LUXEMBURG — Magnificent windows depicting the Nativity and Pentecost gleam brightly at both ends of the cruciform shape that is Immaculate Conception Church, touching the sanctuary and the gathering area with soft radiant hues.
As the congregation with its 1,650 parishioners comes together to celebrate its 150th anniversary on May 31 and June 1, a bound book full of parish history and photos collected by the 11-member anniversary committee from parish members will guide them through every phase of St. Mary’s colorful, multi-hued and multicultural history.
The committee — comprised of Fr. Milton Suess, pastor; Deacon Robert Miller; John (Jack) Seidl; Merle Peot; Carol Simonar; Arletta Bertrand; Joan Feck; Anita Christoph; Glen Rueckl; Theodore (Ted) Stodola and Richard Dorner — has arranged the weekend activities.
Bertrand said planning for the anniversary began after Fr. Suess’ 50th anniversary celebration in July 2013. Many parishioners contributed history, genealogy and photographs during a February History Weekend held for that purpose. Bertrand said most of those items were not part of the 75th and 100th anniversary celebrations.
The 150th anniversary festivities include:
- A cemetery walk led by parishioners at St. Mary Cemetery, located across the street from the church, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 31.
- An anniversary Mass on Sunday, June 1, celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Robert Banks at 10:30 a.m.
- A dinner at The Rendezvous on June 1, 12:30 p.m., with a 300-ticket limit. (Tickets are available from Bertrand by calling (920) 845-2972.
Immaculate Conception Parish began as a small mission church in 1862 with a monthly visit from Fr. Francis Pfaller. He saw construction of its first log cabin edifice built in 1864. Construction of the stone church built in 1883, which stands today, gave the Diocese of Green Bay its second church consecrated by Bishop Krautkramer in 1885.
It was enlarged in 1906 into its cruciform structure while Fr. Henry Hunck was pastor and the glowing stained glass windows were installed at either side of the altar. They enhance the marin blue altar. The third of the stained glass windows resides at the back of a 1996 addition, St. Mary Hall. It commemorates the Immaculate Conception of Mary and is an intriguing feast of colored blocks that symbolize the litany of Mary.
St. Mary Hall, with its Bohemian crystal chandeliers, has become a great asset, used for funeral visitations and receptions, meetings, overflows at Masses, and church dinners.
Richard Dorner, who compiled the bound anniversary book which has already required reprinting and is rich with St. Mary history, said the first four families who founded the parish came from Luxembourg in the 1850s. An early priest, Fr. Hunck, was born in Germany and said Mass in German for years. Belgians who followed settled in nearby Walhain.
Dorner attended first grade at the new St. Mary School the year it opened, 1951, with the School Sisters of St. Francis in charge.
Some of the older parishioners still remember these pastors who served St. Mary, among them Fr. Henry Hunck (1905-1927), Msgr. John Huhn (1927-1958), Fr. William Hemauer (1958-1968) and Fr. Benedict Marx (1968-1980).
Fr. Suess knows he has presided over “a desirable parish” over his 34-year tenure there. “People would like to be assigned here,” he said. “This parish is stable, conservative and people like that.”
In the past, Luxemburg and St. Mary “were growing quite a bit” but housing and the economy have meant that about half the employed people have to travel elsewhere for their jobs, Fr. Suess noted.
A year ago, when he celebrated 50 years of priesthood, parishioners organized a big bash. “I would have let it pass by with a quiet Mass of Thanksgiving,” the modest priest admitted.
Fr. Suess, a native of Pilsen, just a few miles from Luxemburg, has seen the deep ethnic heritage in the church and community fade over the years from the original strong German influence to what it is today, “generic American,” he said. “One person still speaks German, some still speak Belgian. But there are Chinese and Mexican families, too. It has ‘melted’ over several generations.”
Very active and popular with the children at St. Mary School, which has 85 students enrolled in grades K4 through 6, down from the 250 it once boasted in 1971, his is a well-known face. He teaches religion classes for fifth and sixth graders every day. The children go to Mass daily and Fr. Suess has a strong group of servers assisting at his Masses, many of them continuing through high school.
While the seventh and eighth graders in the parish have been transitioned to Luxemburg-Casco Middle School, Fr. Suess is happy about one tradition that pre-dates his service to the parish. “The high school held its prom last weekend and the whole prom court came to 4 o’clock Mass,” he said. “Even the non-Catholics come to the Mass.”
In fact, he has three weddings coming up that involve former male servers. “Usually the couple gets married in the bride’s church, but in these three cases the brides were not attached to their churches.”
Fr. Suess, who turns 77 in June, also tends to the Catholic flock at Holy Trinity Church and School in Casco. “You do it one day at a time. You have to be organized,” he said. “I’m blessed with a full staff of CCD teachers. That’s where I need help the most.”