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The Bonds of Unity

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1917-1925

 
Fr. Francis Bertram, was a priest of the Diocese of Superior, and the second pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church (1917-1925), whose pastoral administration was distinguished by executive ability and thoroughness.

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Parish Finds Strength in Unity

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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.

A Sad Chapter in Ojibwe History

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1919


For all the effort that was expended toward bringing the people of Allouez and Itasca together, it’s uncertain whether Fr. Bertram (or any priest in 1919) could have helped the Ojibwe who had a village on Wisconsin Point.

Today, not far from St. Anthony on the northern edge of the parish near the Superior entry lighthouse at Wisconsin Point, a stone marker states:

“Here was the burial ground
of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa people dating from the 17th century.
It was removed in 1919
to St. Francis cemetery, Superior.”

Actually, only about 180 remains from the most identifiable graves were moved (including at least one chief– Chief Joseph Osaugie (1802-1876). Sadly though, once placed in a mass grave at St. Francis Xavier cemetery, they were improperly cared for over the years. For example, when the slope of land on which they were reburied had been undercut by construction of a road, bones and decayed clothing could be seen spilling toward the river. As far as what happened to the 100 unidentified graves that were left on Wisconsin point? Some say Chief Osaugie’s descendants know their location, but they are not about to give up their dead.

“The bones of our ancestors have lain in peace for hundreds of years. Why should they now be dug up and removed to some other place? How can it be that others own this land? I was born here and have lived here all my life. Before me my father lived here and before him his father, and his father and so on back for hundreds of years. This has always been the Indian’s home. Now they tell us our dead must be moved, and that we must also move. Tell me, where are we to go?”—Frank Sky Superior Telegram ( June 5, 1914)

Ironically, the reason why the remains were transferred from their original burial place (in fact, an entire village of Ojibwe evicted) was that in 1918 U.S. Steel wanted to build a huge ore dock on the land separating Lake Superior from Allouez Bay. However, it was determined that the sandbar was too sandy construct an ore dock, so it was never built.

The first remains to be removed from Wisconsin Point were of a Franciscan missionary, Father Elphonsus Chror. Chror was buried at Wisconsin Point in 1882. His remains were removed in 1910.

Two early Tragedies in the Parish

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1917 / 1919


Allouez’ all-volunteer fire department had little training, money or equipment. But when the bell sounded the alarm, their dedication and determination to protect life and property of the town’s residents and businesses were exemplary. Yet regardless of how well prepared or what their response time was, tragic accidents, fire damage, and loss of life occurred.

Take for example, the incident which led to eleven year old parishioner Michael Von Convalberg (identified in the paper as Leo Van Congert) who drowned in Allouez Bay on June 27, 1917. The child was throwing sticks into Allouez Bay from what was known as Cedar Dock near the Itasca Elevator when he accidentally fell.
A soldier on guard at the elevator was able to pull the boy out of the water with a long pike pole. Although the fire department tired to resuscitate the boy with a pulmotor for two hours, they were unable to save his life.

He was buried June 30, 1917 at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. (See Section B, Block 19, row 7, lot 4).

Although the fire department did its best to save him, its equipment was fast becoming outdated.

In 1900 an editorial cartoon appeared on the front page of the Superior Telegram showing off the Allouez volunteer fire department and its new fire equipment. The caption reads, “The Allouez Volunteer Fire Department gets together for a little practice with its new apparatus.” Among the items was a hand-drawn two-wheeled hose cart.

As a result, fire insurance rates for homes and businesses in Allouez were very high due to the poor means of fire protection. Residents, therefore, began to demand better services.

Then tragically, on August 18, 1919, a fire at a home of Mr. and Mrs. Vermeiren, parishioners of Ss. Anthony and Margaret, ended the lives of two of their children: Mariel, 4, and Paul, 3.

Unlike the black smoke that filled the home of the Vermeiren’s, the smoke of burning incense rising from the altar during the requiem Mass at Ss. Anthony and Margaret was white and a symbol of joy and hope in Christ’s resurrection.

Using incense in the funeral also added a sense of solemnity and mystery to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell remind those at the funeral of the transcendence of the Mass which links heaven with earth, and allow the faithful to enter into the presence of God.

Although the funeral Mass helped parishioners deal with the tragedy, in the months that followed, the citizens of Allouez began to express their concerns to the Superior city council that they were not happy with their fire service.

A few may have even vented their concern that perhaps the children’s lives could have been saved if the fire department had better equipment. Resolution of this issue, however, and the alleviation of the lingering frustration, anger, sadness or other emotions following the tragedy did not come quickly.

In the summer of 1920 when the residents of Allouez asked the city of Superior for new fire equipment to better protect them, such as a fire apparatus in the form of a small automobile, their request was declined on grounds that the East End fire station which had just acquired a new pumper apparatus for the cost of $12,000 would serve the needs of Allouez, too.

To this day, Allouez and Itasca are covered by the East End Fire Station.

Whooping Cough and Influenza

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1918-19


Between accidents and diseases, parents have always had something to worry about when raising children. The families of parishioners were no different. A parent’s worst nightmare has always been the death of a child.

In the years after the founding of the parish many young children died of diseases that we are now immunize against such as diphtheria, tetanus, measles, pneumonia and whooping cough.

Whooping Cough

According to the parish record of interments, in late October and early November of 1919, at least five infants in the parish died of whooping cough— known medically as pertussis — a highly contagious respiratory tract infection.

In the first half of the 20th century, whooping cough was a leading cause of childhood illness and death in the United States. But after the introduction of a vaccine in the 1940s, the number of cases gradually declined, reaching a low in the 1980s.

Although whooping cough initially resembles an ordinary cold, it may eventually turn more serious, particularly in infants. In the more advanced stages, those who are infected have a hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like “whoop.”

Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19

During the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, people generally did not directly die from it but rather died from complications caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks, which predominantly affect children and the elderly.

Worldwide the influenza pandemic killed more people than World War I, at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people.  An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the world war. Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the flu virus rather than killed in battle.

In Wisconsin, the disease peaked in the fall of 1918. Although influenza remained pervasive throughout the state during the winter and spring, the number of cases did decline slightly during early 1919. By the summer, the disease had begun to disappear from the state.

Although there is no way to determine if any members of Ss. Anthony and Margaret directly died of the pandemic, four parishioners did die of pneumonia. Two in their mid twenties on May 5 and November 11, 1918; a 17-year-old on November 16, 1919.

Although the parish’s sacramental records between 1914-1917 have been lost, we do know that the first internment from the newly constructed church was on October 16, 1914: Joseph Maria, the infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Jacques.

In the three year period of 1917-1919, twenty-one parishioners were buried from the church. Nine of them were infants/toddlers. The oldest parishioner who died during this period was 74 years old. The ages of the others were 11, 17, 24, 26, 27, 31, and 31.

Devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague

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During the period of the foundation of the church, while three statues of Franciscan saints graced the altar: St. Anthony of Padua (donated by Mrs. Heytens), St. Margaret of Cortona, and St. Colette (donated by Peter DeCleene), a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, was the one which received much devotion.

Given to the parish by Mrs. Cole, with the help of eight donors: Mrs. Want, Mrs. VadenBerghe, Mrs. Powels, Mrs. Gotelaere, Mrs. Leeman, Mrs. Meys, and Mrs. Vergauwen), the statue depicted Jesus as an infant, dressed as a king, standing with his right hand extended in blessing, and holding in his other hand, a miniature globe featuring a cross signifying the world-wide kingship of Christ. The first two fingers are upraised to symbolize the two natures of Christ.

Although some people object to Jesus being depicted as small child (after all he reigns today as the risen Christ), the statue is a symbolic representation of Jesus’ humility. It was God who humbled himself to become man choosing to be born in a manger instead of a palace. Divine, yet human, at no time, nor place, did Jesus ever wear a beautiful jeweled golden crown or don royal garb. The only crown put on him was a crown of thorns. There was nothing unusual about his appearance. Therefore, why dress him up as a little king? For those who had “eyes to see” like his mother, Mary, this is what they saw. For Jesus as the second person of the Trinity was indeed sovereign king.

During World War I, when Fr. Rudolph and the parish’s dream of building a school had been put on hold, the statue was a reminder to the parish that no matter what happens, Jesus is ruler. Although he had come into this world as a helpless infant, he was nonetheless King of the Universe!

Devotion to the Divine Child originated with the Carmelites in the city of Prague, Bohemia, after a Spanish princess brought the statue to their monastery in the early part of the seventeenth century with these words: “I give you what I prize most highly in the world; honor and respect the Child Jesus and you shall never be in want.”

However, in 1628, during the Thirty Years War, their Monastery had been reduced to poverty, and plunderers threw the statue of the infant Jesus onto a heap of rubble behind the high altar. For the next seven years the statue lay forgotten by all.
On the feast of Pentecost in 1637, Cyril of the Mother of God, an ordained priest, found the statue with both of Jesus’ hands missing, and returned it to the monastery.

Fr. Cyril reorganized devotions to it. One day, while praying before the statue, he distinctly heard these words: “Have pity on Me, and I will have pity on you. Give Me My hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you.” He also heard the words: “Place Me near the entrance of the sacristy, and you will receive aid.”

When this was done, the full cost of the repairs was promptly donated. Thereafter, the needs of the community were always met through the continued devotion to the Child Jesus, and such were the favors granted that replicas of the statue were made for those who likewise wanted to benefit from the generous favors of the holy Child.

 

The First Choir

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Immediately after the church was built in 1914, a choir was organized to lead the congregation in singing at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which was the soul and the heart of the parish and its 39 families. These parishioners understood what an awesome privilege it was to watch their priest during the Mass when the heavens opened and multitudes of angels came to assist him.

Choir members consisted of the following men: Joseph Snoeck (Director), Con DeCleene, John Gotelaere, Napoleon Rotsaert, Napoleon Naeyaert, Arthur de Clerck and Con Shears.
Initially the choir sung hymns and liturgical music without accompaniment although a trombone was used at rehearsals, particularly for rousing the voices of the men in the choir with its soft mellow tone. The trombone, a member of the brass (wind) instruments, has been used in worship for centuries, although certainly less nowadays than in previous centuries.

Which choir member’s voice was a tenor, baritone, or bass, is anyone’s guess. When singing Gregorian Chant, of course, it really didn’t matter since all voices in the choir sang melodies in unison.

The choir contributed to the sense of awe and mystery as it sang verses of the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, as well as, hymns at Vespers and Benediction including the Tantum Ergo. The Tridentine Mass also had chants for particular days, as well as, the propers of the Mass. The parish choir would sing at special Lenten services, during missions, at low masses, and at the meetings or devotions of parish sodalities.

Hymns were also used in the daily office, rotating by day and by season. Doctrinal truths contained in the hymns were deeply impressed upon the minds of parishioners.

Since not everyone in the congregation could read notes, one challenge the choir faced was to convey to the parishioners in the pews the benefits of singing. As one Catholic hymnal published at the time stated:

“It is high time to [teach the people to read notes], or they will die without once having the chance to experience the spiritual joy and elevation of spirit that comes by singing the praises of God.”

Although difficult to ascertain, we can only speculate whether or not Joseph Snoeck , the Choir Director, was —as the aforementioned hymnal described—a man

“who had a strong voice, and who by his example, his glance, his gestures, made people sing who never sung before, and who never believed they could sing a note.”

When the parish purchased an organ in 1916, Miss Lilah Sullivan, Fr. Hansenns hired a the parish organist.

As anyone who ever set their fingers in motion on a keyboard understands, she had her hands full, doing the best she could to join her accompaniment with the voices of Fr. Hansenns, Joseph Snoeck, and the people in the pews to foster a true experience of prayer during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Musical Reforms of Pope Pius X

Pope Pius X initiated many regulations reforming the liturgical music of the Mass in the early 20th century. He felt that some of the Masses composed by the famous post-Renaissance composers were too long and often more appropriate for a theatrical rather than a church setting. He advocated primarily Gregorian plainchant and polyphony. Some of the rules he put forth include the following:

That any Mass be composed in an integrated fashion, not by assembling different compositions for different parts;
That all percussive instruments should be forbidden;
That ideally the choir should be all male;
That the congregation itself should ideally be trained to sing the various modes of Gregorian chant along with the choir.

These regulations carry little if any weight today, especially after the changes of the Second Vatican Council. Quite recently, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged a return to chant as the primary music of the liturgy, as this is explicitly mentioned in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium 116.