Clarks Mills parish prepares to celebrate 150th anniversary

Bishop Ricken will join St. Mary Parish for sesquicentennial Mass on Dec. 6

CLARKS MILLS — Susie Zimmermann cherishes her family’s history with St. Mary Parish.

Her grandfather, Michael Pritzl, was a founding member of the parish, which celebrated its first Mass on Dec. 8, 1865, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. He also donated one of the original stained glass windows, all of which still grace the walls of the beautiful church.

Fr. Dick Klingeisen, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Clarks Mills, stands outside of the Manitowoc County church, which celebrates 150 years on Dec. 6. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

In addition, Zimmermann was baptized here 72 years ago, received first Communion here, and she and nine of her siblings were married here over the years. Zimmermann, her father, her four children and her grandchildren also attended the church’s school.

“My family has a long history here that I’m proud of and that’s why St. Mary’s means so much to me,” said Zimmermann, who has worked as a secretary in the church office since 1979. “Having the parish here for 150 years shows we have a lot of faith-filled people who are always willing to jump in and help whenever we need a hand.”

St. Mary Church, located at 15 S. County Road J in rural Manitowoc County, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6. Bishop David Ricken will preside. Fr. Dick Klingeisen, who’s in his third year as pastor, will help assist at the liturgy.

The first Mass at St. Mary was conducted on the same plot of land the parish calls home today, but in a different building than the current church.

In 1865, Fr. Eugene McGinnity saw the need for Catholics in the Clarks Mills area to organize their own parish. So on Oct. 6, 1865, Fr. McGinnity, in the name of Bishop John Martin Henni of Milwaukee, bought for them Lot No. 1 of the Ira Clark Village Plat. The next day, blacksmith Francis Marlborough and his wife, Anna, purchased Lot No. 2 of the Clark plat. The following week, they gave a warranty deed as a gift to the parish for the new church.

On the lot stood a building used as a store and a hall, but the parish converted it into its first church. A choir loft was built, as were partitions to separate a sacristy. Homemade benches and an altar also were installed.

By 1873, the growing parish couldn’t crowd into the small building so plans for a new church were drawn up at a cost of $50. The old church was converted into a school and eventually torn down. Materials and labor for the new church totaled $3,176.42.

“Now it costs more than that to fix one stained glass window,” Zimmermann said with a chuckle.

That’s not the only financial comparison that caught her eye.

Holding up a 1922 church financial report she found in an attic, Zimmermann noted, “My father (John Pritzl) gave $22.50 that year — and that’s the greatest amount in the whole report. Wow, isn’t that something?” The total amount given that year was $2,532.45.

Zimmernann’s 90-year-old brother, Norb, is one of the oldest members of the parish, which is home to nearly 800 people. The oldest is 104-year-old Victor Remiker. Meanwhile, Grace (Schuh) Torrison, 92, is believed to be the oldest lifelong member of the parish.

Fr. Klingeisen, who serves both St. Mary in Clarks Mills and St. Michael in Whitelaw, said he’s honored to be celebrating the 150th anniversary in a parish he began attending as a 15-year-old after his father purchased a farm in Clarks Mills.

“There’s so much history and there are so many wonderful people here,” Fr. Klingeisen said. “The older members have some great memories of their own reception into the church by way of sacraments, reconciliation, first Communion, marriages. It’s like they want to hand that on to their children and their grandchildren. There’s a pride in the church and seeing their younger relatives have an opportunity to be part of the church that means so much to them.”

Fr. Klingeisen, who joined the Salvatorian Seminary before his family moved to Clarks Mills, is the fourth son of the parish to have been ordained as a priest. The others were Gustave Salutz, Walter Tuschel and Andrew Linsmeyer.

However, Fr. Klingeisen is the only one whose ordination ceremony (on June 10, 1972) was held at St. Mary. He was ordained by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo.

Since Fr. Klingeisen’s ordination, the church has undergone some renovations, most notably in 1973, when a new entrance was added outside the front of the building. Eight years later, the top of the tower was rebuilt and a new cross was placed atop the steeple. In 1991, major renovations took place inside the church.

As part of 150th anniversary projects, carpeting was replaced throughout the church in November, some of the original stained glass windows were restored and put back up in the church and a picture directory is in the works.

Now, the parish is looking forward to its next 150 years.

“St. Mary’s has been the focal point of this community for so many years — and it still is,” Zimmermann said. “This parish means a lot to so many people. I’m glad I’m here to celebrate this anniversary.”

Masses are held at 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. on Sundays, and 8:15 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.