Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin

Wisconsin Genealogy

The Rise and Progress of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin order in the United States 1857-1907, by A Member of the Order, Published by Benziger Brothers, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1907

See also: St. Francis Seminary
See also: Holy Cross Catholic Church
See also: St. Elizabeth Parish and Hospice

This book goes into the history of the establishment of Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin order in the United States. I will not post this book in its entirety here, only the portions of interest and those that pertain to the Milwaukee area.

Two priests Haas and Frey set out to build a monastery for their studies. They came upon Wisconsin and chose Wisconsin as the place they were going to settle. They looked at several areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. Holy Hill near Hartford, a hill just east of Fond du Lac (Mount Calvary), and Milwaukee.

The hill just east of Fond du Lac was originaly dedicated to St. Nicholas under the spiritual direction of Father Rehrl. St. Nicholas became an attraction when a church choir was organized. A school was built and the area thrived. Rev. Casper Rehl departed for Europe in search for candidates for sisterhood. In his absense, there was no teacher for the school. Notre Dame in Milwaukee sent several sisters to the area and a small frame house was built between two log houses and Mount Carmel School was erected. In the same year, a new church was built and dedicated June 25, 1853. The parish records state: "The church formerly of St. Nicholas was dedicated June, 25, 1853, in honor of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and is now called Holy Calvary."

Oct. 15, 1856, Father Hass and Father Frey set out to visit the new church. It was then that their decision was made to build the monestary at Calvary. The church elevated on the hill was set apart from all disturbances of city life. They considered it prepared by nature for a home of retirement, of prayer and study, destined for something better than the little log-church that adorned it.

They were given permission to erect the monestary on August 20, 1857, however, the Province would not assume any risk of the undertaking.

The cornerstone was placed in 1857 and was built of brick.

An interesting story that appears in the book:

Father Bonaventure, an ear witness, states that every night the community was frightened by a strange novice around the furnace, a loud hammering and hissing and howling as of dogs; the Brothers watched, but could not detect the cause of the disturbance; two novices left the place, terrified; Mr. A. Flatten, the carpenter who lived in the community, beheld his door opening one evening while in bed; a man entered his room, approached his bed, walked over him, and disappeared. Such and similar annoyances occurred every night for six months. Father bona venture, thinking that evil spirits were haunting the place, questions them, but receives no answer; Father Francis, who had turned in the meantime, exorcises the houses, to no avail. The hill had formerly been used as a burying-ground for Indians, and later on for the whites (a golgotha in the true sense of the word); the remains had been removed, but some were not found at the time; and up to this day human bones are often disinterred when a grave is dug or a foundation for a building is excavated. Father Francis then ordered during the coming month all holy Masses, prayers, and god works be offered up for the repose of the souls of those who were buried there; at the end of the month quiet was again restored. We refrain from passing any judgement on these events and merely state that, whatever their cause, they have never been explained.

By 1864 the monestery expanded and a college was built.

The Conflagration of 1868
Mount Calvary Fond du Lac County Wisconsin

The east wing of the monastery had been completed in 1858, the south wing had been added as a college, the church had been built in 1861, and now enlarged by the addition of St. Francis chapel on the south, above which there was ample room for a library and a hall for entertainments.

On January 4th, 1868, the Fathers and clerics entered their new apartments of the west wing, of which the first and second story were ready. The work finished in the late fall of 1868.

December 26th, the community was awoken by the cry of Fire! The building was full of smoke; nobody knew its source. During the night the fire had stealthily crept along between the walls of the east wing, having originated in the sacristy, and it needed only a gust of wind to encircle the whole wing in a mass of flames. The students and their belongings were saved, but little could be rescued from the monastery. The alarm was sounded, and the good villagers joined the Religious and students in making heroic efforts to check the flames.

A calamity of this kind had not been anticipated, and no preparations had been made for such an emergency. The rescuers were able to save the tabernacle of the high alter, the ciorium with the Blessed Sacrament was carried to Mount Carmel chapel. At the other end of the church the women of the parish were ingeniously piling up bricks in front of the door that connected the church to the monastery, and now rightly claim the credit of having saved their church. At the southeastern extremity Peter Schrage was stationed with a crowd of students, and succeeded in saving the granary. The flames rapidly leaped over to the south wing, the walls of which soon tottered and fell; in the meantime they had engulfed the west wing, of which they left nothing but the bare walls.

At daybreak the hill presented a sad appearance; the nave of the church, the granary, the naked walls of the east and west wing and a mass of debris, were all that could be seen besides the disconsolate Capuchins, the unhappy possessors of a large debt, now deprived of their home and completed either to disband or begin anew.

As the order prospered they branched out to other areas of the country making establishments in New York, Keshena (Wis), and Milwaukee. Between 1876-1879 4 new missions were established including Holy Cross in Milwaukee.

See also: St. Francis Seminary
See also: Holy Cross Catholic Church
See also: St. Elizabeth Parish and Hospice