Brief History of Sacred Heart Parish
(If you are interested in reading more about Sacred Heart Parish history, 150th Anniversary Books are available at the parish office. Cost: $10.00)
Sacred Heart Parish has been a vital part of the religious and educational community in Polonia. We remember those dedicated members of the clergy whose efforts have contributed so much in helping to make this an outstanding parish community. We remember the past generations whose generosity and cooperation organized and built Sacred Heart. We recognize the present parishioners who continue the tradition of caring and service. We anticipate further growth, both spiritual and educational, as today’s young people mature. They are our future!
The first settlers were German and Irish families who began their homesteading. In 1857 these settlers formed a parish and built a small 20x30 Catholic Church dedicated to St. Martin. Priests from St. Stevens Parish in Stevens Point traveled to and served this mission Parish.
In 1858 five Polish families settled into the area and were soon followed by many more. Some of these families attended St. Martin Church. Throughout the next years, the parish was never thoroughly unified and harmonious. Differences in language and custom made it soon apparent that separate foundations would effect a happier situation. This prompted the majority of Polish families to petition Rt. Rev. Henni Bishop of the Diocese of Milwaukee to establish a new parish.
Father Bonaventure Buczynski was sent to organize the congregation and build a new Polish church. The church was under the patronage of Saint Joseph and was located on a site east of St. Martin’s. This created a greater division between the Polish and German inhabitants.
Three saloons were built in the immediate vicinity of the new St. Joseph Church in Ellis. Often church services were interrupted due to the brawls and petty riots. Father Buczynski resigned. His successors were Father Francis Wenglikowski, Father S. Szczepankiewicz, Rev. Juszkiewica and Rev. J.J. Zawistowski, but they also failed. As a result the parish was placed under an interdict from 1868-1870.
Bishop Melcher sent newly ordained Father Joseph Dabrowski to the ill fated parish. In order to save the new parish, Father Dabrowski suggested moving the church away from the saloons.
Hannah McGreer, a wealthy farmer, sold land for relocating St. Joseph Church for the sum of $50. Within a few weeks the church was reassembled on its new site.
In the spring a small rectory was built alongside the church. On September 12, the church was solemnly blessed by Bishop Melcher. It was place under the patronage of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Father Dabrowski named this site “Polonia”. The Ellis tavern owners filed a lawsuit against Father Dabrowski and Bishop Melcher for conspiring to ruin their establishments. The case lost in the local courts and they appealed to the Supreme Court in Madison where the original decision was upheld.
Father Dabrowski was convinced that the future welfare of the people lay in their education and training by a religious community of their own nationality. He received permission from Bishop Melcher to send an appeal to the Felician Congregation in Cracow, Poland. A momentous decision was made-five sisters were sent on the Community's first missionary venture to America. On November 20th, the new convent was still under construction. Father Dabrowski moved the newly arrived sisters into the rectory and he moved to a small cabin which housed equipment. By December 3rd, the sisters converted two small rooms in the rectory for classroom space and 30 children were enrolled.
March 16th, a fire destroyed the rectory-convent. It was believed to have started from a defective flue. The fire destroyed all of the sisters’ possessions and the school was forced to close, but not for long. In April, the new convent was completed and blessed by Father Dabrowski on May 4th. It was placed under the patronage of Saint Francis. On May 18th, tragedy struck again. The newly built convent was destroyed by fire. The fire, spread by wind, also destroyed the church. The fire was suspected to be the work of an arsonist and believed to be related to the troubles at Polish Corners (Ellis). Rebuilding of the convent and the church began almost immediately. On September 29th, The Most Rev. F. X. Krautbauer, Bishop of Green Bay laid the cornerstone for the new stone church which was called the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. 1876 In September, Mother Mary Monica received official authorization from the Generalate to open a novitiate. The new stone convent was dedicated by Father Dabrowski on October 4th. It was placed under the patronage of Saint Claire.
The motherhouse and novitiate was moved from Polonia to a more central location in Detroit, Michigan. Saint Clare Convent in Polonia became an orphanage for homeless boys conducted by the sisters. (The sisters discontinued the orphanage in the '20's making it a come for their own aged Sisters.)
Father Dabrowski left Polonia to become chaplain for the Felician sisters in Detroit. The vacancy was filled by Father Ladislaus Grabowski who was from Brazil, South America.
Father Grabowski left the parish. For the next three years the Franciscan Fathers from Pulaski, Wisconsin took charge of the parish.
Father Thomas Grenbowski was appointed pastor. His greatest undertaking was the building of a new and larger brick Sacred Heart Church building.
The Sacred Heart congregation numbered about 4,000, making it one of the most important organizations in the Diocese of Green Bay. The school had an enrollment of 300. Catholic societies were the Rosary Society with 425 members, Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary for young women with 350 members, and the Society of the Guardian Angel for boys.
On July 26th, the Feast of St. Ann, the new and largest Sacred Heart Church was dedicated.
Father Grenbowski left the parish and moved to Pennsylvania. Father Theopil Malkowski was appointed pastor.
The orphanage burned to the ground and the orphans and Felician Sisters were left homeless. Within a year a new orphanage was built. The Pastor’s living quarters were very poor and once again fire destroyed the rectory and a new brick rectory was erected.
Father Malkowski was transferred to Antigo and the Very Rev. L.J. Pescinski took his place. Father Pescinski was instrumental in bringing electricity to Polonia.
Father Pescinski’s health was gradually failing and he died on April 2nd in the parish rectory. Father Leon Jankowski was appointed pastor.
On March 17th, lightning struck the church and it was destroyed by fire. This was the 5th disastrous fire in the parish within 50 years. By Christmas, the new church (as we know it today), was completed.
Father Jankowski died on September 27th after a long illness. The Rev. John B. Gruna was appointed to serve Sacred Heart Parish. He served for 5 years until his retirement.
In November, parish son Rev. Joseph Schulist was appointed pastor.
The construction of a new school began in June and was completed by December 15th. It opened January 3, 1962 with 196 pupils attending.
St. Martin Church in Ellis was closed and many of its parishioners joined Sacred Heart.
Father Joseph Schulist retired after serving Sacred Heart for 23 years. Father Thaddeus Szczberbicki was his replacement. He served for four years and then retired.
Father Herbert Zoromski was appointed pastor.
Father Zoromski was assigned as pastor of both Sacred Heart, Polonia and St. Mary’s, Custer
In January, Father Herb left Sacred Heart to return to his home parish in Galloway. In March, Father Aloysius “Al” Wozniak was appointed pastor. Father Al had previously served as a missionary in Bolivia.
Father Al Wozniak retired from active ministry. In July, Father Joseph Konopacky was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart. His responsibilities also included St. Adalbert Parish in Rosholt and St. Mary’s Parish in Custer. Newly ordained Father Steve Kachel became assistant pastor.
Father Konopacky left the parish. Father Marcin Mankowski, a native of Poland and a U.S. Citizen, took a leave of absence from the U.S. Military as Chaplain and was assigned to Sacred Heart and St. Adalbert parishes as pastor.
On July 1st, Father Mankowski left the parish and Father Gregory Michaud was
appointed as pastor of Sacred Heart. His responsibilities also include St. Adalbert parish in Rosholt and St. Mary’s parish in Torun.