De Pere parish to celebrate 150 years April 6

By Sean Schultz | For The Compass | April 3, 2014

Bishop Ricken joins St. Francis Xavier Parish for anniversary Mass

DE PERE — Members of the sesquicentennial committee at St. Francis Xavier Parish are proud to call theirs the “mother church of De Pere.” The original church dates to 1864. Today, the church boasts nearly 900 families on its parish roster.

Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in De Pere, is pictured with members of the parish’s anniversary committee. From left: Kay Bougie, Karen Miller and Kathy Schadrie. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in De Pere, is pictured with members of the parish’s anniversary committee. From left: Kay Bougie, Karen Miller and Kathy Schadrie. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The sesquicentennial celebration will be held on Sunday, April 6, with a Mass at 2:30 p.m. celebrated by Bishop David Ricken and concelebrants Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor, and Fr. Judah Ben-Hur Pigon, parochial vicar. A reception will follow in the Father Dolski Parish Center. The weekend was chosen because April 7 is the anniversary of their patron, St. Francis Xavier.

Today’s St. Francis Xavier Church looks very modern: only 42 years old. Disaster, in the form of a storm, struck in April 1970, toppling the steeple of the parish’s second church building, ultimately leading to the razing of that church and the new (1972) church at 220 S. Michigan St.

The church’s bell, though, remained silent for 40 years, and only began to sound again after being refurbished, noted Fr. Getchel. The bell tower’s dedication took place on the weekend of Dec. 7 and 8, 2013, as the kickoff to the sesquicentennial anniversary.

When the Angelus and other spiritual melodies are heard, though, they come from a new electronic carillon system, not the bell. The cross atop the tower is also not the original, which was too damaged after the storm. The replacement cross was purchased from a parish on the western side of the state.

“We gave this one resurrected life,” said Fr. Getchel, who has served as pastor for the last three years.

The sesquicentennial committee includes Kay Bougie, Dustin Katona, Laura Keyser, Gerry Lasee, Karen Miller, Marilyn Olson, Kathy Schadrie, Lois Schumacher and David Stellpflug. Bougie, Miller and Schadrie had a combined 213 years of parish membership, tenure not common in today’s younger parishes, the trio and their pastor noted.

“The older people are the ones always doing everything,” Fr. Getchel said. “Young families are more associated with the activities of the school and not necessarily with the activities of the parish.”

On the east side of De Pere, a city divided by the Fox River, Catholics have two parish options: St. Mary or St. Francis Xavier. Those with younger families, tend to join the newer St. Mary’s, which is 3.5 miles from the center of the city, while those who reside in downtown De Pere, “the older, more established families,” gravitate to St. Francis, Fr. Getchel explained.

Fr. Getchel noted that ethnic ties once determined to which parish people belonged: the Irish and German families went to St. Francis Xavier, while the Dutch joined St. Mary. In downtown Green Bay, the Dutch went to St. Willebrord Parish, the Germans to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the Irish to St. Patrick and the French to St. John the Baptist.

“In the past 50 years, there are no longer any ethnic ties,” he added.

The two eastside De Pere parishes share school sites. The St. Mary site of Notre Dame School houses children in grades K-5, while the St. Francis Xavier site is home to the middle school for children in grades 6, 7 and 8. Both schools are affiliated with the Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) School System.

Schadrie, who has been spent her 83 years at St. Francis Xavier, remembers when “mothers were home with their children.” She grew up across the street, as the seventh of 10 children born to the parish’s then-custodian John Baugnet. She has fond memories associated with the church bell which her father rang three times daily, every day of the year.

“I was baptized here and I’m going to be taken out here,” Schadrie said.

She was married at the church and saw her children baptized and go to school there. She’s still an active member of the parish, serving on the caregivers committee which visits parish shut-ins and those living in local nursing homes.

“Not every parish has this,” Fr. Getchel said. “I found it to be a blessing when I came here.”

Bougie, who counts 78 years at the parish, is involved with the Altar and Rosary Society. For the sesquicentennial effort, she’s been helping gather and label historic photos. Bougie also taught at St. Francis School for 25 years and was married at the church.

“My husband was a member of St. Mary’s and I remember he told the priest the night before we married, ‘I suppose we can join either parish now?’ Fr. (Hubert) Kleiber told him, ‘It is my understanding (that) you join the parish of the girl.’ And so we did,” Bougie said.

Karen Miller, 52 years a parish member, has used her skills as a self-proclaimed “putzer” to restore the parish’s long-lost Stations of the Cross which are now back in the church with all parts in place and paint retouched. She did the same for the baptismal font which had been given away and was reclaimed from someone’s garage. Finally, she’s completed archival and music liturgy work for the sesquicentennial with her skill from serving 30 years as the choir director.

Fr. Getchel, who spent 20 years at St. Agnes Parish, is delighted to be part of this celebration. “I’ve never been in a parish that has this type of history. It’s certainly a milestone for any parish,” he said.

“The parish is your second home,” Miller said.

All three sesquicentennial volunteers still admire the stark beauty of St. Francis Xavier Church.

“It’s a plain church, very simple,” Schadrie explained. “That makes it more conducive to praying.”

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