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Franciscan-Belgian Foundations

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Parish Established with a Belgian Priest

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1914


Bishop Joseph M. Koudelka, who was aware that the spiritual needs of the Belgian families living in Allouez would be better served if they had a Belgian priest, appointed Fr. Rudolph Hanssens, OFM.

The parish limits of St. Francis, which had once extended from Central Park to Itasca, would with the new parish, end with the Nemadji River. The two mile walks on Sunday for Catholics in Allouez would no longer be necessary. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would now be offered in their own neighborhood.

Upon arriving in Superior from Antwerp, Fr. Hanssens who was an inveterate hand-shaker, was quickly accepted by the residents of Allouez, grateful they now had their own priest. He wasted no time in sharing with them his dream to build a church, a school and convent which one day would be completely surrounded by the homes of Belgian families. Finding land and securing the necessary funds to build a church were the first priority.

In no time, Fr. Rudolph was overseeing the construction of the Church, often sleeping in the homes of parishioners. By making it clear that there would be no immediate plans for building a rectory, perhaps the pastor was trying to set an example for his parishioners to live simply until adequate funds could be found for the church and school.

Construction of the Church Building

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1914—July–August


James Bardon donated land to the diocese for the site of the new church on block 45 of East Third Street and block 46 on East Fourth Street. Bardon (for whom Spirit Mountain’s Bardon’s Peak is named), was a pioneer of Superior. He had a illustrious career as an elected official, real estate agent, co–owner of a shingle mill, and the editor/publisher of Superior Times. Moreover, Bardon brought the Northern Pacific to Superior in 1881.

Fr. Rudolph wasted no time petitioning the city council for sidewalk and street improvements. Determined to begin construction, he gave the go ahead in mid July 1914 to Rene Lagae, an Allouez builder, confident that the parish would raise the necessary $4,200.

A 40 x 80 feet wood frame building with a full basement typical of early 20th century churches was built on the property. It featured a steeply pitched gable roof, a central steeple, pointed arch windows, and shiplap siding.

While the church was being built, Fr. Hanssens offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in parishioner’s homes. The first Mass was held in May 1914 with Emil Want as his first server. Soon other boys including, Archie and Maurice Jacques, and Alfred Cole joined him. Fr. Rudolph also celebrated Mass in the O’Brien home in Itasca.

That summer, Fr. Hanssens and the congregation gathered in the Woodmen Hall on Sundays for Mass as their new church was nearing completion.

Death of Pope Pius X

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1914—August 20


While the new church was being built, two events on the world stage impacted the lives of early parishioners. War broke out in Europe, and with it, Pope Pius X grew gravely ill, and suffered a massive heart attack on August 20, 1914. Many believed the war had shortened the Holy Father’s life.

Pius X was a pastoral pope who encouraged personal piety and daily communion, as well as, orthodox theology rejecting modernist interpretations of Catholic doctrine. His overriding concern was to renew all things in Christ. Pius X drafted a universal set of laws that was to be the 1917 Code of Canon Law (revised in 1983). It was published three years after his death.

Pius X was canonized in 1954. He has the distinction of being the first saint to have been photographed/filmed: An 8-second video clip of the Holy Father.

Process of Naming a Church

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During the construction of the church when our parish had yet been named it was referred to as the “Catholic Church in Allouez” or the “Allouez church.” Even after the Bishop gave a name to the parish having accepted Fr. Rudolph’s recommendation (see next page), people commonly used the geographic location when referring to the new church. Such nomenclature has its origin in the New Testament (i.e., the church of Corinth, the church of Ephesus, etc.) In fact, the name of the Roman Catholic Church itself has its roots in geography.

Choosing a name for a parish is a process that requires a lot of thought. There is a sense of permanence that comes with the task. Today, when bishops seek a parish name they typically choose one not held anywhere else in the diocese. But that was not always true. In the Superior Diocese, seven churches (including our own) are named after St. Anthony of Padua. (The parish in Cumberland is not one them though. It was named after St. Anthony, the Abbot.

Many Catholic churches are dedicated to a specific saint, and put under their patronage. For example, St. Pius X who was canonized a saint in 1954, has many parishes, schools, seminaries and retreat houses named after him. One of the reasons why his name is so popular is that many of these buildings were being built during or soon after his canonization during the baby boom era. In 1955, when St. Mary of Good Counsel (Solon Springs) built a new church, they renamed their parish St. Pius X.

Not all Catholic churches, however, are named after saints. In the Diocese of Superior today, for example, we have churches named Sacred Heart (Almena and Radisson), Holy Family (Bayfield), Immaculate Conception (Butternut, Grantsburg, Hammond, and New Richmond), Assumption (Chelsea, East Farmington, Strickland, Superior), Sacred Heart (Stetsonville), Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Crescent Lake), Most Precious Blood (Glidden), Holy Trinity (Haugen), Holy Rosary (Medford and Mellen), Holy Redeemer (Pence), Nativity of Our Lord (Rhinelander), Cathedral of Christ the King (Superior).

A Compromise Establishes Name for Church

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1914—August 24


When it comes to naming a church, there are plenty of names to choose from, but sometimes coming to an agreement for those involved in the naming process can be challenging.

Fr. Hanssens believed that as first pastor he would be the one submitting the name for the new parish to the bishop, without realizing that his community of Franciscan Friars, especially Fr. Eustace Vollmer, had considerable clout. With both being of the same religious order, one would expect similar views and ideals to prevail, which they did—to a point. Both Fr. Rudolph and Fr. Eustace wanted to name the parish after Franciscan saints. They, however, could not agree on which one.

Fr. Eustace wanted the new parish to be dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua. However, Fr. Hanssens had once made a promise that if he ever had the opportunity to build a new church, he would name and dedicate it after a 13 century Italian Tertiary, Saint Margaret of Cortona, a favorite Franciscan saint of the Belgian people.

Since Fr. Rudolph was Belgian himself, he believed his choice trumped anyone else’s because “the church was being built for Belgians.” He would not be swayed. Both priests unrelenting, compromised, and named the new church Saints Anthony and Margaret.

Although a most peculiar combination, the name was made official on August 24, 1914 when Fr. Hannssens and the parish’s first trustees, Con Shears and Rene Lagae signed the papers incorporating the parish in accordance with the laws of the state of Wisconsin.

Looking back, though, it was a very fitting name. Whereas Saint Anthony is often depicted holding the infant Jesus in his arms, Saint Margaret is shown holding or being near and gazing at a crucifix. Each artistic representation, in its own way portrays a God who holds nothing back from us. In both the incarnation and the passion, we have God’s total self-giving love.

Although there are many churches that bear the individual name of Saint Anthony, as well as Saint Margaret, at no time, nor place, will you ever find a church named after both saints except in Allouez from 1914 to 1959 when the name of Margaret was dropped.

Why was the Name Margaret Dropped?

Since the early 1960’s the parish in Allouez has been called St. Anthony. The name of St. Margaret is no longer mentioned. Although still a Saint, today, many in the parish know little about her.

No reason has ever been given why the name Margaret was dropped. The name seemed to have disappeared with the building of the new church, and the tearing down of the old one.

Although not a reason for dropping the name, an explanation does exist for why some people were saying that “Anthony and Margaret had a divorce.” At the time the new church was built, a series of high profile celebrity divorces (Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates in 1958, Eddie Fisher and Debby Reynolds in 1959, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1960) , may have spawned the wise crack about the Anthony and Margaret getting a divorce.

Such a statement of course is erroneous. Both Anthony and Margaret took vows of chastity which precluded either of them from ever marrying in the first place.
Over the years, though an even more serious misconception (in that it was taken to be true) was that some parishioners wrongly assumed that the name Margaret referred to St. Margaret of Mary Alacoque who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in its modern form.

So it behooves us to learn more about who was St. Margaret of Cortona, and why she was she so popular among the Belgians.

Belgian Devotion to St. Margaret of Cartona

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An image of St. Margaret of Cortona is depicted in a stained glass window at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee.

St. Margaret offers hope to anyone who wants to turn their life around for the better, but struggles to do so—caught in the grip of a vice and living a life of habitual sin. By her intercession, people have been given the grace to open their hearts to sorrow and have been given the courage to confess their sins in order to receive the gift of God’s mercy. St. Margaret is also the patron saint of single mothers.

As a young woman Margaret eloped (fleeing her stepmother) to become the mistress of a young nobleman. She bore him a son, and lived with him for nine years. When he was murdered by bandits, she viewed the incident as a sign from God to publicly confess her affair.

Although she wanted to return home, her father would have nothing to do with her. Instead, she and her son found shelter with the Friars Minor at their church in Cortona. Margaret earned a living by nursing sick ladies. Later she gave this up to serve the sick poor without recompense.

While still young and attractive, she would sometimes have trouble resisting temptations of the flesh, but after each encounter, she would have such an extreme dislike of herself, she would try to make herself unappealing to men. One time, she even tried to mutilate her face.

Eventually, Margaret joined the Third Order of St. Francis (although some members did not wholeheartedly welcome her because of her past). Her son became a Franciscan a few years later.

After Margaret developed a deeper and more intense prayer life, she began to have ecstasies during which she received messages from heaven. Margaret preached against vice of all kinds and many people, through her, returned to the sacraments. She also demonstrated an extraordinary love for the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ.