Dyckesville parish set to celebrate sesquicentennial on Sept. 7

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | August 28, 2013

Parish’s ethnic roots have strong Belgian connection

DYCKESVILLE — What many may know as a small town on the way to Door County, nestled along the bay of Green Bay at the northern edge of Brown County, began in the mid-19th century as a small farming community of immigrants from Belgium. Today, the parish of St. Louis in the community of Dyckesville is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Pat Ratajczak, pastoral leader at St. Louis Parish in Dyckesville, stands next to the church’s baptismal font. The parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary Sept. 7. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)
Pat Ratajczak, pastoral leader at St. Louis Parish in Dyckesville, stands next to the church’s baptismal font. The parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary Sept. 7. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)

On Sept. 7, the 364 families of the parish will gather for a 4 p.m. Mass with Bishop David Ricken. A parish potluck will follow, with a slideshow of parish memories.

No doubt that potluck will include Belgian pies made following recipes like those remembered by Sr. Martin Vandervest, who entered the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Bay Settlement, in 1949. She was a life-long member of the parish and today her nephew, Mike Vandervest, is the fourth generation to run the family farm.

“My aunt, Mabel Bader, made the best Belgian pie,” Sr. Martin recalled. “The crust would just melt in my mouth. My favorite was prune. But there is a special cottage cheese topping on the prune or the whipped crème.”

She also remembered the parish kermis, which used to be held every September and featured Belgian pies and Belgian trippe — similar to bratwurst, but with the addition of cabbage stuffed inside.

“Everybody knew everybody else,” Sr. Martin said of the older days.

It’s much the same today, according to other parish members and to Pat Ratajczak, who joined the parish as pastoral leader in July 2012, succeeding Dominican Sr. Marlene Dimmerling.

“What makes St. Louis unique is that there is a blend of rural and suburban,” Ratajczak said. “We have people from all walks of life and economic status and they form one united faith community, along with the summer visitors who have cottages along the bay. The parish is the people, they take ownership. When something needs to be done, people step up and make it happen. There is a genuine care for those less fortunate. It is a very active parish.”

One place where everyone steps up is the parish’s annual picnic, which includes a parade down the main street — which once was State Highway 57, the main road to Door County until it was rerouted a few years ago. This year, July 28, it rained, but the parade and party went on.

The bell tower of St. Louis Church stands as a landmark in Dyckesville. Bishop David Ricken will celebrate an anniversary Mass at the church at 4 p.m. on Sept. 7. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)
The bell tower of St. Louis Church stands as a landmark in Dyckesville. Bishop David Ricken will celebrate an anniversary Mass at the church at 4 p.m. on Sept. 7. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)

Parish member Char Gilson chaired the picnic for seven years, prior to this year.

“It’s more than just a fire engine, like some places,” she said, adding that the parade would stop traffic. “You just talk to the right people and they cut off the traffic,” she said with a laugh.

Char was parish bookkeeper for 31 years and her husband, Mike, took care of the grounds and maintenance for many years until cancer sidelined him this past year. The couple has belonged to St. Louis for 53 years and all three of their children attended the school, which opened in 1962 and closed in 2004. The building is now the parish and religious education center.

Religious education has been a unifying force in the parish since its beginnings. Fr. Philip Crud, who was the founding pastor in 1863, was also pastor at Robinsonville, where Adele Brise had seen an apparition of the Blessed Mother in 1859. Sr. Adele’s mission was to teach children their catechism and many of the children of the Belgian communities, including Dyckesville, attended “St. Mary’s Academy” at what is now the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion.

The Nobertine Fathers were also good teachers of the children — the parish had Norbertine priests as pastors from 1894 to 1980.

Sr. Martin remembers how additional Norbertine priests would help out with weekend Masses in the summers, when “cottagers” would come to live along the shore. The Norbertines also helped with the two-week summer catechism classes. She and her 10 siblings would walk the three miles each day from their farm and back, stopping for ice cream at the local country store. Sr. Martin said that Norbertine Fr. Walter Paiement, pastor, also prepared children for their first Communions and confirmations.

While the community today is still a mix of farm families and summer vacationers, there are also many retirees — who made their summer cottages into permanent homes — and commuters who work in Green Bay. The blend makes St. Louis unique, as does the fact that “so many of the same families are still in our parish registry.”

That’s life-long resident Joyce Lampereur, who has compiled a 60-page parish history, found in her research. She based much of it on notes that her father, Austin Allard, had compiled. She decided to write the history because there are many things people will forget about as time goes on.

“We have many new people moving in to this area and even people who were here at that time, some aren’t around.”

The time Lampereur is referring to was 1962, when a statue of Our Lady of Beauraing was donated to the parish by the Pro Maria Committee in Beauraing, Belgium, where an apparition of Mary had appeared to five children in 1932-33. Those children, now grown up in 1962, wanted to donate a replica of their statue of Mary to a Belgian community in the United States. Dyckesville was chosen and the statue stands outside the church entrance today. Lampereur realizes that not many people know its history.

They also may not know that the land for St. Louis was donated by Louis Van Dycke and his wife, Octavia, who were Belgian storekeepers in 1863. The present church is the second for the parish, succeeding the first wooden church in 1888. Many of the church’s stones were quarried from parish member Jim Collins’ nearby quarry.

Like those stones, many of the present members come from nearby, from the Belgian communities of Namur, Thiry Dames, Rosiere and Champion. Pat Ratajczak is from Champion, as is Char Gilson. In 2001, when St. Louis built its church addition, Gilson remembered that the old lights from St. Joseph Church in Champion matched the lights in St. Louis’ church. Champion’s lights were in storage and St. Louis members were able to get them placed in the new addition, thus blending old and new seamlessly.

That church addition — which includes a kitchenette, additional seating, restrooms and a reconciliation room — cost $553,000 and the money was raised in about a year. In 2012, the parish added a new organ, costing $41,000. That, too, is paid off already.

“They are a very generous parish,” said Ratajczak.

Fr. John Van Deuren, who has served the parish as sacramental minister since 2002, echoed the sentiment.

“They’re a people of easy laughter and love,” he said. “They’re a community that knows what Christian joy is about and they also are quick followers of Pope Francis, because they are a people who have been on a mission for many, many decades; they know how to care about the poor and the needy, those who grieve and those who are hopeless.”

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