AMBERG — One hundred twenty-five years ago, 15 Irish and nine Belgian families came together to build a church in their small community in Marinette County.
On Sunday, Oct. 18, St. Agnes Parish will celebrate the founding with a 10 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken. The Knights of Columbus will be in attendance and all will celebrate at a luncheon at the Amberg Community Center after Mass. The planning committee expects about 300 people to attend, said committee chairman Robin Hendricks.
“It will be a great celebration,” she said. Members from all three linked parishes — St. Agnes, Amberg; St. Augustine, Wausaukee; and St. Mary, Crivitz — are invited. The choir that will sing at Mass is made up of people from all three parishes. Also, the three priests who serve the three churches are invited: Fr. Frederick Sserugga, administrator, and priest celebrants Fr. John Hephner and Fr. Donald Burkart.
The 10-member planning committee had support from many helpers during the year, especially the parish Council of Catholic Women. “It was a great team of men and women,” Hendricks said.
They coordinated three fundraisers last summer to help offset costs of Sunday’s luncheon. Hendricks said one was a sit-down dinner and show with a live band; a huge craft; rummage and bake sale; and finally, a polka fest.
St. Agnes Church was built in 1892 on land donated by William Amberg, the town’s founder. He also donated land for a Presbyterian church and a school. Masses had been held in homes until the parish could afford to build a church.
Lumber was the primary industry when the town was founded. Granite quarries and companies developed soon after.
The church was initially named for St. Elizabeth, but changed to St. Agnes to honor Amberg’s wife, who was Catholic. Amberg was Presbyterian. Amberg also donated a St. Joseph picture and the bell for the church.
On July 19, 1984, lightning struck and destroyed the church. After the fire, all the furnishings were saved, including the 1890 picture of St. Joseph and the child Jesus, and the Stations of the Cross. The parish dedication book quotes Fire Chief James Koester: “We got everything out that was not nailed down, including the fire extinguisher off the wall.”
Until a new church could be built, Masses were celebrated in the parish hall.
A new church was built east of the old church site at a cost of $180,000. It seats 300 and was dedicated by then-Bishop Adam Maida. The building’s exterior is cedar cut from the woods around Amberg. The logs were planed at the Athelstane sawmill. The design is similar to churches in Coleman and Phlox. The windows include the coat of arms of St. John Paul II and the crest of Bishop Maida.
At the time of the fire, the parish had 100 members. There was talk of not rebuilding and combining with St. Augustine in Wausaukee, but the pastor, Fr. John McLaughlin, was opposed to the suggestion. He said, “It would inflict a mortal blow to the pride of this community,” according to the parish dedication book.