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HISTORIC OCONTO COUNTY CHURCH HISTORIES


 ST. MICHAEL CATHOLIC CHURCH
SURING
Oconto County, Wisconsin
Taken from a rough draft written for the Cemetery 100th Anniversary Booklet - 1889 to 1989 - author unknown.
Contributed in memory of the Philippi and Holl ancestors who gave tirelessly, and with great pride, for over 100 years. Nothing was too little or too great to ask of them.

Michael's Congregation, Then Till Now

The early history of St. Michael's is tied to the Indian settlements which border our parish today. We begin our account with the Menoninee Tribe and their part in bringing the Catholic Faith to our area.

The Menominee Indians first met the white men when they lived on Bay De Noc in the Upper Peninsula on the banks of the Menominee river. The white men, French traders and trappers from Canada, found the In- Indians friendly and' adaptable to the white culture. Marriage between French Lien and Indian women gave the Indians an introduction to Christianity. This was their only contact with christianity until Father Claude Allouez, S.J., the first Catholic missionary to come to the area said the first Mass for them on May 8, 1670. He established a mission and placed it and the Tribe under the patronage of St. Michael, the Archangel. After this they were only occasionally visited by other missionaries among them Fr. Louis Andre, S.J. and Father Marquette S.J.

The Indians settled on a reservation at Lake Poygan, in 1843, where the Bishop of Detroit sent them a missionary, Fr. Florinond Bonduel. As the result of a new treaty in 1852 the Tribe moved to a reservation in Shawano County. Fr. Bonduel accompanied them and stayed with them at Keshena for a time. Later missionaries from different dioceses came to the reservation for religious services until 1880 when the Franciscan Fathers of St. Louis, Missouri were given the mission.

A church was erected at Little Oconto or South Branch in 1875 by the Indians and some skilled white carpenters.  After a few years this church was inadequate and in 1891 a second, larger church was built. The congregation was made up of 95 Menominee families and 18 white families in How and Breed townships in Oconto County.

The eighteen white families belonging to the congregation at South Branch held a meeting in l885 hoping to be able to buy land to build their own church. They bought two acres of land for a cemetery from Robert Grignon in the Town of How. Purchase price was $20. Land was also offered by John Simmons across the road for a church and schools but as it was not used for that purpose the land returned to the farm. A request was made of Bishop Krautbauer, Bishop of Green Bay, for a priest to come to their settlement, but it was not to be as priests were not available. The Bishop urged them to keep alive their desire for a cemetery and church so the men began to clear the land for the cemetery.  A 20 year old man, Henry Printz (also Prinz), remarked on the beauty of this burial place, not realizing that only a short time later he would be buried there after dying of pneumonia. The new cemetery was called St. Mary's Cemetery and later changed to St.Michael's. Care taker was Anton Otradovec.  Mr. Fred Stengel was Secretary and Treasurer of the Cemetery Board for 40 years and has been succeeded by Joseph Holl who also is the Sexton. There was hope of building the church near Hayes on the land near the cemetery, but since the Chicago & Northwestern Railway was building their line through what later became Suring rather than through Hayes, Suring seemed to be the place for the church.

Suring Named

The residents of the new settlement needed a name for their community. Joseph Suring, the man instrumental in the founding, submitted the name of Three Rivers because of the South Branch, north Branch and Peshtigo Brook combining into the Oconto River just north of Suring. The answer came back from the state saying "Suring" had been decided upon. In 1914 the residents asked the Circuit Court of Oconto County for incorporation into a village. Suring thus far had been a part of the township of How. The request was granted and Suring became a village; first election was held in Feb. 1915.

Congregation Formed

During the period around 1906, Rev. John Loerke of Laona came to Suring occasionally to say Mass. The place of worship at that time was the Liberty Hall,  building just west of the present bank location. Since there were 30 or more Catholic families here, Fr. Loerke discussed with Bishop Joseph Fox the possibility of incorporating the congregation. The Bishop agreed and the congregation was put under the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel. The papers of incorporation were signed on March 20, 1906 and recorded at the Registrar's office in Oconto on Apr.17, 1906. The first trustees of the parish were Robert Grignog Secretary and Valentine Dieringer, Treasurer. Other signers and witnesses were the Very Rev. Peter Lochmang Vicar General of the Green Bay Diocese, Jacob Holl and August Tradeau and members of the Congregation.

Plans were then made to find a suitable site to build a permanent church building. Two plots were finally agreed upon - the first, a 400 ft. x 260 ft. plot from Earnest Barkman for $350, bought July 2, l906. The second plot was purchased on Sept. 19, 1907 from Ernestine Giese for $1000.

St. John's Parish in Gillett became home for Fr. Otto Kolbe, its first resident pastors Feb. 79 1907, and St. Michael's in Suring became a mission of St. John's.

Church Is Built

The Liberty Hall in 1908 fell victim to fire and the congregation again needed to find a new place to worship. Their need was filled by the purchase of a building about one block east, a former drug store, which would be used until the completion of the permanent church.

Rev. Jarnes Schmitt succeeded Fr. Kolbe at Gillett on July 19, l908 and he led the construction of the new church at Suring. The plans were drawn by Fr. St. Louis of St. Patrick's Parish at Stiles. After the Bishop's approval the work of preparing the site and digging the foundation was begun in the summer of 1911. Much of thepreliminary work was done by volunteers. Lumber was purchased from Mikee Ehlinger, Sr. and M. Ehl inger, Jr. who also did much of the supervising of the construction. Brick was purchased from the Suring Brick and Tile Co. and the brick work was done by John Hougaard. The other construction was done mostly by local men, and materials were purchased locally. Skilled labor at that time was $2.00 per day. Deducation of the new church was on St. "Michael's Feast Day, Sept. 29, 1913 , however the cornerstone date is 1912. Altar boys for this occasion were Leon Hischke, Matt Otradovec and Steve Stix. Parish Secretary & Treasurer were Robert Grignon and John Stengell Sr. respectively.

Early parish records say the first baptisms were of Marie Eva Fredenburg and Lyle Bernard Grady on Mar.17, 1907.  The first marriage was that of John Foth and Catherine Ehlinger on July 1, 1907. The First Communion class on June 20, 1909 consisted of Frank Messard, George Fonferek, Clarence Nelson, Edward FIynn, Joseph Duaime,  Elizabeth Holl, Hedwig Vandenberg and Esther Heimerl. On Oct. 91 1911 Bishop Raymond Fox confirmed the following: Henry Mathias, Eugene Yoerres, Edward Holl, Clarence Nelson, George Nelson, Esther Heimerl, Virginia Duaime, Matt Otradovec,  George Fonferek, Peter Fonferek, Julia Wescott, George Ziereis, Elizabeth Holl, Anna Otradovec, Joe Ziereis, Henry Barry, Ed Messard, Wm. Fonferek, John Messard, Michael Mathys, Joseph Duaime, Louise Duaime,  Savalia Thielke, Herbert Fink, Clarence Stengel, Philip Wescott, Frank Messard, Teresa Vandenberg, Hedwig Vandenberg, Joseph Hoerres, Mabel Heimerl, Daniel Wescott and Lucy Crocker.

Father Schmitt left the parish on INov. 1, 1914 and was succeeded by Rev. Theodore Kolbe. His duty while here was to pay off the debt.

Nine years later, Nov. 21, 1923 he was succeeded by Rev. Roland Ahearn. During his stay of seven years many improvements were made in the new church; new stained glass windows were installed; new pews replaced the old ones which had been used in the temporary church; the church was painted and decorated and electric lights were installed.

During Fr. Weix's stay, which began on Sept. 16, 1930, a huge pro ject was undertaken on the way to making our church what it is today. The project was the diggiig out of a basement to provide a place for meetings and parish socials.

Rev. Richard Keller followed Father Weix on Nov. 6, 1940. In 1941 a new composition shingle roof replaced the old wood shingles. New Stations of the Cross which we still have were given by Dr. Gerald Flaherty in memory of his wife, Ruth Kispert. During all this time St. Michael's was still a mission of Gillett but it became apparent that the one Mass said here on a Sunday was not enough to accomodate parishioners and tourists. A resident pastor would solve that problem, but it wasn't until Rev. Abner Laque was released from military service and assigned as pastor that St. Michael's was no longer a mission. He came in Sept. 1946. St. Michael's had no rectory, so Father Laque lived in the upper flat of the Melvin Schuster residence. Ground was broken on June 26, 1947 for the new  rectory which was completed in March of 1946.

In Feb. 1949 Father Laque was transferred to Coleman. Father Alfred Loehr came to serve as temporary administrator until the arrival of Fr. Mathias Alt as pastor on July 19,1949. He remained four years and was followed by Rev. Samuel Engel who remained less than a year but was able to begin a Christmas greens project in which Christmas wreaths were made and shipped as far as Chicago and St. Paul.

Rr. Robert Hogan succeeded him, arriving here on March 15, 1954. Because of the increase in the number of tourists two Sunday Masses were not enough and Fr. Hogan sought help from the Franciscan Fathers from Pulaski during the summer months. Because of the State Safety Code it became necessary to add a side exit to the church. This was done in 1956. Also a double confessional was added and the interior of the church was painted and redecorated. The church steeple was repaired and steeple lights installed.

Rev. Leander Nickel arrived at St. Michaels on June 16, 1959 for a stay of 8 years. During this time a new roof deck was put on the church, the front steps of the church were enclosed, and a Mother's room was built.
 

In Sept. of 1967 Fr. Joseph Bestler came to assume the duties of Pastor of St. Michael's. He remained until Nov. of 1970 when Fr. Ken Frozena came, staying until April, 1971.

Fr. Adolph Dolezel came to us on June 23, 1971. He was here until May of 1979 when he died suddenly of a heart attack.

Fr. Frank Melchior arrived in June of 1979 and we are happy to have him as our present pastor.

St. Michael's Chapel

About the time of Fr. Nickel's arrival at St. Michael's more and more talk was heard about the need for a place of worship in the Mountain and Chute Lake area. Through the generosity of Carl Marsh a 3 acre piece of land with a highway frontage of 225 ft. was given to the Green Bay Diocese.

Although there was opposition from some in regard to building a chapel, it was decided to go ahead with the project. Construction was begun in the summer of 1966. The chapel is located in the Town of Armstrong in Oconto County at the intersection of Hwys. 64 & 32, 11 miles north of Suring and 5 miles south of Mountain.

Many people freely gave their time and help with painting, hauling and erecting the pews, cleaning and many other incidentals. These men were John Baumann, Elmer Duess, Joseph Giuliana, John Glass, Max Gruber, Len Jochman, Ed Novak, Melvin Schuster, John Shea, Harry Stanley and Henry Wichman.

Serving on the building committee to help plan the project were Walter Holl, Max Gruberg, Harold Schuster, Leo Thielke working together with the parish officers, Lawrence Rupiper, Treasurer, Matt Philippi, Secretary and Pastor, Fr. Nickel.

The altar, communion station, credence table and lectern were built by Peter Ehlinger. The altar and altar stone are a donation of the Wacker Families. The communion station was built to match the altar and was donated by the John Baumann Family. Above the altar is a large crucifix donated by the Harry Stanley Family. The holy water font was given by the Max Gruber Family. The confessionals were the donation of John Shea. A portable organ was also donated by Mrs. Margaret Holloway. Accessories for the altar were given by the Elmer Duess Family and cassocks by E.J. Michalski. A small statue of St. Michael, the Archangel, was given by Mark Hunstiger. The sign by the road was built and given by the George Wadzinski Family.

Through the generosity of all these donors and many others Mass could now be offered for the first time on July 37, 1966 by Pastor L. Nickel.  Altar boys for the Mass were Daniel Scully of Suring and Jerry Walters of Coleman. The servers for the second Mass on that day were Mike Bushman of Manitowoc and Tom Gerrits of Green Bay. In the years since the beginning improvements have been made. The floor has been carpeted; the pews have been upholstered; a bell has been placed in a bell tower. The bell was a donation of Mr. & Mrs. Herman Buseman in memory of her sister,Mrs. Evelyn Jansen. The tower was designed and built by Len Jochman assisted by Melvin Schuster. In recent years the driveway and yard have also been blacktopped. The chapel exterior has been painted in 1986. Even though at one ttme this new chapel was not considered necessary bi all the people it is now very evident that it was badly needed. Four Masses are said every weekend during the summer. The seating capacity is 300 and at times there is standing room only.

Religious Education

In the early days of the parish most of the catechism classes were conducted by the priests. However, the classes became too large to be one group so Mrs. Max Gruber offered to help by taking charge of the younger children. She filled this role for 21 years.

Saturday classes later were conducted by Mrs. Anna Boerschinger and Miss Teresa Holl along with Fr. Nickel. There also were high school classes on Wed. evenings. Summer school,  a two week's session, was conducted until l974 by the Franciscan Sisters of Manitowoc and was discontinued because of the inability of the nuns to have sufficient time for the classes. The quality of the CCD classes has been steadily improving, with volunteer teachers giving of their time and talents for training and for classes. In 1966 Sister Charlene Hockers became Director of Religious Education sharing her time with St. John's Parish at Gillett and St. Martin's at Cecil, as well as St. Michael's.

Parish Council

The first parish council of St. Michael's was organized on Feb. 14, 1971 during the pastorship of Fr. Bestler. Members on the first council were: Gerald Lonzo, Joe Smith, Mrs. John Helmrath, Jerry Valentine, Herman Kufner, Fred Stengel, Harvey Bahrke, Matt Philippi, Melvin Schuster, Robert Anderson, James Gerndt, Vincent Libassi, Phil Fischer, Len Jochman and Hillern Boersehinger.

With the arrival of Fr. Melchior the council adopted a constitution and became more active. At a meeting on July 31, 1979 the following people were elected: Lawrence Rupiper, Matt Philippi, George Voss, James McInness, Fred Stengel, Phil Fischer, Marty Golden, Harold Schuster, Joe Smith, Jr., Geri Foat, Teresa Helmrath.

Since the reorganization, the following people have been members: Blaine Fischer, Barbara Barken, Ronald Effenberger, Jay Tousey, Sam McMahon, Joe Smith, III, Mary Jazwiecki, Roger Otradovec, David Reise, Dolores Thielke, Corky Flynn, James Quandt, Evelyn Marcheske, Bette Czerwinski, Art Thielke, Helen Holl, Evelyn Brickner, Ted Wisniewski, Don Liebman, Joe Holl, Laverne Kufner, Evelyn School.  The following parish committees have been formed under the chairmanship of various council members: Buildings & Grounds, Worship, Administration, Social, Education, Finance, Altar Society and Cemetery.  The present Council consists of James Quandt, Roger Otradovec, Dolores Thielke, Helen Holl, Laverne Kufner, Eugene School,Jr., John Cramer, Ted Wisniewski, Joe Holl, Bette Czerwinski.

Parish Societies

St. Ann's Altar Society organized in 1907, considers all ladies of the parish to be members. The name has been changed to St. Michael's Altar Society, mainly to avoid confusion and problems of identification. The 1st president of the Society was Mrs. Anna Yakel. Over the years many ladies have held offices and many more have helped with the various functions of the society. The society now is affiliated with the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women whose aims are growth in the education of the Christian community, help for family life and family members, aid to community groups, and international charity programs. Besides caring for the altar the society serves funeral dinners, sponsors card parties, serves coffee and donuts after the Mass on the 4th Sunday of each month, helps with bingo games and the weekly Mass at the nursing home and sponsors the Childrens' Christmas Party. It is now the only active society of our parish. The present officers are Laverne Kufner, Pres., Patsy Gauthier, V. Pres., Marian Piepkorn, Secretary, and Pan Sleeter, Treasurer.

Other societies in the early history of St. Michael's were the Holy name Society, St. Michael's Dramatic Club and St, Michael Catholic Order of Foresters.

Parish Choir

The first parish choir goes way back to the days when priests first started coming to Suring to offer Mass in the Liberty Hall. The first organist was Mayme Stengel. The choir members were John Stengel, George Stengel. Margaret Calhoun, Jennie Ehlinger, Margaret Ehlinger and Lillian Stengel. A small reed organ was used from the early days until 1957 whenMr. and Mrs. Joseph Smith, Sr. donated a new Baldwin electric organ. Organists over the years have been Mayme Stengel, Mrs. A .J. Drengler, Mrs. A Bruckberger,Mrs. Peter Miller, Barbara Rupiper, Patrick Hohol and Robert Bauer.

Where Are We Now? Where Are We Going?

Our parish has a population of approximately 420 people from the very young to the elderly, with, about 145 children in 60 families, and about 100 senior citizens. Our oldest living member is John Lanser, 92 years; and we still have one of our original members in the person of Matt Otradovec.

Our enrollment in CCD classes each year is approximately 103 stu- dents with about 5 preschoolers, 65 in the grades and 35 high schoolers. This years  we had a class of 14 young people receiving the sacrement of Confirmation and three adult parishioners also. The Sacrament of Confirmation is administered every second year at St. Michael's. We have an average of 12-15 baptisms, 5 or 6 weddings, 7 or 6 funerals per year. Father is helped at Masses by a group of lectors, servers and communion distributors.


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