THE IRISH CHURCH – ST. PATRICK’S

“Timothy Sullivan was a Christian example to old and young.
This church is his monument.”

Rev. Thomas Janikowski, 1918, St. Patrick Catholic Church

As St. Patrick’s Day draws near, let’s conclude our two-part review of the history of the Irish in Princeton with a look at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, built in 1876 at 317 River Road and used today as a storage facility.

We cannot tell the story of St. Patrick’s, which served Catholics in the Princeton area from 1876 to 1951, without telling the story of Timothy Sullivan, considered by local historians as the church’s founder.

The Sullivan family name was well known locally but gained statewide attention in the early 1900s after the Milwaukee Sentinel ran an article in which Sullivan claimed to be the longest-tenured school clerk in the state.

Princeton Republic, January 25, 1906 – “The Sunday Milwaukee Sentinel contained a cut and writeup of Mr. Timothy Sullivan of the town of Princeton. Mr. Sullivan has been school clerk of School District No. 7, of the town of Princeton, for the past forty years, with the exception of a leave of absence in the Sixties when he visited New York.  … Mr. Sullivan is approaching his 80th year. He is in quite good health and is active for his age. He was born in Ireland. He has for over half a century made his home in the town of Princeton.”

The Milwaukee Public Library provided this clip from the Sentinel:

Not surprisingly, the district’s one-room school was referred to as the Sullivan School. (It was later moved to Harris Street in Princeton and converted into a house.)

Sullivan was born on the west shore of the Lower Lake of Killarney, Count Kerry, Ireland, on May 15, 1827. He left home in 1850 and landed in Quebec after a voyage of seven weeks. He and his brothers found work in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts before relocating to Wisconsin.

“In 1855, he and his brothers, with his father and one sister, came from Boston to Princeton, then known as Pleasant Valley, and bought the farm upon which he lived until the end of his long, useful life,” the Princeton Republic recounted in his obituary in May 1918. “He was one of the pioneers of this section and the sterling type that was so necessary in the early times.”

The Sullivan farm was in the town of Princeton, about a mile northwest of the village, today bordered by Losinski Road and state Highway 73. The Richard Swanke dairy farm is located there today.

Sullivan took a leave of absence from his school board duties in 1860, courted and married Eileen Murray in Boston on Easter Sunday 1861, and returned to Princeton. The couple had six children, including the first girl from Princeton to become a nun.

When the bishop closed St. Mary by the Fountain, the church overlooking the east bank of the Fox River at St. Marie, in 1874-1875, the English-speaking Catholics around Princeton formed a new parish. The heavily Irish membership chose St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, for its name. Since most of the parishioners lived west of the river, a site near John Knapp’s grove on River Road in Princeton was selected and, after a brief delay, obtained from Knapp.

St. Patrick Catholic Church, Princeton, date unlisted

I have been unable to locate documents regarding the formation of St. Patrick’s, which was a mission of St. James parish in Neshkoro when it closed and earlier St. John’s in Montello. The Diocese of Madison says St. Patrick’s records are housed at St. James, but the earliest records that could be found there are burials from the late 1880s, according to a church official. I also checked with St. John’s in Montello but again came up emptyhanded.

I did find a book of church records in the Green Lake County Register of Deeds office. It included handwritten notes on the incorporation of St. Patrick’s congregation following a change in state statutes in 1883.

The articles of incorporation were dated Aug. 12, 1884, and explained that the corporation officers would be president, the bishop of the Green Bay diocese (Frances Krautbauer); vice president, pastor of the parish (E.J. Slowikowski); and two laymen selected to served as secretary (Franz Klawitter) and treasurer (Robert Hoose).

Unfortunately, we cannot document St. Patrick’s earlier trustees, but, based on comments published about Sullivan, we can conclude he was there from the beginning. German-born Martin Manthey was also among the early leaders, I believe.

The church was formed about 1875 as a mission of St. John the Baptist Church in Montello. It became a mission of St. James in Neshkoro, which became an independent parish in 1886, in 1888.

I have nothing but respect for the accuracy of research done by Roger Krentz for his books on Green Lake County churches, but I was surprised when he strayed from the path of historian to theorist when writing about the history of St. Patrick’s in “The Catholic Church in Green Lake County, WI” published through lulu.com in 2012.

Because St. Patrick’s was similar in size and appearance to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church built by August Swanke’s crew just a few blocks west, Krentz speculated, “It is possible that August Swanke who built St. John the Baptist church may have built St. Patrick’s as well, but there is no proof of that.”

The speculation was repeated as recently as last year in a local newspaper article about St. Patrick’s.

Sure, it’s possible that Swanke’s crew built the church, but there were other builders in town. Gardner Green operated a lumberyard, for example, and built several buildings, commercial and residential, in Princeton.

Or how about Patrick Regan? A local Irishman, member of the St. Patrick congregation, and a skilled carpenter. We have plenty of proof of that.

Princeton Republic, July 11, 1878 – “The new front on the Dargatz block (523 West Water) is a ‘heap big’ addition to the looks of the building as well as a benefit to the street. Regan is to blame for the job.”

Princeton Republic, March 2, 1882 – “P. Regan is building the shops  (445 West Water) on Water Street for F.T. Yahr.”

Princeton Republic, June 1, 1882 – “The framing of G. Schaal’s building (602 West Water) has commenced. P. Regan and his helpers doing the work.”

And let’s not forget this snippet:

Princeton Republic, Aug. 26, 1876 – “Mr. P. Regan is building the Catholic church at Kingston.”

Immaculate Conception of Mary church in Kingston, above, was built by Patrick Regan, of Princeton, in 1876 and dedicated in 1877. According to Roger Krentz’s book, “The Catholic Church in Green Lake County WI,” the parish included about 30 Irish families and 10 German families.

The Regans left Princeton about 1883 for Chicago, where Patrick slipped into retirement. He left a lasting example of his wonderful craftsmanship, however, in the new brick building at 528 West Water Street, today home to Bentley Pharmacy.

Princeton Republic. Oct. 15, 1885 – “The Mueller Brothers have moved into their new building this week. We have on several occasions referred to their new block, its substantial foundation of stone and its firm walls of brick. We have also referred to the fact that our old townsman, but now a Chicago citizen, P. Regan, has had charge of the carpenter work, assisted by Charley Craw, of this village. The work is now drawing to a completion, and a careful inspection of it shows that the carpenter work will bear the closest scrutiny and compare well with the finest work ever done in the county. The floors are of red birch, solid as marble. On the lower floor the room is arranged to perfection. As you enter to the left is the express department, effectually fenced off from the intruder. On the east side the shelving is to a great extent occupied by drugs. On the west side, books, musical instruments and a thousand and one articles too numerous to mention, usually kept in their line of trade, adorns the shelves. On both sides iron frames support show cases filled with an endless variety of goods. All the shelving and scores of glass doors – sliding and opening on hinges – are neatly made. The second floor is arranged for dwelling apartments and will be occupied by Dr. G.A. Mueller, one of the firm. These apartments are well and pleasantly made, from the parlors to the smallest closet. Every door is a glass-paneled one; and everything is done with a neatness that gives these rooms an air of elegant completeness and reflects great credit on those having charge of the work. The windows, including those below as well as above (excepting the front of storeroom) are two-lighted windows, raised and lowered with weights, all moving smoothly and easily in their grooves. As a matter of fact, the job is complete, and Mr. Regan will not suffer by comparison with any job done here or elsewhere.”

History is not based on conjecture and best guesses, however, and we do not yet have documentation to confirm who built St. Patrick’s.

We can confirm St. Patrick’s opened in September 1876 with Montello pastor Rev. John Larmer as shepherd and was dedicated in 1878.

Princeton Republic, April 29, 1876 – “On Sunday, May 7, the cornerstone of the new English-speaking Catholic church in Princeton will be laid, according to Catholic ritual, at 3 o’clock p.m. All are invited to be present and witness the ceremony.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 26, 1876 – “The new Catholic Church is well painted on the outside and is a beautiful little church. The inside work will soon be completed.”

Princeton Republic, May 10, 1878 – “The new Catholic Church on the west side was dedicated last Tuesday. Fathers O’Malley, of Oshkosh, and Graves, of Ripon, were present, the latter preaching the dedicatory sermon. A choir from Ripon furnished appropriate music for the occasion. There ceremonies were very impressive. A generous collection was taken up to defray current expenses.”

Though never a large parish, St. Patrick’s flourished throughout the remainder of the 19th century and beyond. Picnics helped spur fundraising for building costs, church bells and other needs.

Princeton Republic, June 17, 1886 – “The picnic given by St. Patrick’s congregation at Kunz’s Park last Monday was a decided success in point of numbers and financially. A grand time was enjoyed by the crowd present. The picnic wound up in the evening by a dance which was participated in by a liberal number. The receipts were satisfactory, and, as is understood, are to be employed in fixing up the church belonging to the congregation.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 22, 1889 – “The St. Patrick picnic yesterday at Schuetzen Park (west end of South Street), and continued in the evening at Turner Hall (429 West Water Street), was a decided success. Refreshments were served and sports of all kinds formed pleasing features of the occasion. The sack and potato races were laughable. The tug of war between Princeton and Neshkoro was an exciting contest, the sides being so evenly balanced that it was some time before either side could gain an advantage, but finally Neshkoro won, and the defeat the Princeton men suffered will remain until another opportunity presents itself to retrieve their tarnished record. The wheel of fortune brought in many dollars also. In the evening at the hall a large crowd assembled, the principal feature of interest to see who was the more popular, Mrs. J.H. Burns or Miss Carrie Yahr, the winner to receive as a prize, a plush rocking chair. Each of these ladies are very popular in consequence of which the voting was exciting. At ten o’clock time was called when it was found that Mrs. Burns had won the chair. … About $110 was realized by the society, which is to be expended for a bell for St. Patrick’s church in this village.”

Princeton Republic, Oct. 31, 1889 – “The ceremony of blessing the church bell at St. Patrick’s church last Tuesday was witnessed by a large congregation. The following Rev. gentlemen participated in the ceremony: Rev. Zielinski, of St. John’s church, Princeton; Rev. Kaster, of St. Patrick’s church, Princeton; Rev. Goebel, of Ripon; Rev. DeWilt, of Wrightstown; Rev. Hummell. Rev. Ryan, of Berlin, arrived in the afternoon, but too late to participate in the ceremonies. The occasion was an interesting one, and the occasion can be indicted as one of the pleasing incidents in the history of St. Patrick’s church in Princeton.”

When a Redemptorist priest from St. Louis held a mission at St. Patrick’s in March 1890, he gave sermons in both English and German. The bishop confirmed twenty youngsters at St. Patrick’s in May 1890; he confirmed 120 at the Polish church, St. John’s.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 28, 1897 – “The St. Patrick’s church has been changed inside to an extent that shows great improvement. The change of the platform and altar has been supplemented by new carpets.”

The newspaper provided another glimpse inside the church when seven youngsters received the sacrament of First Communion in 1900.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 13, 1900 – “Sunday morning was ushered in by intermittent gusts of frigid winds, which lent to the atmosphere the tinge of a wintry chill. Not daunted by the inclemency of the weather, interested spectators and churchgoers hurried their course into St. Patrick’s church, until its limited seating capacity was taxed to the utmost. The renovated interior with its flower-bedecked altars and the emblazoning sanctuary lamp, which latter had been graciously donated by our public-spirited fellow-citizen Elmer D. Morse, presented a prepossessing appearance. As the (First) Communicants filed into their seats, Rev. F.J. Fisher, the officiating clergyman, ascended the altar to inaugurate the services for High Mass. The choir, under the able leadership of Mrs. A.G. Giese, rendered in a very commendable manner the Mass in G from ‘The Memorare.’ The music throughout was marked by an artistic interpretation of the score. At the Offertory, the duet ‘O Sponsi Mi’ was sung in a manner to satisfy the most fastidious taste, by Mrs. A.G. Giese and Mrs. Henry Manthey. Whilst the choir was singing the solemn hymn ‘O Lord, I am most worthy,’ the Communicants, preceded by their respective candle bearers, approached the altar to take Holy Communion. At the conclusion of Mass, Harry Burns, the bass soloist, sang with his usual efficiency the inspiring composition ‘Pro peccaatis.’ The following are the names of the Communicants: Frank Wyse, John Wyse, John Bushke, Stephen Kroll, Miss Agnes Burns, Miss Helena Manthey, Miss Agnes Wyse.”

Even as they built their new church community, the founders of St. Patrick’s continued to care for the church at St. Marie, which continued to host pilgrimages even after it officially closed.

Princeton Republic, Dec. 12, 1895 – “Over 200 people, some from other states, participated in the pilgrimage to St. Marie on Dec. 3rd. The attempt to save the old landmark, the little church, from decay and desolation has been successful. New windows have been put in, a new floor laid, and many other improvements made. A writer in the Montello Express, speaking of this work, says: ‘Leaders in the restoration of the old church were the pastors of Montello, Princeton and Ripon; the Franciscan sisters of Montello and Princeton; Messrs. Manthey, Sullivan, Gallagher and Klawitter, of Princeton. The altar and statue are gifts from the citizens of Montello; the famous Scillagi painting of the Madonna is the gift of D.H. McBride, publishers of Chicago.'”

Timothy Sullivan died in May 1918 at age 91. He had served five decades on the school board, nearly 30 years on the town board, 10 years as town chairman and, of course, as a member of St. Patrick’s since its founding.

“From his boyhood he was ambitious, he was interested in and struggled for education, for the betterment of his fellow man and the world in general,” Sullivan’s obituary stated. “He was a man of unusual intellect and ability and was always interested in public affairs. … He was upright, forward-looking, kind, charitable; he had the true philosophy of life and unfailing sense of humor. He was a devout Christian and was held in the highest esteem and affection by all who came in contact with him in his long years of residence here.”

The funeral processed from his home to St. Patrick’s Church for the funeral on Wednesday, May 15, 1918.

The Republic shared this highlight of what it termed a beautiful eulogy by the Rev. Thomas Jankowski: “Timothy Sullivan was a Christian example to old and young. This church is his monument.”

Sullivan was buried in the west side Catholic cemetery.

The close-knit church community struggled through the difficult years of two world wars and the Great Depression. Parish numbers were declining, and St. John’s was growing.

The Rev. Carl Wagner, pastor of St. Patrick’s from 1945-1951, reported in the Princeton Times-Republics special edition honoring Princeton’s centennial in July 1948 that the diocese announced it was closing St. Patrick’s in 1945, but the archbishop relented after parishioners complained and again made the church a mission of St. James in Neshkoro.

The church lost another leader when J.H. Manthey, son of Princeton, German and Catholic pioneer Martin Manthey, died in March 1951.

According to the Princeton newspaper, in 1898 J.H. Manthey had been elected secretary/treasurer of the parish that his father, Timothy Sullivan, Patrick Regan and others had helped form nearly a quarter-century earlier. He manned the position for 35 years, until January 1933, when he declined re-election. The next officers were Joe Wyse as treasurer and John Zodrow as secretary.

“Certainly, a fine record for Mr. Manthey in holding the office for that period of years, and one to be proud of,” the Republic noted.

Manthey’s funeral was the last held at St. Patrick’s before the diocese closed the parish.

Father Roger Idzikowski, who replaced Wagner as pastor at St. James and St. Patrick in March 1951, said the last Sunday Mass scheduled at St. Patrick’s on May 6, 1951. The last lay officers were John Zodrow and Tom Cavanaugh.

(I have been told, but been unable to confirm, the last wedding was held on June 11, 1949, when Marion “Punky” Ebert married Sylvester Frost.)

The property was sold in 1959.

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 3, 1959 – “The building which was once St. Patrick’s Church here in Princeton on River Road will be sold at auction Saturday, Sept. 12, at 2 p.m. Father Josef Cieciorka was requested to dispose of the property including the building and two lots by His Excellency William P. O’Connor, Bishop of Madison. John Kasierski, auctioneer, and I.J. Craite, real estate broker, will be in charge of the auction.

The Mashuda construction company purchased the building, which was used for storage.

According to Krentz’s book, a statue of the Virgin Mary originally displayed in the church at St. Marie and later St. Patrick’s was moved to a chapel in the home of the late Clifford Mashuda Sr. on County Road D. I have been unable to confirm that with the Mashuda family.

Thank you for caring and reading about local history. If you spot any errors, please let me know.

The former St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 2022

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