Archive for the ‘Parish Roots (Pre 1914)’ Category

Parish Roots

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On the Shores of Allouez Bay

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Ss. Anthony and Margaret Catholic Church claims many heritages of sorts. Some very deserving and esteemed (as they are associated with the foundation of the parish) involving the Franciscans and Belgians, others, also not without merit, that predate the existence of Allouez or Superior. These are associated with the early history of the region and also have some claim to who we are as a parish. Here we have the French explorers, the Jesuit missionaries and a group of Native Americans called the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. In many ways, all of these heritages, as well as, the heritage left behind by the iron ore industry, present to us a framework from which to begin the history of St. Anthony Parish.

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The Heritage of a Missionary Priest

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Among these early explorers, Father Claude Jean Allouez, S.J. (1622-1689), a 17th-century Jesuit missionary after which the area we know as Allouez, and its tiny bay, are named.

Fr. Allouez camped on the shore of Wisconsin Point in 1666 while ministering to the Ojibwe.1 The following year, he would establish a mission along Bluff Creek near the shore of the bay. Frustrated though with few Ojibwe willing to join the Catholic faith, he abandoned his evangelization efforts in about 1669.

While his intrepid courage won him admiration among the Ojibwe, his apostolic zeal earned him the title of “Francis Xavier of the American Missions,” having worked diligently among the Indians for thirty-two years.

Sixty-nine years old when he died, he was worn out by his heroic labors. He preached the Gospel to twenty different tribes, and is said to have baptized 10,000 neophytes with his own hand.2

Wisconsin Point (three miles in length) and Minnesota Point (seven miles) just northwest of the parish boundaries make up the largest freshwater sandbar in the world. They were formed by two rivers. The French traders who approached the west end of Lake Superior would eventually start calling the larger river on the right the St. Louis River (after the King of France) although the Ojibwe’s name for it was “Gichigami-ziibi” meaning “Great Lake River.” The stream on the left was called the Nemadji River (after the Ojibwe word “ne-madji-tic-guay-och” for “Left Hand River”). It is the Nemadji River that forms the western boundary of the parish.

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The Kingdom of Belgium

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In 1830, the Kingdom of Belgium was created out of the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands following a revolution in which the Catholic clergy opposed the Protestant Dutch king, William I. The national flag, adopted that same year, is a vertical tricolor of black, yellow, and red. On July 21, 1831, the first king of the Belgians, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was inaugurated. This day is still the Belgian national holiday.

Belgium is a densely populated country not much larger than the state of Maryland. It is bounded on the north by The Netherlands, on the west by France, and on the east by Germany. The tiny nation of Luxembourg lies to the south. This strategic location has earned Belgium the nickname, “crossroads of Europe.” The Flemish, those residing in Flanders, the northern half of the country, speak Dutch. They make up the majority of Belgium’s population. Wallonia, the region closest to France, is occupied by the French-speaking Walloons. About 98 percent of Belgians are Catholic.

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Belgian Immigration to the United States

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Belgians came to America in greatest numbers during the nineteenth century. They came for reasons no different than many other Western Europeans—financial opportunity and a better life for their families. Belgian immigration records do not appear until 1820. From 1820 to 1910, immigration is listed at 104,000; from 1910 to 1950, 62,000 Belgians came to the United States. During the period 1847 to 1849, when disease and economic deprivation were the lot for many in Belgium, emigration numbers of those leaving for America reached 6,000 to 7,000 a year.

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Belgian Immigrants Settle in Allouez

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In the late 1870’s, Belgians began to settle in Allouez bringing with them their rich Catholic heritage. Some had been displaced from the Peshtigo fire in the fall of 1871 which swept through their settlements.

When these early Belgians arrived, Allouez had two main wagon roads. They were built in 1863-64, by prospectors who had great hopes that areas south would become a major copper mining district similar to that in Michigan.

One of these roads from the Fond du Lac mine on the range to the Nemadji river, terminated at a ferry landing established on the river near what would become the 4th street bridge. Another road was built branching from this one near to what would become the ore dock scale house site by Bluff creek. It went southwesterly to the Copper Creek mine. (Source: Superior Telegram, February 10, 1906).

Although a copper boom never occurred, as the known deposits were too small or sporadic to warrant serious development, coal and iron ore was beginning to make its mark in the 1890’s when more Belgians came to the area looking for work. After landing in Buffalo, New York, they were sent by representatives of coal and iron companies to work at the coal yards and ore docks in Wisconsin.

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Steady Growth of the City of Superior

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Superior’s population in 1880 was 665. But in 1881, the Northern Pacific Railway entered Superior. Coal docks, lumber mills, merchandise docks, steel plants, flour mills, shipyards, and more railroads followed in an incredible rush. By 1890, Superior’s population was close to 12,000, and by 1900, its 31,000 residents made it the second largest city in Wisconsin.

The growth of the city of Superior at the turn of the century brought to the city peoples of various nationalities. Whereas the Belgians, and some Polish and French, were primarily associated with the foundation of Ss. Anthony and Margaret Church, other nationalities founded their own parishes to serve the needs of immigrants: The Germans founded St. Joseph, the Polish founded St. Stanislaus St. Adalbert Parishes, the French founded St. Louis Parish, and for the people of Slovak descent founded Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish.

Although they each in their own way developed into vibrant churches on the Superior religious landscape, they have since closed. They have died out or have merged with other parishes as priest shortages and financial hardship took their toll. The only one that remains is St. Anthony Church founded by the Belgians in 1914. There is an old Belgium saying, that one should stretch out all good things in life so they can be enjoyed as long as possible. This certainly applies to the parish of St. Anthony, which continues to stretch its resources despite all odds.

The illustration of Superior below is a bird’s eye view map of Superior, Wisconsin called the “New Steel Center” which was published by Bradley-Brink Co. in 1913. The map shows the St. Louis and Superior Bays along with the ports and the metropolitan area.


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