Love of God has made community for 100 years
Antigo parish honors roots going back to Bohemia
By Rebecca Weiss
St. Mary Parish of Antigo celebrates its anniversary this year, commemorating a whole
century of parish history, which goes back to Bohemia and includes three priest sons in
the last ten years.
The church's past will be honored in a centennial mass which begins on Oct 1. Bp. Robert
Banks presided at the Mass with area priests. Members of the Sisters of Francis of the
Holy Cross Convent and former priests were among those attending the service.
"A church is not just a building," says Fr. Jeremiah Worman, St. Mary's current pastor. "It
is the love of God that makes us a community." Fr. Worman has been with the parish for
eight years and is also pastor of St. Wenceslaus, Neva, the parish linked with St. Mary.
Monica Baginski, Frances Shefel and Carrie Zelazoski are on the committee that
volunteered to coordinate the preparations for the anniversary celebration. The
congregation has been working hard, getting ready for the centennial mass and other
festivities, including a dinner, which will be served by members of St. Wenceslaus. Also,
an album of activities of the centennial year and a picture directorial have been published,
displaying past and present parish members and special features of the church building.
From the early days when the parish first took shape guided by its first pastor, Fr. Francis
Kolar, to the present, St. Mary church has faced the challenges of an entire century.
The founders, Catholics who stemmed from Bohemia, the area in Europe that is now
Switzerland and the Czech Republic, had demanded their own church back in 1900 in
spite of the two already existing Catholic churches in Antigo, the congregations of St.
John and St. Hyacinth. It was a time of ethnic parishes throughout the diocesan area. Mary
Deleglise, wife of Antigo's founder and first member of the parish, donated the land for
the new church and $1,000. The parish of St. John donated $2,000. The church was
completed at a total cost of $17,000. The parish borrowed money from the Knights of
Columbus to cover the $3000 debt, which was paid off by 1903.
St. Mary was incorporated in September of 1900. When construction began in 1901, the
parishioners themselves laid the foundation. For about a year, the parish rented pews in
the church of St. Hyacinth for $10 a month until St. Mary's was finished in January of
Throughout the years, St. Mary church has grown in many ways, expanding the building,
increasing the programs and activities and even founding a school which started classes in
1951 (since 1998 it is part of the All Saints Catholic school system that includes for area
parishes). Starting out with 20 members in 1900, the congregation now claims about 425
St. Mary's has had its share of trying times. Baginski attributes the church's perseverance
to the dedication and the strength of the parish. "Church always was a social focal point.
People made sacrifices to see it through," she says.
Recent hardships include the lack of a pastor for several months in 1987 and again in
1991. Baginski now considers those difficult months a "learning experience," bringing the
parish closer together. With the help of neighboring and assistant pastors, lay people and
retired priests, the mass schedule could be continued without cutbacks.
In the past 10 years, three young men from the parish have entered the priesthood, an
unusually good average and one that the congregation is very proud of. They are Frs.
Michael Seis, William Barta and James Baraniak. However, the shortage of priests
remains a concern. In view of the July of 2001 retirement of Msgr. Koszarek, who is
pastor of St. Hyacinth, St. Mary's has been introduced to its future challenge: a parish
merger with St. Hyacinth, which will go in effect on July 1 of 2001.
Some members of the parish view the merger with apprehension, as they worry about
parish identity. Fr. Worman is not worried. "I am not anticipating any difficulties," he
says. "Our parishes are not strangers to one another. I believe the congregations will grow
together, and grow as a community."
What the parish's new name will be and what will become of the building of St. Mary (the
only one of the three Antigo parishes still using its original church building) is not certain
Baginski expects it will be not be easy at first. However, she adds, "I am hopeful that our parishes' respective differences and idiosyncrasies will eventually melt. Our parish has always been very alive and active. I hope the merger will make us even stronger."
Fr. Worman regards his congregation highly: "It is so full of warmth and a sense of community."