francisca Brost was taken by ox cart to Little Chute to be baptized.
A member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Dziadek’s genealogical roots take her back to one of the founders of the original church. Around 1842, Sunday and holy day prayer services were held at the home of John Brost, Dziadek’s great-great-grandfather. When Brost’s cabin became too small to host the services, John Fuchs, Mathias Schneider and Brost each gave two acres of land to site a church. In the fall of 1842, logs were gathered. The following spring, a church, measuring 30 feet by 20 feet, was built. Fr. Carabin became the first pastor. It was also the year that the Diocese of Milwaukee was created by Pope Gregory XVI. Because of poor health, Fr. Carobin left St. Johannes in 1845.
Bishop visits settlement
In 1844, Rt. Rev. Bishop Martin Henni, from the newly created Milwaukee Diocese, visited the St. Johnannes settlement on May 4. He spent his time administering the Sacrament of Confirmation and providing the Blessed Sacrament to settlers in the area. It is noted that perhaps because of the bishop’s visit, St. Johannes received its first resident pastor in September 1845. Fr. Casper Rehrl, born in Austria in 1809, lived with families of the parish until a log cabin could be erected. Fr. Rehrl used part of the cabin as a school. He was assisted by a Capuchin, Father Fabian Bermadinger. His assistance gave Rehrl the opportunity to provide for Catholics as far away as Green Bay, Manitowoc Sheboygan and places south of Fond du Lac. He personally founded 15 parishes and established the Sisters of St. Agnes.
By 1850, the parish had outgrown its log church. The congregation voted in favor of building a new church, with some members proposing to relocate it further south. Controversy arose, and Fr. Rehrl resigned and moved to Mount Calvary, a parish he helped establish during his travels. Fr. Bermadinger moved on and became the first resident pastor at the neighboring Marytown community.
Father Leo Susan arrived and stayed for about a year. He was followed by Father John Obermueller. About the time of a mission, spearheaded by Father F. X. Weninger, the final decision was made to build a new, substantial church south of the existing Johannes location on five acres of land donated by Mathias Kalt. This led to discord between the two factions, and Bishop Henni came to arbitrate the situation. Bishop Henni approved the new site, so Fr. Obermueller began constructing a temporary church and rectory. Those discontent with the decision began erecting a stone church on the old location. One of the lay brothers of Father Bermadinger donated $700 toward the building of the stone church. When the funds were exhausted, only the walls were erected.
In the meantime, the church to the south, located along a branch of the Manitowoc River, continued to move forward. Under the direction of Father Michael Deisenrieder, the church to the south was constructed of limestone, with completion noted on the Feast of St. John the Baptist in 1857.
Seeing her dream come true
Dziadek’s dream was to have a marker placed at the old St. Johannes church site. She gives Elmer and Loraine Thome and the Malone Area Historical Museum credit for that dream becoming a reality.
“I always wished I’d live long enough to have that marker placed there,” she said.
Dan and Sharon Freund farmed the area where the church, cemetery and school once stood off Calmar Road. Dan said the church foundation was east of where the marker is located. Dan’s parents, Gregor and Marie Freund, both deceased, had purchased the land.
“We used to plow the stones up from the foundation,” Dan said.
It is recorded that 102 people were buried at the original church site. It is thought that some of the bodies were exhumed and moved to the new location. It is noted that the remaining graves were probably of children, the elderly, or those disenfranchised with the building of the new church at the southern location. According to a local newspaper article, written by Henry Blonien, the last burial took place in 1901.
Now all farm land
The Calmar Road church site was eventually all converted to farm land with the approval of the Milwaukee Diocese. The land is currently owned by Mike Tasch Farms, Inc.
Today, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is a part of Holyland Catholic Parishes, which also includes Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary-Marytown, and St. Isidore the Farmer-Mount Calvary/St. Cloud/St. Joe. The parishes are served by Fr. Gary Wegner, OFM, Capuchin, as pastor; Fr. Zoy Garibay, OFM Capuchin as associate pastor; and weekend assistants Fr. Larry Abler, OFM Capuchin, and Fr. Oliver Bambenek, OFM Capuchin.
Pastoral care ministers are Sr. Jenada Fanetti, SDS-St. Isidore the Farmer, and Sr. Stephen Bloesl, SSCK-St. John the Baptist/Visitation BVM.
Today, St. John the Baptist Parish has more than 300 members. Parish families have the opportunity to provide Catholic grade school education through Holyland Catholic School, located at the Johnsburg church site.
(Note: Information for this article was taken from the book “St. John The Baptist Congregation, Johnsburg, Wis.,” copyrighted in 1957 by the Rev. B. J. Blied. Blied served as a priest at St. John The Baptist for several years.)