SHAWANO — After Mass one July weekday morning, Jackie Kohlin walked over to a table in the gathering space at Sacred Heart Church to check out the handful of sign-up sheets for volunteering to work at the annual parish picnic.
“I’m at the top of the list for the silent auction,” Kohlin said, something she’s volunteered at, she said, “ever since it was started.”
This year’s picnic weekend is special, though, because the parish, some 30 miles west of Green Bay, is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Bishop David Ricken will preside at an anniversary Mass at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, and will join parishioners for a spaghetti dinner following Mass.
The picnic is the next day, starting with an outdoor polka Mass at 10:45 a.m. Children’s carnival games, a pig roast, bake and crafts sale, food and beverage tents, music by the Maroszek Brothers, a dunk tank and the silent auction are all part of the fun.
On both days, items from back in the day at Sacred Heart will be on display. Parishioner Gail Bartz has led an appeal to gather memorabilia such as old first Communion dresses, prayer books, bulletins, report cards, school uniforms, plus sacramentals from the parish’s history.
That history had an inauspicious start when missionaries first came to the area in 1850 to serve the native peoples on the Menominee Reservation at Keshena, several miles north of Shawano. Catholic immigrants, mostly from Germany, had to travel to Keshena to attend Mass at first.
LAND FOR $1
Fr. Luke Ferris, who was pastor of Sacred Heart until appointed Vicar of Clergy and Pastoral Leaders for the diocese this summer, pointed out that Joseph Maurer, an attorney who was a native of Prussia, purchased the land for the parish church in Shawano in 1863 and deeded it to the parish for one dollar.
“He was a far-sighted guy,” Fr. Ferris noted, “because it wasn’t until 1867 that the first Sacred Heart Church was built here.”
The parish history notes that Catholics and non-Catholics alike from the area contributed to the building of that first church, the first house of God of any kind in Shawano. Crudely constructed, it had planks extending over blocks of wood as pews. Mass was offered by visiting priests only every other Sunday through the 1880s. The Sisters of St. Joseph came in 1881 to teach at the newly added Sacred Heart School.
A new, larger church was already under construction when Sacred Heart’s first resident pastor, Fr. Francis Xavier Steinbrecher, arrived July 19, 1889.
Some 60 years later, Shawano’s Catholic community had outgrown the 1889 church and had begun to build a new one in July of 1951, only to have the old church burn down on Nov. 27 of that year, before the new church was ready. Mass had to be celebrated in the city’s Community Hall for the next six months, until the basement of the new church was ready for use.
The first Mass in the body of the new church was held on Friday, Aug. 15, 1952, the feast of the Assumption. (Those attending the 150th anniversary celebrations will be able to see a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus saved from the fire that destroyed Sacred Heart Church in 1951.)
Today Sacred Heart is a busy parish of 950 households that offers many activities.
There are Bible study sessions, a book club, a prayer chain, monthly family nights to help parents engage with the church and “First Thirst-day” evenings of “fun, food and friendship” for young adults. Parishioners are also active in pro-life and social justice activities, several in cooperation with congregations of other religious traditions in Shawano, like SAM 35, a homeless shelter.
“That’s what I like about the parish,” said Bartz, who along with serving on the 150th anniversary committee and being part of the Emmaus women’s retreat group is a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and coordinated the parish pictorial directory during the past year. “You look through the directory,” Bartz said, “and you see how many ministries and organizations you can get involved in.”
Fr. Ferris described Sacred Heart as “inviting and inspiring” with terrific lay leadership.
A CARING COMMUNITY
“The pastoral council is full of fun and good people who set the tone for the whole parish,” he said. “The finance council includes talented people who work well together, and there’s good leadership building in both the school and the religious education programs.”
In the midst of packing to begin his work at the chancery in Green Bay, Fr. Ferris added, “The thing I’m most proud of is the Care Ministry. There are a dozen parishioners who regularly visit shut-ins in the community. As a priest I can’t be everywhere, and I’m proud of the attention the parish is able to give people who just need someone to talk to, someone to share their faith with, and the volunteers are fed themselves as they are doing this.
“People have told me, ‘You took care of my mom, and I really appreciated that, so I can help somebody else.’ That’s what we do.”
Newly appointed pastor, Fr. Thomas Farrell, who served at Sacred Heart briefly just after his ordination 25 years ago, said he is glad to see the parish school is revived and that the spiritual life of the parish is so strong, especially with the weekly holy hour.
“From just my first few weeks I find it incredible how people are really growing in their faith here,” Fr. Farrell said.
Parishioner Todd Raether, a volunteer youth minister for 25 years who is in formation to be ordained a permanent deacon next year, described Sacred Heart as “a very welcoming community,” and he echoed his new pastor’s observation. “There is a true deep spirituality here.”