POY SIPPI – When Fr. Roland Ahearn proposed, in 1920, to Green Bay Bishop Paul Rhode that a church be built in Poy Sippi, the bishop replied with a challenge: celebrate four Sunday Masses and, after the fourth, ask worshippers for their support.
The proposal was accepted, and in June of that year, the priest celebrated the Masses. Parishioners eagerly supported the plan. Sacred Heart Church was established four months later. On Oct. 18, parishioners celebrated the centennial of their church during a Mass of thanksgiving.
Deacon Bob Precourt, pastoral leader at Sacred Heart, preached the homily at the centennial Mass and reflected on the willingness of Poy Sippi’s early settlers to take on the challenge of a new Catholic community in Waushara County.
“It’s not as if they could get a startup kit at the hardware store,” he said, quoting from one of the day’s Mass readings, St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians. “But they had a spiritual kit, just as St. Paul did when he started his parishes, and it had three virtues St. Paul mentioned today: an endurance in hope, a work in faith and a labor of love.”
Deacon Precourt said that residents had hoped for the establishment of a parish community for nearly 70 years. They were attending Mass in widely scattered locations, including Waupaca, Weyauwega, Berlin and Poygan, six miles west of Winneconne.
Fr. Ahearn had been appointed to St. Thomas Aquinas, Poygan, in 1919, and his appointment spurred Poy Sippi Catholics to take action, said Deacon Precourt. In April of 1920, four community leaders, August Durawa, Frank Heany and Fred and Mag Gordon, boarded a horse-drawn, double-seat buggy and made the hour-and-a-half, 13-mile trip to Poygan. They requested that Fr. Ahearn meet with Bishop Rhode to propose a new parish.
After celebrating the fourth Mass proposed by Bishop Rhode, Fr. Ahearn asked the community for financial commitments to buy a vacant Congregational church for renovation to Catholic worship. The request was met. “Pledge followed pledge in rapid succession, and at the close of the meeting, our infant parish found itself financially in clover,” wrote Fr. Ahearn in a letter.
“I love that parish foundation story,” said current parishioner, Kari Selthofner, who chaired the centennial celebration moderated by COVID-19 precautions. “Those first parishioners were so enthusiastic — and so generous.”
“The spirit of those first parishioners is still with us today,” said Karen Kelly, parish trustee and fellow event planner with Selthofner. “They were part of the inspiration for us to build a new parish hall last year. In doing that, we were carrying on our parish ancestors’ legacy of hope.”
The centennial celebration included parish hall displays of large, historical photographs on table stands, spaced so viewers could keep six feet of distance. It also included anniversary histories of the parish, more than 100 balloons which were handed out to parish children and beverages and packaged cookies to be enjoyed at home.
“We had a lot of fun with this,” said Deacon Precourt. “And we got pretty nostalgic, too, especially today during Mass when we all raised a prayer that was actually said at the first official parish Mass in October 1920. The prayer asks for wisdom, goodness and stability for future generations to come.”
“St. Paul had it right in his letter proclaimed during our centennial Mass,” added Deacon Precourt. “He said he started his parishes with ‘a work of faith, a labor of love and an endurance of hope.’ Sacred Heart — and other parishes of our diocese — are testimonies of living out those virtues.”