Home > The Bonds of Unity (1917-1925) > Parish Finds Strength in Unity

Parish Finds Strength in Unity


Fr. Rudolph, as founding pastor of Ss. Anthony and Margaret, had yet to even lay the foundation of his rectory in July of 1917, when he received a blow from an unexpected source. For reasons unknown to us, his Franciscan superiors wanted him to return to Belgium.

Following Fr. Rudolph’s departure, the Diocese announced that the new pastor would be one of its own priests, Fr. Francis Bertram. Although Fr. Bertram would only remain in Allouez for a year, before his leadership skills would be needed elsewhere in the diocese, his pastoral administration was distinguished by executive ability and thoroughness.

What the native born priest was able to do fell just short of heroic. Often with his back against the wall, he was able to move the parish toward inclusivity. Whereas Fr. Hanssens could be described as an idealist, Fr. Bertram was a realist. He was a practical man, firmly grounded in the physical world, and that meant at times being respectful to the iron ore bigwigs, city politicians, while at the same time, rubbing shoulders with workers and residents who were rallying for better living conditions.

Under the guidance of Father Bertram and with Episcopal approval, Ss. Anthony and Margaret moved toward becoming less a national parish, and more a territorial parish. Boundaries of the parish were established which included not only Allouez but Catholics who lived East of Bluff Creek in Itasca where Swedes, Norwegians and Germans had settled. As the Belgians welcomed these other immigrants along with English speaking native born residents to their number, the congregation grew to 400 people.

Although Fr. Rudolph Hanssens’ dream of having a Belgian church surrounded by Belgian homes with Belgian children minding their parents would not come to fruition as he dreamed—that was exactly the point. By 1917, the Belgian motto, “Strength in Unity” (literally “Union makes strength”) had begun to take root among all people living east of the Nemadji, implicitly, if not explicitly, suggesting that the motto for Belgians in Allouez had less to do with nationality and more with working conditions at the docks and city politics.

For example, in 1913, workers at the Allouez ore docks went on strike. Although the historical record mentions no connection with the Belgian motto, it was implicit in the actions of the workers following an accident in which two men were crushed to death and several other were injured on the Allouez ore docks.

The accident came after workers complained for a year that working conditions were dangerous. Demands of workers were granted including an increase of fifteen cents per day in wages, a guarantee that lights will be placed on all cars that are handled at night, and that open ore pockets will be done away with. Although the strike was settled, it would be another two decades before the workers unionized.

Elsewhere in the country, Irish Catholics took a prominent role in shaping America’s labor movement (see column at right). Most Catholics were unskilled or semi-skilled urban workers, and the Irish used their strong sense of solidarity to form a base in unions and in local Democratic politics.

As for as Superior politics, at the turn of the century, residents of Allouez and Itasca were already rallying to separate themselves from their “superior” brother to the west. Here, too, they found strength in unity.

Politically, any notion of this happening abated after 1900 once the residents had representation in city politics , with Allouez and Itasca being established as the city’s Tenth District.

As far as religion matters were concerned, once the parish ceased being a “national” ethnic parish and established itself as a “territorial” parish, for now at least, the Catholics living in the tans-Nemadji district were well on their way to becoming a unified community.

Working hand in hand, the congregation looked forward to a bright future. Their dream of a Catholic School would not wane. Finding the priest to do it, though, was out of the parish hands. God was working behind the scenes, and in a short while would bring to the parish just the right priest.

After one year, Fr. Bertram was appointed pastor of St. Mary Church in Rhinelander where he remained pastor for 28 years until his death in 1946 following a stroke he suffered while presiding at Mass on the Feast of Immaculate Conception.