Church artwork reflects history of local parishes

In Laona, Stations of the Cross date back to the 1930s

GREEN BAY — Do you have a favorite piece of local church history?

The churches in the Diocese of Green Bay each hold artwork that can be seen nowhere else. During the 150-year celebration of the jubilee of the Diocese of Green Bay in 2018, The Compass wants to share the stories of some of these artworks.

We ask parishes to pick their own unique work of art, gather some information about it and share it with The Compass.

This week we feature St. Leonard Parish in Laona. This Forest County Parish was founded in 1905. The parish was named in honor of Leonard Sargeant, who helped make the new parish a reality in 1905.

On Jan. 9, 1936, St. Leonard Church burned down. The current church was built that same year.

The second Station of the Cross, “Jesus accepts the cross,” is one of the Stations of the Cross that were painted by Joanne Lamers in 1936 for the then-new church building of St. Leonard Parish in Laona. Lamers served as parish housekeeper at the time. The wood frames were added in the 1980s. (Katie Shepard | Special to The Compass)

Its Stations of the Cross are unique. They were painted by Joanne Lamers, who was the housekeeper for Fr. Simeon Engl, the pastor at the time. Joanne’s family was from Wrightstown and her sister, Margaret, was also a painter. Margaret worked as housekeeper for St. Philip Parish in Green Bay in the 1950s. When that Green Bay parish decided to replace its own deteriorated Stations of the Church, Joanne did those as well.

Joanne (who signed at least one of her stations as “Joan Lamers”) and Margaret were self-taught. Joanne used oil paint to create each of the 16” x 24” paintings in St. Leonard Church.

The frames around the stations are made of pine and were built in the 1980s by Walter Carter and his son, Jack Carter, local handymen. They were built to protect the paintings from water damage because the church had roof leakage at the time.

Another unique feature of the 1936 church was its use of what was then a new technology that had been invented in Wisconsin: laminated timber on its arches.

The Stations of the Cross at St. Leonard, Laona, are just one example of the unique artworks to be found in the churches of the Diocese of Green Bay. Parishes which want to share their church’s unique artwork should send a photo and information to The Compass, PO Box 23825, Green Bay WI 54305, attn. “Church Art.”

Information can also be sent to [email protected] List “Church art for 150th” in the title line.