Click on photos to enlarge.

Before a congregation was established in Bear Creek, people attended services in Lebanon, where Mass was celebrated occasionally in some of the homes there and in a schoolhouse. They occasionally went to New London to attend Mass. Later, priest came to Bear Creek where people attended Mass in different homes. Services were held about once a month. Father Christopher Verwyst (or Ver Vyst) offered the first Mass in Bear Creek.
It was through the efforts of Father Verwyst, who was the pastor in New London (1865 to 1867), that the congregation of Bear Creek was organized and the building of the first church begun. The first church started to be built in 1867 but was not completed until 1868. It was built on what is now the corner of Highway 45 and Blueberry Road. Michael Cayton donated the land for the new church.
It measured 22 x 30 feet, twelve foot ceiling and fourteen pews. Although the first Mass offered in the church, by Father La Magie, was in the summer of 1868, it was not yet completed. The first marriage ceremony performed in the church was that of John Mares to Appollonia Gotten in the summer of 1869. Confirmation was held in the Northport church. Funeral services were held in St. Patrick church in Lebanon with burial in Lebanon until a Catholic cemetery at Bear Creek was established. Many bodies of the deceased members were later removed to the cemetery at Bear Creek.


Above is the rectory destroyed by fire in 1937. It was replaced by another rectory that is still standing next to the present day church. The church, built in 1885, was replaced by the current church built in 1922.

Above is the second church of St. Mary Parish built in 1885. The church is situated what would be behind the present day church. Next to the church is the convent and school completed in 1906-1907.
St. Mary Parish became the mission of St. Patrick Parish of Lebanon in 1872. In 1872 Father Duerr became resident pastor at Lebanon and continued until the summer of 1881 when Father P.J. Lockamn was appointed resident pastor at Clintonville. St. Mary was then transferred to Clintonville. Bear Creek Corners (now the intersection of Highways 45 and 22) was, at the time, the beginning of a little rural community with a saloon, store and some houses. Present day Highway 45 was known as Shawano Road that went from Shawano to Oshkosh. The Northwestern Railway had not yet extended its tracks beyond Appleton. The first church, completed in 1868, served its purpose until about 1885 when the Lake Shore Railway built its line from Appleton to Antigo. The tracks were laid about a mile from the village (Bear Creek Corners). The village soon began to build up around the railroad. More Catholic families had arrived and the railway brought more people and soon a need for a larger church was realized. It was decided to build it near the railway station. This church was built what would be behind the present day church. The present church was completed in 1922.

The left newspaper photo shows all the St. Mary Parish buildings in 1910. The rectory in the foreground was destroyed by fire and replaced in 1937. The frame church was replaced in 1922 by the present church.  The partially hidden convent was razed in 2004. The school at the far right was replaced by the present school building in 1960. Bear Creek at this time was know as Welcome, Wisconsin. The right photo is the  school completed in 1907
In 1895, St. Mary Parish got its first resident priest. He was Father E. E. Leccia who was succeeded by Father Per van Heyster. (Click here to view a list of priest who have served the parish.)
During this time the mission of St. Catherine of Alexandria at Helena* was organized and was put in charge of the pastor of St. Mary until 1926 when the mission parish closed. The graves in the parish cemetery were exhumed and most were moved to St. Mary Cemetery.
*Helena is located in Dear Creek Township, Outagamie County.  Mrs. Helena Cunningham maintained a small post office. Since she was the postmistress, the place was referred to as Helena.
The first rectory was destroyed by fire in 1937. A new one was erected at a cost of $9,571.63. It is still standing next to the present church.
The School   In 1890, the first school was built under the direction of Father Arthur Belle who was serving the parish from Clintonville at the time. The school was a combination of two classrooms and living facilities for the nuns. The Franciscan Sisters in Alverno were the first nuns to serve the school. The school was temporary discontinued when Father Gregory Pellegin came to Bear Creek in 1901. In February 1906 the school burnt and classes were temporary held above a store and saloon.

The 1952 graduation class at St. Mary School.  Fr. H. A. Littel is pastor. Bishop Robert Morneau, now Auxilliary Bishop Emeritus of the Green Bay Diocese, is standing, first on the far left.

The nuns lived in a home of a parishioners A new school was built, along with a convent. The school was dedicated in January 1907. It served the parish until 1960 when the present school building was erected. The convent was razed in 2004. St. Mary School and St. Rose School combined in 2001. The school building was renovated into a social hall, office and meeting rooms.
In 1970, Bishop John B. Grellinger, Pastor, encouraged parishioners and worked with them to refinish the pews. The interior of the church was painted and reredos screen was erected on which the new statue of the risen Christ was hung. In 1973, the spire was added to the roof to enhance the outside appearance of the church.
In 1997, with Msgr. Mark Schommer as Pastor, a group of parishioners worked diligently for many long hours to again refinish the pews and furniture. A new floor was laid, carpeting installed the church was cleaned and other necessary repairs were completed. An interior decorator was hired to paint and preserve the eminent beauty of the church.

 

The above photos are of the 1997 renovation.


Priest Who Served St. Mary Parish

Fr. Chrysostm Verwyst 1865-1868
Fr. O. L. Lamagie 1868-1871
Fr. Clemens Duerr 1871-1873
Fr. Henry Anen 1874-1876
Fr. Arthur O'Connor 1876-?
Fr. Peter Lochman 1881-1883
Fr. John Seubert 1883-1887
Fr. Arthur Belle 1887-1892
Fr. Bernard Hugenroth 1893-1895
Fr. Erasnuse Leccia 1895-1901
Fr. G.J. Pelligrin 1906-1924
Fr. Alt 1924-1932
Fr. J. DeVries 1932-1942
Fr. D. S. Bunkleman 1942-1947
Fr. H. A. Littel 1947-1959
Fr. Watry (Administrator) 1959
Fr. R. J. Hogan 1959-1963
Fr. Leo J. Schmitt 1963-1965
Bishop John B. Grellinger 1965-1974
Fr. Joseph T. Shinners, S.S.J. 1974-1985
Fr. Dennis Worzalla 1985-1994
Msgr. Mark Schommer 1995-2002
Fr. Don Everts 2002-2006
Fr. Terry LaCombe 2006-2007

 

 

 


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History of St. Mary Parish