It was Sunday January 4, 1863. The Wisconsin winter had been mild to date. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation three days earlier on January 1, 1863. The Civil War was in its second year. The city of La Crosse was growing since its incorporation in 1856 and the completion of an east-west rail line in 1858. The Catholic population was increasing, as was the need to shepherd the flock. Saint Mary’s, the first Catholic parish and church in the La Crosse area, was outgrowing its simple log cabin church, and the diverse ethnicity of the parish had needs that were not being met. A new parish was organized and the original congregation divided so that the French and Irish remained at Saint Mary’s, and those of the German tongue formed a new parish: Saint Joseph’s. Two days later, January 6, 1863, the new congregation elected its trustees.
Catholicism Coming to Wisconsin
Catholicism was brought to Wisconsin initially by courageous Jesuit missionaries. Father René Ménard, S.J. (1604-1661) offered the first Mass on Wisconsin territory. He arrived in Montreal in 1640 and worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians until he was sent to the Wisconsin area by his superiors in 1661. He traveled the Great Lakes with fur traders and made it as far as Lake Superior when his canoe was destroyed by a falling tree. He spent the winter on Keweenaw Bay in a hut made of fir boughs. Once the spring thaw came, he set out to minister to a Huron tribe located near the headwaters of the Black River. He entered the Wisconsin River near Lac Vieux Desert and traveled the river with his guide L’Esperance until they reached the rapids. Father Ménard left the canoe to portage the rapids to the Black River near Merrille while L’Esperance ran the rapids. Father Ménard was never seen again.
Father Jean-Claude Allouez, S.J. (1620-1689) came to Canada in 1658 and was stationed at Three Rivers where he met Father Ménard. In 1665, he embarked on a similar route that Father Ménard had taken to Chequamegan Bay on the shores of Lake Superior. There he ministered to the Hurons, baptizing many. His exploration of the shores of Lake Superior were of historical value, but it was his ministry to the numerous Indian tribes and fur traders that earned him the title “the founder of Catholicity in the West.” He was appointed as the first vicar general of the United States by Monsigneur Laval, Bishop of Quebec. He died in a village on the Saint Joseph River in Michigan, August 27, 1869. In his obituary notice he was credited with more than 10,000 baptisms and instruction of more than 100,000 Indians of many different nations.
Father Jacques Marquette, S. J. (1636-1675) was Father Allouez’s replacement at La Pointe, WI, in 1669, where he carried on the evangelization begun by his predecessor. It was while working with the Illinois Indians that he learned of a great river that had not been explored by the white man. The Canadian governor appointed Marquette and Louis Joliet to explore the Mississippi River. They, with five other Frenchmen, left Mackinac in mid-May, 1673, and arrived on the Mississippi from the Wisconsin River one month later. Their detailed journey of the river is an important historical American document.
There were other Jesuit missionaries to follow, but the Jesuit ministry in Wisconsin closed in 1728. For the years that followed, missions were lost. There were few, if any, priests to minister to the needs of the faithful in Wisconsin.
On August 15, 1784, Father John Carroll was consecrated as Bishop of Baltimore, the first bishop of the United States. That same year, his friend, George Washington, was elected as first President of the United States. The diocese was huge, covering thousands of square miles. To solve the logistical problems of governance and travel, he established dioceses, the first of which was Bardstown, KY, in 1808. The second was Cincinnati in 1821, which would have significant importance and impact upon La Crosse. As divisions continued to be made, the La Crosse area was governed by eight different Episcopal Sees: Quebec, Canada, 1674; Baltimore, MD, 1791; Bardstown, KY, 1808; Cincinnati, OH, 1821; Detroit, MI, 1823; Vincennes, IN, 1834; Dubuque, IA, 1837; Milwaukee, WI, 1843. Bishop John Flaget, a Sulpician, was the bishop of Bardstown who consecrated Edward Fenwick, O.P., as bishop of Cincinnati. On February 3, 1829, Bishop Fenwick ordained John M. Henni and Martin Kundig. Both served in Wisconsin. Henni was the first Bishop of Milwaukee, and Kundig, his good friend and aide, dedicated Saint Joseph Cathedral, La Crosse, in Bishop Heiss’s absence while he attended Vatican I Council. The first bishop of Dubuque was Mathias Loras, S. J., a good friend and Latin tutor of Saint John Vianney. His vicar general, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, O. P., mapped out the Diocese of La Crosse in 1844.
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P. was born on November 4, 1806, in Milan, Italy, the son of a wealthy merchant, the youngest son of sixteen children, only seven of whom would survive to adulthood. Samuel was called to the Dominican Order of Preachers and entered the novitiate in 1823 at seventeen years of age. Dominican Edward Fenwick, bishop of Cincinnati, was in Rome seeking help for his newly created diocese. Mazzuchelli heard Fenwick’s plea for missionaries to America and in 1827, after being ordained a sub-deacon, asked permission to leave for an assignment in the mission of the United States. He continued his theological studies and was ordained a priest on September 5, 1830, by Bishop Fenwick in Cincinnati. Father Mazzuchelli’s first assignment was the farthest reaches of Bishop Fenwick’s diocese – the northwest territory. In particular he was to minister to those in Mackinac, Green Bay, and Sault Ste. Marie. This was the beginning of an extensive list of accomplished ministries for this young, talented, dedicated missionary priest to serve in what are now the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
Father Lucien Galtier was ordained by Bishop Mathias Loras on January 5, 1840, a year before Nathan Myrick established his trading post of La Crosse. Father Galtier’s first assignment as a missionary priest was to serve the area on both banks of the Mississippi from Dubuque north. In his evangelization he relied on his devotion to Saint Paul to aid him in his work, so, when he reached his northern most destination, he named it Saint Paul. Father Galtier was not particularly disposed to missionary work in uncharted areas and returned to his native France in 1848. However, he returned to America and became pastor of Saint Gabriel’s in Prairie du Chien in the early 1850s, making La Crosse one of his outreach missions. After offering Mass in La Crosse on Sunday May 29, 1853, in the home of James Gallagher, he requested a general meeting of the faithful to conduct business. The consequences of that meeting were to purchase land and erect a church building. Thus the beginnings of Saint Mary’s Church and parish were established. Father Galtier continued to minister to the congregation until Bishop Henni assigned Father William Tappert, a Redemptorist, as resident pastor in 1855. A year later, on August 24, 1856, Father Tappert dedicated and celebrated the first Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He remained pastor until 1860 when Father F. X. Etschmann became pastor for the next three years.
The Beginnings of the New Parish
The population of La Crosse and Saint Mary’s parish continued to grow, and at a general meeting of the parish on January 4, 1863, it was agreed that a second parish would be organized to serve the diverse nationalities. The following Tuesday, January 6, 1863, the trustees of the new parish, dedicated to Saint Joseph, were elected: Reverend C. J. Schraudenbach, President; John Joseph Wirtz, VP; Andrew Roth, Secretary; Hermann Poehling, Vice Secretary; Joseph Fay, Treasurer; Henry Breuer and John Koch, Collectors. The trustees chose the “Horten Lot” as a suitable location for the new church building and grounds. The cost was $1,500. (It should be noted that a great-grandson of Andrew Roth, Donald Roth, is a member of the Cathedral parish today, his family having continuous membership in the parish.)
The priority of the new congregation was not a church building but a school to educate their children. School records date back to 1864. Shortly after the school was built, the ground was broken for the new church and part of the foundation laid. Construction of the new church was halted due to lack of funds. The Civil War was taking its toll financially and on men for construction. The first Conscription Act of the War was in March of 1863, in which all men ages 20-45 were subject to the draft. This included the priests of Wisconsin as well. To avoid the draft, a fee of $300 could be paid, or one could provide a substitute. The Second Conscription Act of the War was passed in early 1864, which lowered the age to 18 years, and the fee was raised to $600. Liturgies for both parishes were held at Saint Mary’s Church until September 28, 1870, when the record of the first baptism at Saint Joseph’s was recorded – John Toeller, son of John Toeller and Elizabeth Mrsner.
At the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, Bishop John Martin Henni requested that his diocese (Milwaukee Diocese, est. 1843) be divided into three. The name of Father Michael Heiss was submitted for consideration as bishop of one of the new dioceses. His name had also been submitted to Rome when the Dubuque Diocese had been divided. On March 3, 1868, Pope Pius IX decreed that two new dioceses be established, that of Green Bay and La Crosse. In June of 1867, Father Heiss received a telegram that his nomination had been approved by the Holy See as bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse. However, it was not until July that the papers arrived from Rome. He was consecrated bishop on September 6, 1868, and installed on September 29 of that same year. The new diocese covered nearly half of the state of Wisconsin, 28,000 square miles. It was poor and underdeveloped. There was no money for churches, schools, education, nor even a stipend for Bishop Heiss. He was dependent on gifts for his livelihood the entire time that he was Bishop of La Crosse. His devoted secretary, Brother Bernard Gerleman, worked for Bishop Heiss his entire tenure without monetary compensation.
The modest wooden framed Saint Mary’s Church was not adequate for either growing congregation. It was decided to finish the con – struction of the church for Saint Joseph’s parish. Charles I. Ross, the architect for Saint Joseph’s church, had designed a large (62’ x 140’), Gothic, stone and brick structure. Curtis Miller was the building contractor. Bishop Heiss pledged $500; the congregation had raised $2,000; and $2,500 was given by the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith to resume construction of the church. In February, Bishop Heiss contracted for 650,000 bricks, and on May 30, 1869, Bishop Heiss laid the cornerstone. Construction continued to completion and dedication. However, it was not Bishop Heiss who dedicated the new church. Very Reverend Martin Kundig came from Milwaukee to dedicate the new cathedral on October 2, 1870.
Bishop Heiss was attending the first Vatican Council at that time. Among other scholarly presentations, he led the North American del – egation in defense of papal infallibility. Before returning to the States, Bishop Heiss traveled back to his native Bavaria, visiting friends, and seeking priests for his new diocese. While in Eichstadt, Germany, he visited the gymnasium where he had once been a student. This visit would have a profound influence on the diocese and the economy of La Crosse. A young seminarian, Willibald Hackner, eagerly accepted the invitation of Bishop Heiss to come to his diocese. His younger brother, Egid, would follow and establish an international company here in La Crosse, which produced ecclesiastical furniture and statuary.
From early 1877, into late 1878, Bishop Heiss built the bishop’s residence on the campus of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Today it is Sienna Hall.
In an effort to provide for his flock, Bishop Heiss invited order priests, in addition to diocesan clergy, to serve in the diocese. He was successful in obtaining Franciscans for the northern most area of the diocese; and for a brief period of time beginning in July, 1877, the Benedictine Fathers from Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, served at the Cathedral. Their leaving created dissatisfaction within the parish. Father Louis Lay was appointed the new rector and Father Willibald Hackner his assistant. Together they restored peace and unity in Saint Joseph’s parish. Father Paul Geyer succeeded Father Lay, and the first rectory was built in 1880 for $4,000.
The population of Saint Joseph’s continued to grow. In 1873, the congregation divided, with the Bohemian and Polish Catholics establishing Saint Wenceslaus Parish and Church, which remained active until 1974. That church building is now San Damiano Chapel on the campus of Viterbo University.
Bishop Heiss encouraged all the parishes to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a Mass of Thanksgiving. Bishop Heiss had applied for citizenship shortly after being named bishop of La Crosse. On July 4th, 1876 he wrote to his friend, Father Kleiner, that he was a full-fledged citizen and rode with two other priests in the July 4th parade.
On February 23, 1880, Bishop Heiss was named Coadjutor-Bishop of Milwaukee with the right of succession. The papal brief arrived in La Crosse on May 11, 1880. He assumed the position shortly after Easter in 1881. For the second time, the new bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse would leave the position of that of Saint Francis Seminary Rector in Milwaukee. Bishop Heiss consecrated Reverend Kilian Casper Flasch on August 24, 1881, as the second Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse.
In 1881, a young, energetic, charismatic Father Joseph B. Wiedmann (Ned Noelke’s great-uncle) was appointed rector, and the parish flourished. A new organ was purchased. Plans to build the bell tower were completed in 1883. Casper Miller was contracted to build the tower for $6,500, but additional improvements raised the cost to $9,000. Frank Mader, Sr., a brick maker who lived in Ebner Coulee, donated the bricks for the tower. He came to this area in 1853, and Mass was celebrated in a log cabin that he owned. The bell tower was completed in 1884, as was a new school building. The cost of the new two-story school building on South Sixth Street was $6,650. The three bells were made by the Buckeye Bell Foundry of Cincinnati, OH.
Once again Saint Joseph’s congregation formed new parishes. This time in 1887 the German-speaking Catholics of North La Crosse organized Saint John’s, while those on the southern reaches of the parish formed Saint Nicholas, later to be titled Holy Trinity.
The Silver Jubilee of Saint Joseph’s lasted two days, celebrating with liturgies and social activities. In commemoration of the joyous event, the congregation donated the high altar built by Egid Hackner Company. Father Wiedmann continued his zealous administration of Saint Joseph’s with quiet and prudence. He left the parish with major improvements in the physical plant as well as in the aesthetics after fourteen years.
Bishop Flasch died in office on August 3, 1891. Father James Schwebach, beloved and long-term pastor of Saint Mary’s Parish, La Crosse, was installed as third bishop of La Crosse on February 25, 1892. When welcomed, he responded: “This is my home, and these my people.”
Hailing in a New Century
Reverend G. Sluyter of Sauk City was appointed rector on October 27, 1895, and remained until his death on August 19, 1915. During his tenure many changes took place. In 1897, a new school was built. The exterior of the cathedral building was renovated as well as the old school building. Many of the bricks were crumbling.
In 1903, stained glass windows were installed in the Cathedral. They were produced by the Franz Mayer, Company, of Munich, and donated as memorials by parish families. In addition to the stained glass windows, new vestments and vessels were purchased.
In 1904, the entire interior was renovated with new fresco work, flooring, a new communion rail, pulpit, confessionals, stations, and electric wiring.
On May 3, 1905, the Diocese of Superior was created, cutting 15,000 square miles from the Diocese of La Crosse and part of the northwestern area of the Green Bay diocese.
The parish school had been tuition-free through the tradition of giving called “pew rent.” The cost of running the school in 1909 had increased, and to provide a free school to the children of the parish, pew rent had to be increased. A chart for pew rentals and seats was drawn and seating indicated. …Seats were priced. ‘All seats in the same row to be one price. Seats rented during the first quarter to be paid in full.’ (Bulletin: December 6, 1959) In January 1910, pew rent was $4. Pew rent gave way to the tradition of collection through giving in offertory envelopes.
At the close of the first fifty years there were many service and social organizations of the parish. Among them were the Men’s Choir, Altar Boy Society, Boys Choir, Girls Choir, Saint Joseph’s Liebesbund, Catholic Knights of Wisconsin, Caecilian Club, Saint Aloysius Young Men’s Society, Women’s Altar Society, Catholic Order of Foresters, and others.
During the first fifty years there were twelve rectors of the Cathedral, two of whom served twice as rectors. Some have been mentioned, but in order of service to the parish they were: Fathers C. J. Schraudenbach, F. X. Etschmann, M. M. Marco, Joseph Moder, Henry Kampschroer, F. X. Pfaller, Anselm Sauthner, O.S.B., Louis Lay, Paul Geyer, Joseph Uiker, Joseph B. Wiedmann, and Gerhard Sluyter. The assistants were Fathers Paul Rettenmaier, O.S.B, Stanislaus Preiser, O.S.B., Willibald Hackner, Willms, Peter Alfe, C. B. Weikmann, C. Frydrychowicz, Peter Schnitzer, John B. Hauck, Michael Hass, and Philip A. Franke. For the next twenty-five years, the Cathedral parish and school continued to grow. Father Sluyter died a couple of years after he had written the history of the parish for its golden jubilee in 1913. He had been rector, serving Saint Joseph’s, nearly twenty years.
Monsignor Peter Pape was appointed rector and assumed that position on September 2, 1915, a position that he held for 38 years. When the parish celebrated its diamond jubilee, he had witnessed growth in many areas. New organizations included divisions in the Holy Name Society, the National Council of Catholic Women, the Catholic Daughters of America, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD).
Additions were made to the rectory and sacristy, but no new construction was done. The parish hall had been used as a school until 1897. It was inadequate for parish functions. Renovation of that structure provided the parish with a large dining hall seating about 300 and a well-equipped kitchen.
Bishop James Schwebach died on June 6, 1921. Bishop Alexander J. McGavick was appointed the fourth bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse on November 21, 1921. William R. Griffin, the first auxiliary bishop for the diocese, was appointed on March 11, 1935. He was consecrated May 1, 1935, and came to La Crosse on May 28, 1935.
The Diamond Jubilee Era
As the parish closed out its 75th year in 1938, it was once again debtfree. Over the previous 25 years the parishioners had contributed to the general fund to maintain the routine expenses of the parish and paid out $60,000 for restorations and repair of buildings; $22,000 for the United Catholic Campaign; and $40,000 for Aquinas High School. One must remember that this time period (1913-1938) included World War I and the Great Depression.
During the late 1930’s Bishop McGavick wanted to renovate the Cathedral. He discussed his plans with the building committee. John Hackner was one of the members of that committee and had worked with Edward J. Schulte, supplying altars and statuary for churches that Schulte had designed. Schulte was contacted to study, draw plans, and make recommendations for renovation. However, Schulte “concluded that the poorly designed old pseudo-Gothic church was not worthy of renewal.” After more tense and animated discussions and recommendations, Bishop McGavick and Edward J. Schulte signed a contract for a new Cathedral on August 31, 1944. The proposed site was moved a block west to the corner of Main and Fifth Street. Bishop McGavick’s failing health, the rationing of materials during World War II, and lack of funding prevented the construction of the new cathedral at that time.
Monsignor Pape led the parish well into the next quarter of a century and through World War II. In the late fall of 1940 into the early spring of 1941, the rectory was nearly razed and rebuilt. However, since the rectory was heated by a public steam heat utility, the walls and foundation had to remain intact to preserve the use of the utility. Consequently, the rectory roof and porch were removed and the interior gutted. The interior was rebuilt, the roof line squared, and the limestone exterior was applied to the existing red brick walls of the original structure. The red bricks can still be seen when renovation and repair work are done today.
The parish and school continued to flourish.
With Bishop McGavick’s health failing and the death of Bishop Griffin on March 18, 1944, John P. Treacy was appointed CoadjutorBishop with the right of succession. He came to the diocese in November, 1945, and assumed full governance in 1946. This was the same year that the Diocese of Madison was established. Bishop McGavick died on August 25, 1948.
Bishop Treacy contracted Edward J. Schulte to build the Holy Cross Seminary, which was dedicated in 1951.
At the fall clergy conference in 1957, Bishop Treacy announced to his priests that a new cathedral would be built. He had signed the contract with Schulte on January 21, 1957. The estimated cost of the Cathedral was $1.60 per cubic foot; and with about 1,049,844 cubic feet, the total was $1,676,750. However, the actual cost was nearly twice that amount. Bishop Treacy announced the plan to build to the general congregation at Midnight Mass Christmas, 1957. He had hoped to begin construction immediately, so that the dedication would take place in October, 1960, to coincide with his fifteen-year anniversary as Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse. Once again, lack of funds delayed construction.
Monsignor Pape retired in 1953 but continued to work well into his retirement. He died on July 18, 1957, at 91 years of age. Father Louis J. Paquette was appointed rector on June 2, 1953, and served until June, 1959. Monsignor Joseph Kundinger was appointed rector that same month and led the parish through the emotional turmoil of the demolition of the Cathedral building that had stood for 89 years, the excitement of watching history being made, and the anticipation of a new Cathedral in which parishioners would celebrate the sacraments, worship, and socialize. Within six months after he was installed as rector, demolition of the old Cathedral took place, and ground was broken for the new. During this time, Saint Mary’s Church was the pro-Cathedral. As a parish it closed in 1959.
Beginning September 15, 1959, weekday Masses were held in the School Chapel located in the school basement, which was once the bowling alley. Sunday Masses were held in the Vocational School. Masses for Christmas, Easter, and other special feast days were celebrated at the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium.
The Razing of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral
Monsignor Kundinger was very sensitive to the feelings of his parishioners who had long-standing ties with the parish. In each of his bulletins beginning in September of 1959, he reported on construction progress and included historical notes. Unfortunately, there is not a complete record of those bulletins. However, the following are of some note and have not been included elsewhere.
From a Cornerstone to Dedication (1960-1962)
The Placing of the Reliquaries
The first Mass offered in the new Cathedral was on Wednesday, April 11, 1962. Bishop John P. Treacy consecrated the altar in the sanctuary and offered Mass at that altar. Simultaneously, Monsignor Kundinger consecrated the altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and offered Mass. It was at that time the relics were placed in the reliquaries for each altar. The relics that were in the old Cathedral were placed in the main altar. The consecrations of the altars were in preparation for Holy Week. Palm Sunday was the following Sunday, April, 15, 1962, and was the first liturgical celebration held for the general congregation with the ceremonial procession of choirs and ministers followed by the public carrying palms. The following Wednesday evening, Bishop Treacy presided at the Tenebrae Rites and offered the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning. Monsignor Joseph Kundinger offered the evening Mass in commemoration of the Lord’s Last Supper. Bishop Treacy presided at noon for Good Friday’s services. Easter was a truly joyous celebration. The Cathedral would go dark again for nearly a month.
In a letter to his people in anticipation of the Cathedral dedication, Bishop Treacy wrote in part: “The dedication of the new Cathedral will be the greatest act of public worship which the clergy and the laity of any diocese are ever privileged to offer to the Most High God.” The week-long celebration fulfilled this public act of worship such that La Crosse has never witnessed. The week was May 14-19, 1962.
A Week of Joyous Celebration
On Monday, May 14, 1962, Francis Cardinal Spellman officiated at the dedication rites, which began with the blessing of the Cathedral. As he processed around the building, the congregation chanted the Litany of the the Saints.
The blessing of the Cathedral was followed by the Mass of Dedication for which Bishop John P. Treacy was the celebrant. Native son, Monsignor John Paul, rector of the Holy Cross Seminary, was assistant priest. Deacon and sub-deacon for that Mass were Fathers Edmund Klimek and Francis Wavra. Monsignor James P. Finucan was master of ceremonies.
On Tuesday, the second Mass offered during the dedication week at the Cathedral was by Monsignor Joseph Kundinger for the children of the diocese. It was designated “La Crosse Day.” Later in the day, a second Pontifical High Mass was offered by Bishop George A. Hammes, native of La Crosse and former chancellor of the Diocese of La Crosse, followed by a civic dinner at the Sawyer Auditorium. On Wednesday and Thursday of that week, Solemn Pontifical Masses were offered for residents of the northern and southern reaches of the diocese.
On Friday, Albert Cardinal Meyer offered a Solemn Pontifical Mass for the 1,000+ religious sisters working in the diocese.
The music that accompanied the liturgies for the dedication week came from various choirs and singers throughout the diocese and represented selections from the history of liturgical music. A different choir sang each day. The Ordinary of the Mass is felt to be an expression of those present. As such, the musical selections chosen were from then-living Catholic composers and arranged for congregational participation. Many selections required both organs (Great and Antiphonal), brass ensembles, choirs, and congregation. The Seminary Choir, the Bishop Choristers, Aquinas choirs, and local composers were chosen for their works.
The week concluded with the Ordination of five seminarians: Ambrose Blenker, Norman Boneck, David Gilles, Charles Hiebl, Paul L. Servais.
Bishop Treacy closed out the dedication week after the Mass of Ordination, stating that he was “overflowing with joy.”
Notable Comments from Cardinal Cushing
While the following remarks were made by Richard Cardinal Cushing in his homily at the dedication Mass, they are timely reminders of our past, and our current responsibilities to our parish, our Cathedral, and to those who will follow us.
…There is not one window, one altar, one column, one piece of work in this Cathedral without immortalizing the generosity of someone who contributed to its building. Each sacred vessel, each statue, each thing of beauty or devotion in this Cathedral immortalizes someone’s faith, someone’s hope, someone’s charity, someone’s devotion to his beloved dead, someone’s prayer for his friends or kinsmen alive, someone’s gratitude to God for a blessing received or confident petition of a mercy desired. Every nail, every stone, every element bought or ornament paid for is someone’s act of adoration, reparation, petition, or thanksgiving. This Cathedral is the indestructible, monumental accumulation of the prayers, the hopes, the ideals, the acts of Faith… of all the people of the Diocese of La Crosse. It is the sanctuary in which a people speaks to God… .
Monsignor Kundinger died in 1966 in the rectory on his way to hear confessions.
Vatican II was convened by His Holiness Pope John XXIII on October 2, 1962. Bishop Treacy attended the fi rst two sessions but was too ill to attend the fi nal two sessions. He died in offi ce on October 11, 1964. Bishop Frederick W. Freking succeeded him as sixth bishop of the diocese. He was appointed on December 30, 1964, installed on February 24, 1965, and retired from active ministry May 10, 1983.
Monsignor John Paul, native son, was installed as rector shortly after Monsignor Kundinger’s death and served until 1977, when he was consecrated bishop, the second Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, on May 17, 1977. As rector he oversaw the 1969 construction of the current Cathedral school which is still in use today, serving pre-K – 2 in the consolidated Aquinas Catholic Schools system. The current school was built on the Holy Cross (1885-1960) site on Ferry Street.
Monsignor John Paul and Father J. Floyd Dwyer were co-rectors from 1974 until 1977.
Fathers John Malik and J. Floyd Dwyer were co-rectors from 1977-1982.
Monsignor Paul was consecrated a bishop on August 4, 1977, by Bishop Freking. When Bishop Freking was unable to make his ad limina visit to the Vatican, it was Bishop Paul who went instead. During that visit, Pope John Paul II announced that Bishop Paul would become the new ordinary of the Diocese of La Crosse and was installed December 5, 1983. He submitted his resignation when he was 75 years of age, but continued to administer the diocese until the new ordinary was announced.
Father Dwyer continued to serve as rector of the Cathedral parish until 1991, when he retired.
Father Robert J. Cook, another native son, was installed as rector upon Father Dwyer’s retirement. During his tenure he established the Cathedral Men’s Club, introduced the RCIA process to the Cathedral, commissioned the Common Cloth sculpture, and oversaw the planning and construction of the west-wing addition of the gathering area in the Cathedral building.
Bishop Raymond Burke was installed as eighth bishop of the diocese on February 22, 1995, and served until his appointment as the Archbishop of Saint Louis, MO, on December 2, 2003.
In August 2003, Father Michael J. Gorman became rector, when Father Robert J. Cook became pastor of Saint Mary’s in Viroqua.
Bishop Jerome Listecki was installed as the ninth bishop of the diocese on March 1, 2005, and served until he was appointed as Archbishop of Milwaukee on November 14, 2009.
Father Gorman served as rector for nearly eight years, supervising a major renovation of the choir loft and the installation of the new Noack organs. During his tenure, he and the parish were recognized by Catholic Charities, receiving the diocesan-wide In My Name Award. He fostered an increase in the parish outreach to the needy of the community and established the Front Door Ministry.
The tenth bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, William Patrick Callahan, O.F.M., Conv, was appointed on June 11, 2010 and was installed on August 11, 2010, the first Conventual Franciscan to be named a bishop in the United States.
On July 1, 2011, Father Charles Stoetzel was appointed rector of the Cathedral parish. The restoration of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was done with his encouragement and leadership.
On May 6, 2012, the Cathedral Parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the present cathedral and began a year long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the parish.
In 2020 Bishop William Patrick Callahan began the diocesan wide Christ Our Cornerstone Campaign to raise monies to begin the restoration of our current cathedral. The restoration will address the steeple, lighting, roof repair, floors, broken stained glass, cosmetic cleaning in the cathedral and rectory repairs.
Like those who have gone before us, we recognize our responsibility to care for what they have given us and for those who will come.