Holy Trinity Parish will celebrate 150th anniversary on April 7

SCHOOL HILL — Much of Marion Lenz’s life has revolved around Holy Trinity Parish.

As a faithful parishioner all 91 years of her life, Lenz was baptized, celebrated first Communion, exchanged wedding vows and participated in countless activities as a member of Holy Trinity Parish.

Members of Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill stand inside the church March 12. Pictured, from left, are Orville Bonde, Fr. Anthony Ibekwe, parish administrator, Barbara Hruby and Marion Lenz. The rural Manitowoc County parish celebrates 150 years of faith on April 7. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

She still lives just down the road from church in this rural Manitowoc County community.

“Holy Trinity Parish means a lot to me,” said Lenz, the parish’s longest-tenured active member. “Having a church in our small community all these years is really wonderful for us. Everybody at the parish works together, and I think they do a good job. I love being here.”

Lenz is among the 152 family units preparing to celebrate Holy Trinity Parish’s 150th anniversary on April 7 with a Jubilee Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a reception featuring historical displays and food.

Bishop David Ricken will celebrate Mass, joined by concelebrants Fr. Anthony Ibekwe, administrator at Holy Trinity Parish, and Fr. Gregory Coulthard, a Salvatorian priest who served at the parish from 2001 to 2007.

Records state the parish was officially established 150 years ago, on March 29, 1869, when eight farmers in the School Hill area united to build a church. Two years later, the completed church was blessed by Fr. Ambrose Oschwald, who founded the Village of St. Nazianz in 1854.

The original church stood in the center of the community until a new (and current) church and social center was formally dedicated and blessed 50 years ago, on June 1, 1969.

Orville Bonde, 90, a cousin of Lenz, joined the parish in 1955 after moving to School Hill. He was a member of the committee that oversaw construction of the new church, which accommodated the parish’s 36 families when it opened.

“It was time for a new church,” Bonde said, adding with a chuckle, “Every time you walked in, the floor sunk down a little bit. But we liked that old church, and we like this new church.

“This 150th is special to us,” he added, “because we are a unique little parish. There aren’t many out there like us. We’ve been a tight community and we like that.”

Several items from the original church were repositioned in the new church, including the crucifix and circular stained glass window on the wall behind the altar, statues adorning the walls alongside the altar area, and pews filling the main two sections of the seating area.

Salvatorian priests served as Holy Trinity Parish pastors starting Oct. 1, 1896, and continuing until June 30, 2018. The longest-tenured pastor was Fr. Reginald Schrimpf, who served from 1968 to 1995.

In July 2018, Fr. Anthony Ibekwe of the Diocese of Green Bay was appointed administrator of Holy Trinity Parish and St. Gregory Parish in nearby St. Nazianz. He said it didn’t take long to see that Holy Trinity Parish members “are very peaceful and loving people who are always willing to help out with parish activities.”

Barbara Hruby, a parishioner since 2012, agreed, saying, “We are a small community and we all work together as a family.”

Hruby was instrumental in gathering old stories and other historical items that will be displayed following the anniversary Mass. “The wealth of history and knowledge with the members of our parish is amazing,” she said.

The parish’s archived materials reveal some facts and figures from yesteryear.

For example, in 1875 the priest received $200 for the year. Thirty-five years later that amount was bumped up to $300.

In 1900, the church debt was $35.07. Four years later, records show Ida Christel received $13 for playing the organ.

And on March 29, 1919, the three surviving parish founders participated in an event celebrating the 50th anniversary.

The parish also used to include Holy Trinity Catholic School, which was built in 1874 and closed in 1962. For much of its existence, the school was led by the Sisters of the Divine Savior.

“I walked two and one-half miles to school every day, until my dad bought a Ford Model A and then sometimes he gave us a ride,” said Lenz, who had 14 siblings. “Sometimes in winter we took the horses and a sleigh to school. The boys had to come earlier to light the furnace and haul the wood in from the shed. After school we’d play ball when it was warm enough.”

In 1970, the School Hill Men’s Club was formed under the leadership of Fr. Schrimpf to provide a non-denominational summer youth baseball and softball program for everyone in the area. The School Hill Athletic Club sports complex was blessed by Bishop Ricken on June 6, 2011.

“(Bishop Ricken) said it was the first ball diamond he ever blessed,” said Bonde, who was on the committee to build the fields. “They’re some of the finest diamonds in the whole county.”

Parishioners and community members often gathered for meals as well.

Chili dinners, organized by the Holy Trinity Christian Women, were held every April from 1987 to 2008. Perch fry events have been held each February since 2002 and have grown to serve 1,327 plates this year.

Space also grew at the parish. A multipurpose room addition to the parish hall was completed in 2014. It began as a solution for dwindling storage space and blossomed into an extra room, drive-through entrance and food preparation area.

Under Fr. Ibekwe’s guidance, Holy Trinity Parish continues to expand its offerings. Bible studies began in March and are scheduled to continue every Sunday and Tuesday. An evangelization group is also forming.

“We have some exciting things happening,” Fr. Ibekwe said.