By Delphine Schwartz
The history of St. Louis Parish reaches back to 1843. At that time a zealous missionary and pioneer priest from Germany, the Very Rev. Martin Kundig, visited the Catholics who had settled in the vicinity and attended to their spiritual needs. When a sufficient number of Catholics had established homesteads, it was proposed to build a church. The original site, located at Highway 32 and Five Mile Road in what was called lower Caledonia or Thompsonville, was deeded to Bishop John M. Henni by Mr. & Mrs. Francis Kuter on November 14, 1843. A log church was built on this acre in 1844-45. An additional acre of land was donated by the Kuters on February 11, 1854 and a frame church, named Holy Family, was built here in 1855. Around this time a Rev. J. Obermueller visited this congregation. Holy Family Church was destroyed by fire in 1930 and only Holy Family Cemetery remains at that site.
The congregation of St. Louis in Caledonia, Racine County, WI, was formally organized in 1857. Before there was a church building, the Rev. Francis Charles Schraudenbach said Mass occasionally in the house of Peter Meyer. In order to settle the question of a church site, a group consisting of Peter Meyer, John Thelen and Mr. Horsch met with Bishop John M. Henni about establishing St. Louis Parish. It was finally agreed upon to have the church on the north side of Highway G on the site that is presently St. Louis Cemetery. One acre of land was presented by Mr. & Mrs. Peter Meyer on April 2, 1855 to the congregation, with an additional acre gifted on April 29, 1856.
While there is no specific information available, early correspondence seems to indicate that the log church built in 1844-45 on the Holy Family site was moved in 1855 to land on the north side of Highway G that is now St. Louis Cemetery. This would account for the reason a frame church was built for Holy Family Parish that same year. Other records mention the building of a new log church from logs that were hewn from the abundant forests. Whatever the origin, the log church situated on a portion of the present cemetery was small and primitive, but it served the spiritual needs of the parish.
Holy Family was established as a mission of St. Louis in 1856 and consisted of twenty-two families, the majority of whom were German. Services were held there once a month and occasionally on weekdays. Apparently both St. Louis Parish and Holy Family Parish were served for a time by the same priest.
In the first years, Mass was said in the log church every other Sunday by Rev. Kendeler, a priest from Franklin. When it was impossible for the missionary priests to come on Sundays, the pious people in their own way supplied the want by congregating in the church and saying prayers.
In the first fourteen years of its existence St. Louis church was at different times attended by priests from Racine, Franklin, Oak Creek and New Coeln. Among the priests who visited St. Louis we find the following: Revs. Martin Kundig, Vicar General of Milwaukee, Francis Tiernan, Simon Bartosz, Francis Charles Schraudenbach, Francis Fusseder, Fabian Bermadinger, O.F.M. Cap, John Michael Obermuller, Patrick O'Brien (not recorded in the Official Catholic Directory), John J. Stueky, William O'Brien, Francis Xavier Weinhardt, John Polack, Kilian Casper Flasch, Joseph Baptist Reindl, Francis Xavier Minderer and Hubert Jansen. Many of these are inseparably connected with the early history of the Catholic church in Wisconsin by reason of their zealous devotion to the work of religion among the settlers of those early days.
This log church did double duty. During the week it became the parochial school. For ten years it was staffed by lay teachers. Mr. Stephan conducted school for several years. A Mr. Johns succeeded him for a few months, followed by Fr. Muenich, who soon turned it over to Joseph Muenich.
In 1857 a frame church replaced the one room log building which had become wholly inadequate for the growing congregation.
During a meeting of the congregation on March 27, 1859 the members of St. Louis Parish decided to erect an even more substantial frame church on the south side of Highway G, at that time referred to as Caledonia Road. Two acres of land across from the cemetery had been deeded by William Emmerich on April 29, 1856 to Bishop John M. Henni for this purpose. The following gentlemen were selected as a building committee: Anton Akerman, William Emmerich and Hubert Horton. The dimensions of the building were to be 60 feet long and 34 feet wide.
The contract for building the church was awarded to Mr. Christoph Brust, who completed the building on the 3rd day of December 1859 to the satisfaction of the building committee and the trustees. The cost of the building amounted to $1,009.51. The money had been raised by subscription, the members of the Congregation taking such an active interest in the work, that on the 15th day of April 1861, all debts were paid. This frame church stood undisturbed, until plans were made to build the brick church on that site in 1901. The frame church was then moved to the southeast and served as a parish hall until it was razed in 1954 to accommodate the new school.
In the year 1860, St. Louis Parish received its first resident pastor, Rev. Kilian C. Flasch. He was ordained with the first class at St. Francis Seminary and this was his first appointment. He subsequently went on to be come the second Bishop of LaCrosse. Rev. J. A. Birkhaeuser succeeded him in 1863. But after some months the Rev. J. Birkhaeuser received a call to be a professor at St. Francis Seminary. He taught Church History and wrote a book, The History of the Catholic Church, which ranked as the best ever published in English. Rev. J. S. Muenich took over as pastor of St. Louis congregation in 1865 and during his tenure, the convent was built in the year 1866 to be used as a school and sisters' home. This building was used for this purpose until 1954. Rev. Muenich was succeeded Rev. Henry Reinhardt as pastor in 1868. Under the next pastor, Rev. Simon G. Woelfl, (1870)a successful effort was made to improve the cemetery, which had been somewhat neglected.
In the year 1873 Rev. William Peil was appointed as a rector of St. Louis parish and he remained in Caledonia in that capacity till 1881. Under his guidance the parish prospered. The interior of the church was decorated and the schoolhouse improved. His successor was Rev. Norbert Dieringer who came to Caledonia in 1882. He very successfully administered the affairs of St. Louis church until the fall of 1887. St. Louis takes pride in the fact that it was the first parish from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to have its Christian Mothers' Confraternity affiliated with the National Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers. The date of the affiliation was September 8, 1887 and it was the 33rd unit in the nation to become affiliated. In 1900 it is recorded that Mrs. P. Emmerich was president of the St. Louis Christian Mothers' Society.
According to the book Catholic Church in Wisconsin, from October 1887 until January 1888 the Capuchin Fathers were in charge of the parish. Rev. Joseph Peter Holfeltz, being appointed to St. Louis congregation as its rector in the year 1888, at once urged the necessity of a new parsonage. So successful was Father Holfeltz, that in 1889 a new and handsome rectory was erected and it stood as a lasting monument of his energy and of the good will and generosity of the members of St. Louis parish. The parsonage was a solid brick structure, and stood for seventy years before being demolished in 1959 to make way for a new Parish Administration Building and rectory on that site. He was succeeded by the Rev. Othmar Mueller, (1896), who for 9 months administered the affairs of the parish.
In 1897 Rev. Norbert Dieringer returned to Caledonia as pastor. The organization of the St. Aloysius Young Men's Society and of St. Barbara's Young Ladies Society, as well as the Apostleship of Prayer, attest to the zealous work of this pastor.
Rev. Phillip Dreis was appointed pastor in 1898. Under his leadership the brick church that still stands in 2006 was constructed in 1901. For its day, and in a rural setting, the brick church was a magnificent structure. Much of the foundation of the church was excavated and built by local members of the parish on a volunteer basis.
The congregation of St. Louis in 1900 consisted of one hundred and twenty-five families, and the parochial school, which was in the care of three Dominican Sisters, had a regular attendance of one hundred and eleven scholars. As long as the parish had been in existence, there had been a school, until it was forced to close in June 2005 due to low enrollment.