Wautoma parish will celebrate 125 years of faith on Oct. 1

By | September 28, 2011

On Oct. 1, members of St. Joseph will mark their 125th anniversary with a 4 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken. A potluck meal and celebration program will follow.


A view of the exterior of St. Joseph Church in Wautoma, where a celebration marking the parish’s 125th anniversary will take place on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)

As an example of long traditions in the parish, Fr. Stegmann pointed to the Little Flower (St. Thérèse ) devotions held regularly. “That’s been going on for a long time,” he said. “Fr. Weix started that.”

Fr. George Weix was assigned as pastor of St. Joseph in 1940 and retired from the parish in 1969. He remained in the Wautoma area, as pastor emeritus, until his death in 1983.

It was during Fr. Weix’s tenure that the present church was built, on Hwys. 21 and 22, at 364 S. Cambridge St. The parish is also celebrating the church building’s 50th anniversary. The first Mass in the current church was held on Nov. 5, 1961, and it was formally dedicated on June 24, 1962, by Auxiliary Bishop John Grellinger.

It was during Fr. Weix’s time at St. Joseph that the parish became a center for Hispanic ministry. There were many migrant workers coming to the area for summer work in the local farm fields. Weekend and summer religious education and sacramental preparation classes were started. Many religious communities, including the Norbertines, Franciscan Sisters, Capuchin and Blessed Sacrament Fathers, sent members to help with these programs.

Today, many of those migrant families have settled into the area. Many more return to St. Joseph from around the state for family moments and for weddings, funerals and quinceaneras (the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday).

“Certainly one thing that has identified us for miles around has been the Hispanic program,” said Sr. Mary Ellen Doherty, a Notre Dame Sister who has been pastoral associate at the parish for 27 years. She notes that people come from as far away as Wisconsin Dells and Wisconsin Rapids. “Even though they belong to another parish, they come here because this is home.”

Sr. Pat Flanigan, a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother, has coordinated Hispanic ministry at the parish since 2000. She said that this year’s summer program produced nearly four dozen first communicants and 11 confirmands. She only expects that number to keep growing, since so many families have settled permanently into the area. The parish has many Hispanic devotions, including a celebration each Dec. 12 for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and bilingual feast day celebrations. There is a weekly 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Spanish.

“The parish has changed a great deal because, prior to my coming here, there used to be hundreds of migrants, if not thousands, who came here from many, many states and they did a lot of work on the tree farms as well as the dairy farms,” Sr. Pat said. “Now we have far more people who are residents, who settled out here over the years. Some have been here for many years. Even some of the more recent immigrants, their children are citizens.”

Since Waushara County is also a recreation area, the parish sees many visitors each week, as well as many retirees who have settled in the area.

“There’s a mix of people,” said Fr. Stegmann, “but it seems like a community that blends very well.”

Sr. Mary Ellen notes that the parish also is very active in reaching out to the sick and those in nursing homes and assisted living.

“It has meant a great deal to the parish and to people of the community to have that outreach and connection with the parish,” she said. “We try to keep in touch with people.”

Geri Harris has been a member of the parish since 1992 and is serving on the anniversary hospitality committee. She has been helping to gather photos and stories from long-time members.

“I just met with one older member last week,” she said. “She gave me one of the older missals and an old piece of this church (from the) remodeling to build a little display. The minute I had that old missal in my hands, it takes me back to grade school.”

St. Joseph Parish dates to 1886, when it was attached to St. James Parish in Neshkoro (now part of the Madison Diocese). The first church was actually built in 1885 and still stands today, two blocks west of the present parish grounds, at River and Waupaca streets.

The 1961 church nearly tripled the seating capacity of the old church. The wooden arches in the interior were designed to symbolize prayer.

The prayer of the community, which numbers 606 registered units, keeps it strong. Colleen Kasubaski serves as parish council chair person and has been a member of St. Joseph for 22 years. She said that the parish community is looking forward to its anniversary.

“It’s a tight group,” she said of the parish, adding that there is a lot of pride in what St. Joseph does.

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