In the 1600s many long-suffering missionaries came to our country from France, and many died from the harsh conditions. They were the first seeds of our Catholic faith in this land we call Wisconsin. It is believed that the first Mass in Wisconsin was celebrated by Father Minnard in 1661 near what is now Ashland. Fathers Marquette, Joliet, and Mazzuchelli are some of the brave priests that are famous for their pioneering efforts in southern Wisconsin. The Diocese of Quebec was established in 1664 and included what is now Wisconsin. As more and more Catholics entered the area and settled, more dioceses were established, and in 1843 the Diocese of Milwaukee was formed with Bishop Henni as the first bishop.
The first European settlers arrived in Janesville in November, 1835. They built a log cabin across from the big rock at Monterey. That same year, they laid out a village that was called Rockport. This village included the area of St. Patrick's Church and the fourth ward park.
In 1844 there were only six Catholic families in Janesville. Fortified by the promise of a priest, they erected a chapel that year. The logs for the chapel were cut from the forest land on which St. Patrick’s Church now stands. There was a heavy forest of timber from Milwaukee Street to the Rock River on the south, comprising the current Fourth Ward. In March 1845 a priest came and celebrated Mass in the home of Patrick Ryan. Later, these families built a chapel on the grounds where St. Patrick's Church now stands. Some of the family names in this little parish were Connors, Ryan, and McCarthy, and Father Kernan became the first resident pastor in 1850.
In 1850, the log church was replaced by a brick one, and just two years later, it was enlarged. In 1863, near the end of the Civil War, the present church was built. Seven years later, a convent was added.
Over the one 155 years of its existence, St. Patrick’s faith community has grown from six catholic families to the current 780 families. From its Irish roots St. Patrick’s has grown to include a vibrant Hispanic ministry under the direction of Sr. Ana Luisa, OP from the Diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry. The Hispanic families gather together for Mass in Spanish on the third Sunday of the month with a visiting Spanish-speaking priest.
The ministries of the parish have multiplied through the years. Besides a Pre-K through eighth grade parochial school and religious education program, commissions have developed to respond to the needs in our faith community and to the needs of the larger Janesville community. These commissions include social concerns and social justice, family ministry, buildings and grounds maintenance, liturgy and music, financial management, vocations, and ministry to the elderly and homebound.
The faith of St. Patrick’s community is shown through the large number of vocations to the priesthood from the parish. Some of these were Fathers Walter Croak, Patrick Carroll, Frank Lillis, John G. Collins, Francis Sheridan, Eugene McCarthy, Ensign Hemming, Joseph Conway, Dennis Barrett, Charles F. McBride, and Reverend Father Neate, S. J., Msgr. Sylvester Luby, Henry Murphy, MM; Father W. Kenning, Francis Bier, Robert Bier, Franklin Kennedy, R.W. Mueller, (Lt. Col.) John F. Nolan, Chrysostom Nolan, O.F.M; Capt., John Cullen, Dennis Barry, Joseph Conley, Robert O’Hare, Wayne Turner, William Connell, Daniel Finnane, Mathias Mueller, O.P., Richard Lenarz, Stephen Umhoefer, John G. Stillmank, James Gunn, and Kevin Holmes.
We should also remember Brother Dutton, a world-renowned member of our parish, who dedicated his life to the lepers. He devoted forty-five years of his life to the lepers at Molokai. His mother was baptized at St. Patrick’s in 1884 and remained a fervent member of the parish all her life. Her son heard about the work of Father Damien in Molokai and decided to join him. He remained there until his death at the age of eighty-eight.
Some of the young women of our parish dedicated themselves to a life in a religious order were Carolyn Croft O.P., Mary Cora Finnane RSM, Mary Elizabeth Primo O.P., Mary Bernal Finley RSM, M. Janesene RSM, M. Annell Fuczia RSM, Ruth Mutchler RSM, Marie Denise Dwyer, and Esther Cribben R.C.
As St. Patrick’s moves forward, let us pray that we will long be remembered as a vibrant faith community and loving parish. We have a long history that is proof positive of our commitment to the Catholic faithful in the Janesville area. May we strive to continue to live the ideals of the Catholic faith as practiced in word and deed by those who have gone before us.
St Patrick Parish · 315 Cherry St., Janesville, WI 53548 · (608) 754-8193· Fax (608) 754-0357