Contributed by Marilyn Helen Merten
One hundred fifty years ago a group of conscientious people in the northern part of the Town of Richfield felt the need of having their religious services in a church of their own. The closest parish with a resident pastor was at St. Boniface in Goldendale. Having their wishes known by Bishop Heiss, they were granted permission to begin the work of organizing a parish. The services of the infant church by the pastor of St. Boniface were begun in the private homes of the people who would later form the first group of parishioners of the Church in Richfield, Wisconsin.
On 2 June 1852, Peter Joseph Schulteis and his wife Anna Maria Merkel, his brother Herman Joseph and his wife Margareta Merkel, sister to Anna Maria, deeded three acres of land from the Schulteis homestead to the use of the Archdiocese and the new parish at Richfield. The property was located two miles west and a mile north of the village of Richfield and three miles north and a mile west of the village of Hubertus.
In 1854, services of the new congregation began in the private homes of the parishioners and were to continue in that manner until a suitable church building could be constructed. This action laid the foundation of a new Church and place of worship for the Catholics in the territory west of St. Boniface, north of St. Hubert, and south of St. Lawrence and Holy Cross the closest parishes existing at that time. Reverend I. Nicolaus Pfeiffer recorded the first sacramental registration in St. Boniface parish books under the name St. Mary in November 1854.
On 1 May 1856, Bishop Henni officially recognized the congregation as a mission parish under the name Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and assigned the mission to St. Hubert in Hubertus. The first pastor was Father John Baptist Haslbauer. Two years later in 1858 the church, a little log chapel, was constructed. This chapel served as the place of worship and sacrifice for thirty-eight years. In 1859 Father John Baptist Weikmann arrived at St. Hubert and Father Haslbauer transferred to St. Boniface. Father Weikmann ministered to the Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to June of 1860. In June of 1860 Father Michael Heiss arrived at St. Boniface at which time St. Boniface became responsible for the missions of St. Hubert and the Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Boniface retained this responsibility for the church up to 1915 when it was transferred to St. Hubert where it remained until 1967 when the parish received its first resident pastor.
The parish centennial booklet identifies in the year 1887 Father Korfhage of St. Hubert was their ministering priest. In 1887, Father Korfhage was at St. Boniface and in that year Fathers Schinner then Weyer were at St. Hubert. From July 1886 to May of 1889 there are no sacramental registration identified to the parish. Parish registers from 1870 to 1874 show that the pastor of St. Peter in Schleisingerville ministered to the parish. About all that can be said for sure is that something unusual happened during these years.
A wood frame church building was built in the years 1894 - 1895 at a cost of $2,500. At that time the congregation consisted of seventeen families whose spiritual needs were supplied twice a month plus the holy days of obligation.
The year 1901 saw the parish incorporated. Archbishop Frederick Xaver Katzer became president. Even though the parish was born with the name Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was generally known and referred to as St. Mary. Father Joseph Wurm was vice-president and ministering pastor, Henry Wiedmeyer and Herman Schulteis were trustees and members of the board of directors.
Priest assignments 1854 to 1915:
In the year 1915, St. Mary mission was given to the charge of the pastors of St. Hubert in Hubertus. St. Augustine was taken from St. Hubert and given to Holy Hill. Father Philip Wagner was the first pastor of Hubertus to take charge of their newly assigned mission. He continued this activity to 1920.
The church building was decorated for the first time in 1916. In 1917 the sacristy and instruction rooms were constructed. The outside of the church was painted and a new furnace put into the church in 1920. Chrisan Lofy donated the necessary capital for the work.
Father Wagner was succeeded by Father F. Falbisoner in 1920. His labors continued at St. Mary until 1924 when he transferred to neighboring St. Anthony in Fussville where he remained active until 1937. Father retired to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 1924 Father J.P. Faust succeeded Father Falbisoner. He served St. Mary for three years until 1927 when he was transferred to St. Rose Church in Broadhead, Wisconsin. Father Faust died in the early 1950s after having retired because of ill health.
Father Mason came to St. Mary in 1927. During his tenure, in 1931, the basement was dug out and a hall built under the church. The entire church was equipped with electric lights and necessary repairs completed. Father Mason left in 1933.
On 22 May 1934 Father William Weishaupl assumed the duties of the church at Richfield. He saw the need of beautifying the church and the church grounds. The outside of the church was painted, new steps to the church attached, and evergreens planted in the church grounds. In 1937 the church was remodeled and redecorated. New stations, a safety tabernacle and other furnishings were installed and completed. The church steeple and sanctuary roof were shingled and a soft water tank put up to furnish water for the sacristy, hall, and cemetery. Father Weishaupl was transferred to St. Lawrence Church, St. Lawrence, Wisconsin in 1945.
Father Raymond C. Miller succeeded Father Weishaupl in 1945. Father Miller found it necessary to remedy the heating problem of the church. A complete job of insulation was performed, the church was painted, necessary siding repairs made, tower shingles replaced, and a new roof put on the church building. Father Miller also established the policy of having the mission parish share part of the burden of rectory expense at St. Hubert. It was determined that St. Mary should bear one-third of the rectory expense since January 1948. In January 1952 a complete new floor covering the inlaid linoleum tile floor was put into the church. It was a donation of Mrs. Mary McNally, wife of Michael who had died previous to this in 1945. William and Gertrude (Schulteis) Kaehny donated $700 for new vestments and altar necessities which were purchased in the same year.
Father Miller was transferred to St. Peter in Beaver Damn in May of 1952. He died soon thereafter.
Father Cyril A. Livingston took responsibility for St. Mary, succeeding Father Miller. Under the direction of Father Livingston new pews were put into the church; made possible through the work and donations of the Christian Mothers, the church was decorated, the sacristy floor refinished, new blinds put into the sacristy, and the grounds of the parish landscaped and seeded. These improvements were made possible through the envelope system put into operation in October of 1952, for the purpose of a fund for parish improvement. The basement of the church was renovated with a new floor donated by the young people of the parish. To aid the parishioners in their devotion, the Blessed Sacrament is kept at the church with holy hour every Friday evening.
In the centennial year, 1954, children of the parish number forty-nine, were given instructions by the pastor and two of the sisters at St. Hubert on Saturday afternoons from 2:00 to 3:00 o'clock, Nine children attend Catholic schools in the neighborhood, bringing the total number of children to fifty-eight. There is an opportunity for confession on every second Saturday afternoon, as well as on Sunday mornings, for the members of the fifty-six families which then comprised the membership roster of St. Mary.
In a steady forward direction, members of St. Mary have established themselves as a fine God-loving, Christian, Catholic group which promises much for the advancement of the church in this area. May God bless them and instill into each one a still greater love for Him and His church. They have given one priest to God, as well as five sisters to the service of the Lord in religion. May the number of their membership increase steadily to the day that St. Mary too may take a place among the parishes of the Archdiocese instead of the mission status it now enjoys. May this Marian year, when St. Mary has been privileged to celebrate its centennial, mark the beginning of an era of progress and growth, both mentally and spiritually, so that soon St. Mary of Ricfield, Wisconsin will reach its height of splendor in the service of its God and His work among men.
On 02 June 1967, St. Mary Mission became St. Mary Parish. In June of 1996, the parish acquired a "sister parish," St. Patrick in Thomson. On 05 November 1997, the Archbishop asked St. Mary, St. Hubert, and St. Columbia to work to gether to eventually build a common worship space to serve the needs of all three parishes and be served by one pries; and St. Gabrial Parish was born.
In 1957 the church entrance was enlarged by moving the doors towards the entrance steps. In 1958 the church purchased twenty-one acres of land from the church building east to the fence line and north to Pioneer Road from Alfred and Marie Yogerst at a cost of $4,000.
On 2 June 1967 St. Mary became an established parish with the arrival of Father James Ruetz who served as the parishes first resident pastor to 1971. A rectory was constructed in 1968-1969. The latter year parish membership was at one hundred seventy-eight.
In April of 1970, St. Joseph Hospital in Hartford exchanged hands and became know as Hartford Memorial. Joe Rice, a parishioner, worked at St. Joseph. The statue was being removed and he asked to take it and place it at St. Mary. Only after installation did they discover that statue was of St. Therese, not the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1971 Father John Kujawa was installed as pastor. Sunday masses were at 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning during the summer and 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning during the winter months. The church was graced with the addition of a Carillon Bell system.
The year 1980 saw a Parish Council formed. In the spring of 1984 Father John retired and Father Wendel J. Badem was assigned as the new pastor arriving on 5 June 1984. In 1985, the interior of the church was wallpapered. Some of the projects completed in 1988 included the installation of the sacristy canopy, the church was carpeted and new pews were installed, the cemetery had fill hauled in at the north end, and the crucifixes and statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary were repainted. Membership in 1989 consisted of 340 adult members and 170 children and youth. Fr. Badem served until June 30, 1994.
Father Walter Vogel was assigned pastor/administrator in 1994 until June 14, 1999. The church sanctuary was renovated in 1995.
Fr. Charles Hanel was assigned as pastor of St. Mary's along with St. Hubert and St. Columba.
Contrary to the wishes of the people of St. Mary's and its trustees, on 1 July 2002 the parish was merged along with St. Hubert in Hubertus and St. Columba in Lake Five by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland into a new parish called St. Gabriel. A new parish facility was built along highway 164 south of Hubertus Road and dedicated on 28 August 2002. St. Mary then became St. Mary Chapel, Richfield to serve as a chapel for weddings and funerals.