Green Bay parish celebrates life of its founder, Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli

St. John the Evangelist Parish remembers Dominican priest’s missionary spirit

GREEN BAY — A 19th-century Italian missionary, whose passion for sharing the Gospel touched countless people and whose legacy lives on today through faith communities he established, was remembered during Mass Oct. 12 at St. John the Evangelist Church.

Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Diane Kennedy, promoter of Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli’s cause for canonization, addresses the congregation before Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church Oct. 12. The parish, which was founded by Fr. Mazzuchelli in 1831, celebrated the 150th anniversary of his death. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Diane Kennedy, promoter of Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli’s cause for canonization, addresses the congregation before Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church Oct. 12. The parish, which was founded by Fr. Mazzuchelli in 1831, celebrated the 150th anniversary of his death. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The celebration marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Dominican Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who founded St. John the Evangelist Parish in 1831. Fr. Joseph Dorner, pastor, was joined by Msgr. John Dewane and Fr. Dan Felton, vicar general of the Diocese of Green Bay, who was representing Bishop David Ricken.

Special guests included 11 sisters of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary, founded by Fr. Mazzuchelli in 1847 at Sinsinawa Mound in southwest Wisconsin.

“We Sinsinawa Dominicans are crazy about our founder,” said Sr. Diane Kennedy, promoter of Fr. Mazzuchelli’s cause for canonization. He was declared venerable, the first of three formal steps toward canonization, by Pope John Paul II in 1993. “We know that he not only built churches (26 across Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa),” said Sr. Diane. “He ‘built’ the church here in the upper Midwest. His legacy lives on in the faith of the people, in the communities of the parishes he founded.”

At age 21, Fr. Mazzuchelli left his home in Milan in 1828 to accept Cincinnati Bishop Edward Fenwick’s invitation to serve as a missionary. He was ordained in 1830 and immediately began the arduous work of a missionary in the Great Lakes region. His home base was St. Anne Parish on Mackinac Island in Michigan. In the fall of 1831, he traveled to Green Bay.

A plaque outside of St. John the Evangelist Church commemorates the “young Dominican missionary.”

“Rev. Samuel Mazzuchelli was sent to La Baye to establish a Catholic parish for the Indians and French-Canadian fur traders living here,” says the plaque. “The first church was built at Shantytown, the site of the present Allouez Cemetery, on land donated by Joseph Ducharme.”

Sr. Diane said that wherever Fr. Mazzuchelli went, “he was preaching and he was teaching.”

“Pope Francis talks about the call to be missionary disciples (and for) clergy and all who minister in Christ’s name to go to the margins to be shepherds who smell like the sheep,” she said. “Fr. Samuel slept on the floor of wigwams. … He truly was a shepherd who smelled like the sheep. It is our devout hope that Fr. Samuel will be raised up to be a real model for us here in North America as an example of a missionary disciple on fire with the word of God.”

Fr. Joseph Dorner, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, receives the eucharistic gifts from Sinsinawa Dominican Srs. Kathy Donohue and Marie Stella Storch during Mass Oct. 12. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Fr. Joseph Dorner, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, receives the eucharistic gifts from Sinsinawa Dominican Srs. Kathy Donohue and Marie Stella Storch during Mass Oct. 12. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

In his homily, Fr. Dorner said Fr. Mazzuchelli’s missionary life is “a fascinating story.” While in Green Bay, the Dominican priest also founded the Menominee Free School for Native Americans and learned their language, said Fr. Dorner. “I guess Fr. Mazzuchelli kind of went head-to-head with (President Andrew Jackson) as he tried to talk the president out of causing these trails of tears, moving the Indians west all of the time.”

Fr. Mazzuchelli “could see good in the cultures of the Native Americans and he took the time to learn their languages,” noted Fr. Dorner. He published a Winnebago prayer book in 1833 and a liturgical almanac in Chippewa in 1834.

Fr. Mazzuchelli’s example of outreach to people in need continues today at St. John, said Fr. Dorner.

“I understand some years ago this parish worked in some form with the Hmong,” said Fr. Dorner. “And now, of course, we work with the deaf community and the homeless in our area. So that spirit of service of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, that unique charism seems to be very much with us today.”

The missionary priest also was a respected civic leader. He served as chaplain for the first Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, designed the county courthouse in Fort Madison, Iowa, and even named the streets in Shullsburg, Wis., after Christian virtues such as Faith, Wisdom, Peace, Charity, Judgment, Truth, Friendship and Mercy.

Fr. Mazzuchelli “lived the virtues to a heroic degree,” said Fr. Dorner. “Ever since the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, there’s been a real emphasis on discovering the saints in our own back yard. I think Pope John Paul understood that it wasn’t enough to call to mind for inspiration the saints that lived centuries ago, but some of the recent heroes from our own midst.

“We have a lot of great saints woven into the history of Wisconsin and what was the Northwest Territories,” added Fr. Dorner. “I hope we take the time to get to know them.”

One reason for celebrating the 150th anniversary of Fr. Mazzuchelli’s death is to put the spotlight back on his canonization cause, explained Fr. Dorner.

“As we celebrate the saints and as we honor Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, let’s remember that we need two miracles for him to be canonized,” Fr. Dorner said. “If you need a miracle or know someone who needs one, encourage them to pray for that miracle through the intercession of the Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli. Miracles still happen. We need to just have faith. Let’s take the time to learn about him and have faith that God is working through him and will continue to work through him.”

Fr. Mazzuchelli died on Feb. 23, 1864. In addition to the original St. John the Evangelist, five other churches he built are still in existence: St. Michael, Galena, Ill.; St. Anthony, Davenport, Iowa; St. Mathias, Muscatine, Iowa; St. Gabriel, Prairie du Chien, Wis.; St. Augustine, New Diggings, Wis.; and St. Patrick, Benton, Wis., where he is buried.

To view more photos from the anniversary Mass, go to our Flickr album.