Churches of St. Thomas Aquinas, Waterford, Wisconsin
During June of 2016, St. Thomas Aquinas parish celebrated 165 yrs. of service to the Catholic community of Waterford, Wisconsin. This rich heritage dates back to the 1840’s, when Wisconsin was a just a Territorial designation.
During the early 1840’s, Irish and German Catholics started to settle in the area. In 1845, Fr. Henry Kendeler of Burlington came as a supply priest and celebrated the first mass in the cooper shop of Charles Klunkefort, (that was a barrel making shop on the SE corner of Main and First St.; last known as Martini Mo’s corner)
Periodically, services were held in private homes, barns or the cooper shop. Otherwise, they had to travel to Burlington to satisfy their obligations.
In 1848, the year in which Wisconsin became a State, Fr. Kundig urged the congregation to raise funds to build a church. There was much division in the small Catholic community of approximately 80 poor families, primarily German and Irish , that needed to be overcome such as building subscriptions, materials and the vernacular of the mass. The bishop decreed that it be an english speaking parish. However, a number of documents found in the achieves reveal that German was the predominate language used within the church in that era.
The little stone church was finished three years later in the spring of 1851 with the first mass being celebrated 165 years ago on Corpus Christie Sunday, which was June 22nd that year.
A picture of the original 1851 stone church has been found and restored. Research of old maps and descriptions in church artifacts show that it was located directly behind the present 1880 church on the corner. The building in the rear is the original rectory.
A significant point in the development of St. Thomas Aquinas parish started immediately in the same year, 1851. “Father Kundig’s next care was a school. A certain L. Luig’ gave a room to be used for school purposes, and a certain Lensing, a farmer, was engaged as teacher, on a salary of $8 a month. Twelve children attended the school.” from: Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, 1923
Thus the beginnings of 165 years of St. Thomas’ continuous commitment to Catholic education.
In 1858, at a cost of $1000, the first rectory, a two story stone building, referred to above, was located just behind and to the south of it.
The rectory would later be remodeled into a convent for the teaching sisters. It was eventually torn down around 1940 to make room for the new 1941 school building. Note the old rectory behind on the right.
“In the year 1870, Rev. J.M. Joerger bought a small organ for the church, paying $425 for the same.” as referenced in The Catholic Church of Wisconsin, 1896. This organ was retired from the church and school in 1903 and given as a wedding present to Joseph Harter/Anna Alby.
A story related by a Harter-Alby descendant was that a small melodeon (pump organ) was purchased for the church and was carried back and forth between the church and school. The school boys were pressed into service to run the pump pedals while Sister played the keyboard. If the volume dropped, they would get a quick kick to pay attention to what they were supposed to be doing. It remained in their family until 2010 when it was returned to the parish and restored to playing condition. It was also played as part of the 165th parish anniversary celebration in June, 2016.
In 1879, then Pastor Schumacher, took on the task of building a larger and more functional church to keep up with the growing membership. When it was competed at a cost of about $20,000, it was free of all encumbrances
1901 saw a new Parsonage built for $3500. It was moved in 1953 to the lot on Superior St., across from the small parking lot on 2nd street to make room for the new rectory in its present location.
Under Father Kornath’s leadership in the early 2000’s, early planning was started to investigate the financial impact, the structural size, and the location of a new House of Worship.
In June, 2005 Father Eugene Doda, Jr., became the new pastor. He immediately took charge of the planning of the new church. In less than a year on April 29, 2006; the parish witnessed Auxiliary Bishop Sklba and Father Gene, along with the architect and contractor break ground for the new church. Then on the seventh of April, 2007, on Holy Saturday, Father Gene celebrated the first Mass in the new church. The formal dedication ceremonies for the new House of Worship was celebrated on June 17, 2007 with Archbishop Timothy Dolan officiating .
Additional Pictures of Historical Interest:
A pipe organ built in the 1920’s still operates sending out its inspiring sounds within it confines. Two of the smaller ranks are mounted on the wall with the remainder enclosed behind the wall along with the wind chest.
An ornately painted interior graced the nave of the church in the early 1900’s.
Kerosene lanterns lighted the church. A preaching pulpit is on the right wall.
The bells have filled the village’s awareness of time for many years. They toll on the quarter hour and the number of rings corresponding to the hour. In 1966, the automatic bell system failed and the parish could not afford to fix it at the time. With the lack of the familiar bell tolling throughout the day, a local community effort was initiated to help pay for a new system. Around $6000 was raised and the time piece was re-built.
A 30 inch by 30 inch bronze plaque was erected in honor of the contributors. System upgrades continue to take place as needed.
On November —of 1919 a fire threatened to destroy this historic structure. Quick action by the local volunteer fire department contained the fire to the roof.
Lead Researcher: Robert Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
St. Thomas Archives
Racine County Register of Deeds
Waterford Post’s “Stories of Waterford and its Busy Lives” 1923
Archdiocese of Milwaukee Archives