Weyauwega parish marks 150 years on June 26

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 15, 2016

UPDATE: See photos from anniversary Mass on our Flickr page.

ALLOUEZ — SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Weyauwega has a lot to rejoice about on June 26 at its “Milestones Celebration,” and they plan to make the most of it.

It’s the 150th anniversary of the Waupaca County parish, as well as the 50th anniversary of the present church and the 60th anniversary of its rectory. The parish — founded in 1866 in a city with a Ho-chunk name meaning “here we rest” — will do anything but rest on June 26.

Sunday’s events will include Mass at 9:30 a.m. with Bishop David Ricken as the main celebrant, with Fr. Xavier Santiago, parish administrator, and Frs. Dan Felton and Mike Ingold, as concelebrants.

SS. Peter and Paul Church in Weyauwega. The parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary on June 26. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)
SS. Peter and Paul Church in Weyauwega. The parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary on June 26. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Fr. Santiago is excited about the upcoming celebration.

“I’m so proud to participate in this event,” he said, adding that he has just been at the parish since last fall, but has “found that people are so supportive. I hope this event will give a good welcome to all the community of Weyauwega. … I welcome all community members to participate in this milestone event.”

The date was chosen because it is the Sunday closest to the feast of SS. Peter and Paul (June 29). Before the anniversary Mass, there will be a brief history presentation and a release of 50 white doves. Children in the faith formation program, attired in anniversary T-shirts, will sing songs and lead the congregation back into the church. “St. Peter” and “St. Paul” will hold the doors open for them.

Archbishop John Martin Henni of Milwaukee purchased the land for the church on July 2, 1866. The archbishop will be portrayed by one of the students June 26, and will turn over ground where the anniversary year time capsule will be buried.

According to Mary Jane Baehman, who serves on the anniversary committee, “We want everyone to take pride in their parish.”

The parish is linked with Sacred Heart, Manawa, sharing Fr. Santiago as administrator. There are currently over 200 registered units in the SS. Peter and Paul Parish family.

“They are a good community,” said Fr. Santiago, “prayerful and very participative. … I’m expecting a meaningful and prayerful celebration.”

After the Mass, there will be a release of 150 balloons, each carrying a prayer and the parish’s address. The hope is that anyone who finds a balloon will contact the parish. Baehman, a lifelong parish member, recalls a similar balloon release for Renew 2000. She and her husband, Jim, and their family live in West Bloomfield, and a balloon they had released was found in West Bloomfield, Mich.

It still gives me chills,” she said. “The Lord took that to so many other places.”

The first families in 19th century Weyauwega were of German descent and the city built up around a sawmill. It wasn’t until 1885 when the first church was built. Masses were held only once a month and a priest from Hortonville — whose parish shares the name “SS. Peter and Paul” — traveled between the parishes. When the Weyauwega parish was served from St. Mary Magdalene in Waupaca in the early 20th century, Baehman’s grandmother, Clara Kraus, would host the pastor at the family’s farmhouse when he came for Sunday Mass. He would come by sleigh in the winter.

The first church building served until 1966 and still stands today. It was home to the St. Vincent de Paul store and then sold in 2011 to become a private residence. (The church’s original steeple stands in another parish family’s yard: Richard and Kathy Wagner).

The rectory, built in 1956, was home to the first resident pastor, Fr. Walter Tuschel, who arrived on Sept. 16, 1955. Another resident pastor (1960-69) was the late Bishop Mark Schmitt, Bishop of Marquette.

The second church, one of the first in the diocese built in an octagon shape, was dedicated in 1966. The parish hall also includes a stained glass window from the old church.

Baehmann’s family were farmers and she remembers that, if they arrived too late for Mass at the old and smaller church, they had to stand outside on the sidewalk because the church was full.

“You couldn’t see or hear anything,” she recalled, “but when everybody inside knelt down, we knelt down.”

In 1966, there weren’t enough funds for a bell tower, so the old church bell — named in honor of St. Bridget and weighing 800 pounds — was stored. But in 1973, the St. Anne Parish Council of Catholic Women (PCCW) proposed building a bell tower. The tower was built in 1979 and St. Bridget’s bell rang again on Easter Sunday.

Recently, the bell hasn’t been rung because its timer needed repair. The repairs were completed for the anniversary year and the bell will ring again on June 26.

Also to be unveiled for the anniversary event is a new altar frontal cloth (antependium) made from old parish vestments.

“We had some beautiful gold vestments in our drawers in the sacristry, pre-Vatican II vestments, Baehman said. “Fr. Xavier said he would really like to see an altar cloth with SS. Peter and Paul on them.”

Three of those vestments contained artwork of the two saints and the PCCW asked a local seamstress to remake them into the altar cloth. The women’s group is paying the cost to remake the altar cloth.

Parish families are also working on squares for an anniversary wall hanging, titled “We’re a family of believers.” It resembles a banner made for Renew 2000 that cannot be restored, since some of the media used in it contained paper. Pieces of that old banner will go into the time capsule, which will be unearthed in 25 years.

After Mass and the balloon release, there will be a picnic-style lunch, games and a raffle. The lunch is free and anyone and everyone is invited. Baehman says it will be a kind of “loaves and fishes thing.”

“We have no idea of how many people may be coming,” she said. “But we also have a beautiful banner that says ‘Trust in the Lord’ and so we shall do. Everything will work out just as the Lord wants it to – and we aren’t far from a store!”

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