††† ebookChapter on St. Bernardís

††††††† ebookHistory of Watertown, Wisconsin


St. Bernard's Church holds Golden Jubilee


50 years ago the cornerstone was put in place.


Watertown Daily Times, 11 20 1923


Today the golden jubilee of St. Bernard's Church is being celebrated in Watertown and the day will close with a congregational dinner served in Turner Opera House followed by music and dancing.


The day also closes a 40 hour devotions service which began November 16th under the direction of the pastor, the Rev. William Mahoney, while committees of the congregation look after the social events planned for today and in which all members of the congregation took a lively interest.Great interest is being taken in the social mixer, which follows the elaborate dinner this evening and the occasion will long be remembered by those participating.


The history of the Catholic Church in what is now the city of Watertown antedates its settlement and Timothy Johnson, its founder and first settler.When Mr. Johnson came to the site of Watertown he found a wooden cross on the ground which has been painted black, a hint that missions among the Indians had been held at this point by French missionaries.


In the year 1840 the Rev. Father Morrissey of the diocese of Detroit made a missionary tour to Wisconsin and visited the little settlement at Watertown twice, being the first to say Mass in this vicinity.Later the Rev. M. Kundig of Detroit came to Milwaukee and took charge of the Watertown mission.


Toward the close of 1841 he called a meeting for the purpose of securing funds and aid to build a church and the present site was chosen and work began in 1844 and during the fall that year Mass was celebrated on a temporary altar and floor by the Rev. Father Healy.


The building when completed was 30 by 40 feet and 16 feet high.


In 1846 a parochial residence was erected on the church grounds which, with occasional improvements, served its purpose until 1883, when it was sold and removed.


On the departure of Father Healy the Rev. Fathers Tierney and Mullen followed, but were soon transferred to other fields.Then came the Rev. Joseph Smith, under whose administration matters went along quite smoothly with the people of Watertown until 1857 when it became necessary, owing to the rapidly increasing Catholic population, to enlarge the church.


An addition was therefore built equal in dimensions to the original structure, having galleries on both sides and at the end.The old ceiling was also removed and an arched one substituted, new pews replaced the rough benches formerly used, and the entire building was painted within and without.A bell tower was also elected, in which was placed the same bell which today summons the people to worship.


Still another step was taken, a parish school building was added to the church property.


All these improvements, including new churches at Crawfish, Clyman and Richwood were made during the administration of Father Smith who also engaged the Sisters of Charity to conduct the school.


Father Smith was succeeded by the Reverend Dr. Norris who died while in charge.His successor was the Rev. Father Pettit.In March 1871, St. Bernard's church and parish were placed in charge of the Fathers of the Holy Cross.The month preceding this act, a mission opened by the Very Reverend W. Corby, provincial of the congregation of the Holy Cross, was conducted very successfully by the Reverend P. P. Conney, C.S.C., with fathers Peter and John Lauth, C.S.S., as assistants.


At the close of the mission Father Cooney continued as pastor until 1872, when he was succeeded by Father Corby.


This energetic and devoted priest did much to further the interest of the church; a notable undertaking of his would be the establishment of the University of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.


Under his direction also the erection of the new church was begun, in the spring of 1873.This building had an exterior measurement of 152 by 76 feet, the height of the steeple being 213 feet and the length of the cross by which it is surmounted 14 feet.The interior dimensions are nave 96 by 69 feet, chancel 58 by 38 feet, gallery 69 by 47 feet, height of ceiling from floor 60 feet.The seating capacity is 1200 and estimated cost complete $100,000.


The cornerstone of St. Bernardís was hewn from the celebrated rock of Cashel, which was sent as a present to the people of Watertown by the Town Council of Cashel, Ireland.


This was laid and blessed by the Right Rev. Bishop Henni on October 13th, 1873.


The church was solemnly dedicated on November 12, 1876.The main altar was erected on April 16th, 1877, and soon after the pulpit, a beautiful piece of work, was built and an organ put up in the gallery.In July, 1877, Father Corby was appointed president of the University of Notre Dame, which office he had already held before coming to Watertown.


Father Colovin was then named pastor of St. Bernardís and remained in charge until February 1, 1880, when he was transferred to the Lead City in the Black Hills, Dakota.On his departure Father Cooney was appointed to the pastorate and held that position until the summer of 1881, when Father Colby return to Watertown and resumed charge.


Soon after his return the old pastoral residence was sold and removed, the erection of the present house being begun in October, 1883.In August, 1886, the Rev. Patrick William Condon, for some time previous assistant to Father Colby, assumed the pastorate, continuing to administer the same until the summer of 1895, when the Rev. J. M. Toohey was placed in charge.He was followed by the Reverend James Rogers in 1901, Rev. John S. Boland in 1908, Rev. J. Hennessey in 1909, Rev. W. H. Lavin in 1917, Rev. J. W. Piette in 1921 and the present pastor Reverend William Mahoney in 1921.


3 years in building


St Bernard's Church was three years in building.The foundation walls were seven feet deep and the structure rests on three foot walls of native rocks taken from the farms hear about.It was a big undertaking, although a tidy sum had been left by Father Petit.


The methods of building now in vogue were not in existence then.All the timbers, stone, and other material were hosted by horsepower, the cross to surmount the steeple was 14 feet in length and stands today defying the storms of half a century.


Albert Bushel, now dead, placed the cross in its socket and placed his arms about it while hundreds of people looked on.


The main plan of the church was designed by a man named Luby, a relative of the OíRourke family, who were among the early business and social life of Watertown.John Bonney, a prominent mechanic in those days, was the builder and worked under a salary.He built well and the edifice today is a standing memorial to his thorough and faithful service.


Toward the close there was some dissension and Mr. Bonney was not allowed to complete the spiral which was erected by a man named Strathern of Milwaukee.


The church was built under a subscription plan and there was no contract.Each one did his share in work or contributed money.It was estimated that the church would cost $100,000 and a mortgage was taken which in years gone by was discharged.


At the laying of the cornerstone, October 13th, 1873, thousands gathered from all over Wisconsin.Special trains were run from Milwaukee and other towns and the Sheridan guards, then a cracked military organization, camped across the street.


Bishop Henni of Milwaukee laid the cornerstone, assisted by clergyman from all over the northwest.It was a gala day and a fine atmosphere pervaded the surging crowds who thronged the streets adjacent to witness the ceremonies preparatory to the dedication of the finest church edifice in Wisconsin.


The cornerstone of the church with hewn from the celebrated Rock of Cashel in Ireland, a token of the esteem from the town council of Cashel to the many Irish immigrants who settled here.It was worked on by the late Thomas McCabe who had a stone cutting shop on West Main Street at the intersection of Warren Street.The chips were made into small crosses and found a ready sale.One of the stonecutters who work on the church is still alive, A. C. Krueger of this city.


Another stone cutter who worked on the church is Nicholas Murphy, still living in this city.




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