WAUSAUKEE — On Aug. 24, a parish with roots in France, Ireland and Wisconsin’s north woods logging will celebrate its 125th anniversary. St. Augustine Parish in Wausaukee will mark the milestone with a 10 a.m. Mass with Bishop David Ricken and the parish’s newly appointed pastor, Fr. Frederick Sserugga, followed by a dinner, raffles and music provided by the Burie family.
During the past year, the parish has been preparing for its anniversary with a number of events, according to Sue Schmidt, business manager and a lifelong parish member. These have included:
- Planting of 125 daffodils last fall and day lilies this spring around the grounds;
- Crafting an anniversary quilt made by women of the parish. Parish members donated multi-sized pieces for the quilt, which is 100 percent cotton and designed in the style of a quilt from 1889. It will be raffled Aug. 24;
- Making an anniversary seal, chosen from designs submitted by the religious education students. Schmidt’s nephew, Dalton Menger, created the winning design. The seal has been used for invitations, the anniversary booklet, and will be on the front of the Aug. 24 Mass program;
- Having a Fourth of July parade float. One parish family, Steve and Margo Renikow and their children — Alexis, Madison and Hayden — designed a parish float for the village’s July 4th celebration.
- Singing hymns chosen by the parish choir for Sunday Masses that might have been sung 125 years ago;
- Placing bulletin boards in the church vestibule to show the history of the parish school (the first one opened in 1906 and the second, built in 1964, closed in 1970); the history of the church (built in 1890); and parishioners’ wedding photos taken in the church. “We’re still getting them in,” Schmidt said of those photos. “The boards aren’t big enough.”
- Writing a history booklet and compiling a photo CD of old photos contributed by parish members.
Another big event that may not be as visible but touches people is the “125 acts of random kindness” that people are being asked to share throughout the year. Anonymous tallies are kept on a bulletin board in the church to remind people of the good works no one speaks of.
“There’s so many thing you do automatically,” Schmidt noted, “that you don’t even think of.”
The kindnesses often credited to small towns residents is something Deacon Patrick Whitcomb noted in his four years as parish coordinator. He retired from St. Augustine last year.
“As in most small towns,” he said of Wausaukee, “there are fine people, sharing their resources.” He noted how all groups share the local veterans’ hall and how chairs from St. Augustine’s are lent out all over the village, with no fees charged. He also noted how many parish members belong to local rescue squads.
Finally, he was also struck by how almost everyone in Wausaukee is Catholic.
“The first time I did a baptism up there,” he recalled, “I was amazed at how many people stayed after Mass. (Baptisms were celebrated after Mass.) So many people were related to the baby being baptized — at least 35 people.”
During the week before the Aug. 24 anniversary Mass, the parish will offer 125 hours of adoration, ending as the Mass begins. For the devotion, the parish’s monstrance, which includes pictures of the 12 apostles and silver angels, was refurbished.
St. Augustine began in the 1880s when the area was home to lumberjacks and immigrants from France and Ireland. One of the early pastors, Fr. William Ruel, noted how the first Catholics met in the basement of a school house. Fr. Ruel wrote that their church possessions consisted of “a rough table, two candlesticks, (and) a few well-worn vestments.”
The community began to grow when several lumber mills opened, and the number of Catholic families grew from 10 to 35. In 1888, the small congregation, which had been served by traveling priests, began to talk about building their own church. An Aug. 25, 1889 meeting started things rolling, under the leadership of Msgr. Joseph Selbach. By the next year, the 32-by-60-foot church was dedicated. While it has gone through several renovations, it is still the same church used by the 285 families that now belong to St. Augustine’s.
Annual highlights at the parish are a hunter’s supper in fall and fish fries every Friday during Lent. Salads and desserts for the meals are all homemade.
“They have good lay leadership at St. Augustine,” Deacon Whitcomb said. “They take responsibility for the parish. They’ll come forward for any volunteering you ask.”
Over the years, St. Augustine has been paired with other parishes — from first sharing pastors with places like Stiles, Coleman and Florence — and then having their resident pastors serve mission churches at Dunbar and Ellis Junction (now called Crivitz). But they share a very long history with St. Agnes Parish in Amberg. For example, in 1895, Wausaukee’s first resident pastor (Fr. Peter Dagnault) served missions at Amberg, Crivitz, Niagara and Pembine. Today, St. Augustine and St. Agnes are linked and St. Agnes will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.
Whichever anniversary the people of the area mark, they will no doubt do it in the style to which Deacon Whitcomb became accustomed: “I often think,” he said, “that they party well.”