Historic changes are coming for St. John the Baptist Catholic parish in Princeton, which dedicated its first church 150 years ago this summer.
Not only is Father Dale Grubba (my American history teacher in high school) retiring, but the parish has also learned how it will be affected by a reorganization plan developed for the Madison Diocese over the last two years. Grubba, 82, has served St. John’s since June 1985 and is the longest serving pastor in parish history.
Catholic leaders across the U.S. have been searching for answers to reverse a trend of declining church membership and participation in the sacraments as well as a lack of priests. In Madison, Bishop Donald Hying formed a strategic planning committee of clergy and lay members to help develop the diocese’s response.
The recently unveiled plan, named “Into the Deep,” emphasizes focusing more on people and less on buildings, according to proponents.
Effective July 1, the diocese’s 102 parishes will be reorganized into 30 groups called pastorates.
St. John’s will become part of Pastorate 10 in the northeast corner of the diocese. The parishes in Berlin (All Saints), Neshkoro (St. James), Green Lake (Our Lady of the Lake), Kingston and Markesan (Holy Family) are also part of Pastorate 10.
Three priests will be assigned to the pastorate: John Silva, administrator, and John Bosco and Anthony Thirumalareddy, vicars. Silva is currently pastor of All Saints in Berlin, where Thirumalareddy is his assistant. I do not know Bosco’s current assignment.
The only Catholic school in the pastorate is All Saints in Berlin. St. John’s closed its school two years ago.
Masses continue at St. John’s at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. Sundays. Parish leaders are also planning to continue the “Polish Picnic” this summer.
The picnic started in 1903 and returned in 1904, was not held in 1905, resumed in 1906 and continued through 1947, resumed in 1956 and continued through 2022. Last year’s picnic was the parish’s 109th overall and 66th consecutive since it resumed under the pastorship of the Rev. Joseph Cieciorka.
I inquired whether St. John’s would continue holding weekday Mass at St. John’s and whether a priest would reside in the St. John’s rectory following Grubba’s departure. Father Silva responded via email that “the parishioners will be informed of decisions by me in the future.”
Some buildings in the Madison Diocese could eventually be closed and sold as part of “Into the Deep,” which will be implemented in three phases with completion scheduled for June 2026.
The diocese also studied whether to build a new cathedral to replace St. Raphael’s, which burned in 2005. It decided instead to petition the pope to name St. Bernard in Madison as the new cathedral. A “small capital campaign” is being planned to fund improvements.
The bishop is also asking the Holy See to allow four parishes in the diocese to offer “the Extraordinary Form of Mass,” which is the traditional Latin Mass of my youth. The closest site to Princeton is St. Cecelia’s in Wisconsin Dells.
Mostly Polish and German immigrants formed the nucleus of St. John’s when it formed in the 1870s. The first church was built in 1871 and dedicated in August 1873. St. John’s welcomed its first resident pastor, the Rev. Joseph Szpecht, in 1875. The brick rectory was built in 1881, and St. John’s graduated from mission to parish in 1883.
The parish built a new church – the beautiful brick building we see today – in 1887-1888. The original church was moved west and converted into a house for the parish’s first teaching nuns, who arrived in the 1890s. It was torn down in 1916 and replaced with a brick building. It was razed in 1996.
The school – 167 students strong, including me and 22 second-grade classmates – moved from three classrooms in the basement of the church to a new $250,000 structure in 1959. It had about six to eight students in its final years.
Grubba said he plans to move to Endeavor in June and will continue working on the Lady of Guadalupe shrine there.
More information about the diocese’s plan is available at https://intothedeepmadison.org/.
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