Nativity Catholic Cluster: Nativity of our Lord and St. Johns Parishes

About our Church

Nativity of Lord Parish was formed January 1, 2005, at which time The Congregation of the Immaculate Conception(St. Mary's) and St. Joseph's Congregation were legally joined to form the new corporation. Father John Gerritts in conjunction with the Diocese of Superior, Bishop Raphael M. Fliss blessed this merger and the new corporation was formed.

Priests who have served Nativity of our Lord Parish:

  • Fr. John Gerritts 2005
  • Fr. Thomas Thakadipuram 2012
  • Fr. Michael Mclain 2015
  • Fr. Randall Knauf 2016
  • Fr. Mike Tupa 2018
  • Fr. Maridas VallaBhaneni Sacramental Minister 2019
  • Fr. Christopher Kemp 2020

If you are interested in the history of the two founding parishes please read below.

History of St. Mary’s Parish (Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

The Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary’s) traces its beginnings to about the year 1883, when Fr. N. Buschle made occasional trips from Antigo to tend to the few Catholic families in this area. At that time, Oneida County was a part of the Diocese of Green Bay. Services were originally held in the home of Thomas McDermott, then later in the living room over the Joslyn and Chafee Livery Stable. Throughout the next five years, Fr. Takken came from Antigo and Fr. John Seubert and Fr. P. Lochman came from Clintonville to assist. In 1888 Fr. Nicholas July became the first pastor. Seven founding families purchased five lots on King and Conro Streets. Work began on a 60 x 48 frame church building which had a large sacristy that doubled for a time, as the priest’s residence. It was built of local lumber. The new congregation numbered about 50 families. Fr. July also tended the missions of Tomahawk, Parish, Harrison, Eagle River and Monico. A rectory was built in 1892 for $3000.00. Then, in poor health, Fr. July, resigned in February of 1894.

The next eleven years brought four different priests. They were Fr. A.A. Gagnon, Fr. Van Roosmale, Fr. B Hugenroth, Fr. P. Schmitz and Fr. n. Fr. Van Roosmalen became pastor in 1895 and was responsible for the construction of the Bell Tower along with a thirty foot addition and renovation of the current building. In 1896 Fr. B. Hugenroth came to serve Rhinelander from Clintonville. In 1899, Fr. Peter Schmitz was appointed the new pastor. The parish had grown to over 200 families and all debt on the construction had been paid along with installing new pews. But on Sunday morning, July 29, 1900, disaster struck. The church, now only twelve years old, burned to the ground. The fire was discovered at 4:00 a.m. and fire fighters were only able to save the parish house and adjacent properties. The insurance on the property was only $4000.00.

Even before the fire, plans had been formulated for the construction of a parochial school. The congregation went ahead with the project in spite of the loss of the church and the new school was dedicated on November 18, 1900. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, whose Motherhouse is in Manitowoc, Wisconsin became the teaching staff. The school included 286 pupils and six teachers. At the same time, the parish proceeded to build the church and in December 1900, the church was dedicated. This building would serve the parish for the next 61 years.

In 1905 the Diocese of Superior was established and Oneida County was taken from the Diocese of Green Bay and made a part of the new Diocese of Superior. Fr. Schmitz was transferred that same year and Fr. Francis Luettsschwager became pastor. He was followed briefly by Fr. Hoeflinger in 1907 and Fr. Stephen Leinfelder in July of 1907 who served until his death on November 10, 1914. During his administration, a cyclone damaged the church in 1910 and lightning struck the church, causing extensive damage in 1911.

After the death of Fr. Leinfelder, Fr. Edmund Savageau was appointed administrator, until Fr. Anthony Wuchter was appointed pastor in January, 1915. He remained about nine months and was followed by Fr. Walter Beaudette. He is remembered as Monsignor Beaudette, the late chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital. In 1917, he resigned to become an Army Chaplain in World War I and Fr. Didier administered the affairs of the parish until July of 1918 when Fr. Francis Bertram arrived to begin his twenty-eight years of service as pastor of St. Mary’s, the longest tenure of any priest in the history of the parish. During his tenure here, The Knights of Columbus Council was organized and in 1922, a home was purchased on Oneida Avenue as a convent for the Sisters. In 1938, we celebrated our parish Golden Jubilee with 450 families of the parish. In 1946, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron feast of the parish, Fr. Bertram suffered a stroke and died a few hours later. He was succeeded by Fr. Arthur Shank. The city of Rhinelander continued to grow, as did the parish.

A new parish, St. Joseph’s, was established in 1909 in Rhinelander to accommodate the Polish speaking people of the city. The time had arrived when the school building, erected in 1900 needed to be replaced with a more modern and larger structure. Despite ill health, Fr. Shank began and saw to completion in 1954, St. Mary’s Parochial School, which was modern and fireproof, and the spacious adjoining convent. The 481 pupils were taught by ten Sisters and two lay teachers. New boundaries were drawn for the parishes by the Diocese in 1955. The territorial parishes of Immaculate Conception/St. Mary’s and St. Joseph were established. Fr. Shank died September 19, 1959.

Fr. Joseph Himmelsbach arrived and in 1962 was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Superior along with retaining his duties as pastor of St. Mary’s. Then, on the afternoon of November 18, 1960, disaster struck the church again. St. Mary’s Church burned to the ground. Only the Blessed Sacrament and a few pieces of equipment in and near the sanctuary and a few altar vessels and vestments could be saved. By this time too, the rectory had become old and inadequate for the three priests now assigned to the parish. With consent of the Bishop and support of parishioners, plans began for the construction of a magnificent new church, rectory and multi-purpose building which would function as a gymnasium and auditorium, house the new parish library, lavatories and storage rooms, all interconnecting. The congregation turned to fireproof materials. Mass was held in the school cafeteria until the new church was complete. The strains of his many responsibilities proved to be too much for Fr. Himmelsbach, and on the evening of March 20, 1963, after a grueling drive home from Milwaukee, through very foul weather, he suffered a stroke and died at the wheel of his car just as he was driving into his garage. He had moved into the rectory, only one month before. That very day, he had signed the contract for the pews for the new church.

With the church about three-fourths completed and the multi-purpose building not yet started, Fr. Wilfred Fries was appointed on April 5, 1963. On June 14, 1964, the cornerstone and blessing of the new church took place by The Most Reverend George A. Hammes, Bishop of Superior. At that time there were 1000 parish families, 495 students in the school, 10 Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and three lay teachers. The new school held its first class on September 21, 1954.

In 1964, Fr. George Votruba became pastor. In 1969 St. Mary’s and St. Josephs combined schools to become Rhinelander Catholic Central. In 1984, Fr. James Jackson became pastor and at that time there were 1200 parish families and 495 pupils in the school. In 1992, Fr. Dennis Mullen became pastor. In 1996, Fr. Mike Hayden became pastor. In 2000, Fr. James Kinney became pastor.

In 2002, Fr. John Gerritts, became the only remaining priest in Rhinelander for Immaculate Conception/St. Mary’s and St. Joseph. The two parishes merged together to become Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Congregation on January 1, 2005. On December 30, 2011 after serving 16 years in Rhinelander, Fr. John Gerritts was reassigned to Hudson and Fr. Thomas Thakadipuram became pastor of Nativity of Our Lord and St. John Pelican Lake until 2015. In 2015, Fr. Mike McLain became Pastor until December of 2015. Fr. Randy Knauf became pastor in February of 2016.

In 2012, Nativity of Our Lord Parish includes 1719 households and 3832 individuals. We employ 10 Parish Office staff, four Deacons, and one pastor. Nativity Catholic School employs one lay administrator, 24 lay teachers, and 11 supportive staff.

Priests that have served at Immaculate Conception/St Mary’s

  1883 Fr. N. Buschle, Fr. Takken, Fr. JohnSeubert, and Fr. P Lochman made trips from Antigo and Clintonville to assist.  
1888 Fr. Nicholas July      1918 Fr. Francis Bertram
1894 Fr. A.A. Gagnon 1946 Fr. Arthur Shank
1895 Fr. Van Roosmalen 1959 Fr. Joseph Himmelsbach
1896 Fr. B Hugenroth 1963 Fr. Wilfred Fries
1899 Fr. Peter Schmitz 1964 Fr. George Votruba
1905 Fr. Francis Luettsschwager 1984 Fr. James Jackson
1907 Fr. Hoeflinger 1992 Fr. Dennis Mullen
1907 Fr. Stephen Leinfelder 1996 Fr. Mike Hayden
1914 Fr. Edmund Savageau-adminstrator 2000 Fr. James Kinney
1915 Fr. Anthony Wuchter 2002 Fr. John Gerritts
1915 Fr. Walter Beaudette  
1917 Fr. Didier-administrator  

The Mosaic

The mosaic which forms the background for the altar and sanctuary at St. Mary's Church is an abstract design representing our patroness, the Immaculate Conception, she who is Queen of the universe. In the lower portion of the mosaic you see a series of reclining crescents, or half moons. They represent the universe. Shooting through and above them is the stem of a lily, traditionally considered the purest and whitest of flowers. In the upper part of the mosaic the lily springs into glorious bloom amidst a dazzling sunburst of color, radiating in every direction. Mary is thus portrayed symbolically as God’s most beautiful creature, The Immaculate Conception. The lily appears to grow from the tabernacle.

The mosaic was designed by Felix Senger at the Conrad Schmitt Studios in Milwaukee. Mr. Senger was also responsible for the magnificent faceted jeweled windows throughout the church. His mosaics and windows can be seen in many European churches and several throughout the United States. After his mosaic design had been approved, a full size drawing of the mosaic was made. The setting of each stone was indicated along with the size and color of each. The drawing was shipped to the firm of August Wagner in West Berlin, Germany, where the mosaic was created. The stones are cut from round pieces of tesserae, found in Italy and Germany. They are six to eight inches in diameter and 1/2-3/4 inches in thickness. The color is solid throughout the tesserae and is forever permanent. The pieces are cut by hand with a hammer and chisel in the color and exact size on the full size drawing. The gold is 18 karat XX gold leaf.

The mosaic was shipped to us in sections about 13” x 16”. Like the pieces of a huge jig saw puzzle, the stones were glued face down to a special type of paper. Each section was numbered so that those who mounted the mosaic would know where each section fit together. They laid the pieces out on the sanctuary floor. Then, after spreading a special kind of plaster on the wall, they set each section into its proper place on the wall, pressing and rolling on the back side of the stones into the plaster. The paper to which the stones had been glued, face down, was now to the front. After allowing the plaster to set for several hours, the paper was washed off, the stones polished and the mosaic appeared in all its beauty. Because each polished stone and gold impregnated glass is a tiny mirror reflecting light, the mosaic changes appearance as you move about the church.

History of St. Joseph’s Parish

Prior to 1909, the Catholic residents of Rhinelander were served by only one church, St. Mary’s. The church was large enough to hold the parish community, but sermons in English could not be understood by all, especially to the large group of Polish speaking families that had settled here to help build the paper mill and work on farms. Consequently, in 1909, a dedicated group of 60 Polish families, received permission from the Most Rev. Augustyn Shinner, then Bishop of Superior, to form a second parish in Rhinelander. The group purchased the former Free Methodist Church for a price of $2825.00 so that they might gather and hear sermons preached in Polish, along with families from Sugar Camp and Jennings. The church was dedicated on October 25, 1909 followed by a Solemn High Mass celebrated by the Very Rev. Chris Schmidt. That same afternoon, Bishop Shinner officiated at the church’s first Confirmation. There were twelve members in the class.

The first Pastor of St. Joseph’s Church was the Rev. Raczaszek. Originally, the priest for the parish occupied residence quarters at the rear of the church, but in 1947, a house was purchased to use as a rectory allowing the church to expand into the former residence which almost doubled the seating capacity. Much of the remodeling was done by volunteer labor by the men of the parish. A new furnace and church organ were also installed at this time. The congregation began to include other community members and space was getting tight. The church flourished and grew both financially and in membership. In 1955 it became evident that the facilities had become inadequate and a new building was needed.

That year the Most Rev. Josheph Annabring, decreed a territorial division so that St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s Parishes would be of equal size and population. Membership would no longer be based on one’s nationality, but rather where one resided. The territorial division added a heavy burden to St. Joseph’s and plans were quickly made for the building of a new church and school. General Contractors for the project were Al Fredrich and Dave Murkowski, both of Rhinelander. The architect was Sylvester J. Stepnoski of Fond du Lac. The laying of the cornerstone took place on April 7, 1957 and the current church and school at 1360 N. Stevens Street became operational with over 200 students divided among 8 grades. Even though members of the church included people of many ethnic backgrounds, it was still know as the “Polish Church”. The students were taught mostly by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross whose Motherhouse is in Merrill, Wisconsin. In 1969, St. Joseph’s School merged with St. Mary’s School to form Rhinelander Catholic Central. By 1998 the Parish needed additional space so nearly one million dollars was raised to expand the building and renovate the existing space, adding what is now known as Kohlbeck Hall.

In 2002, Fr. John Gerritts became the only remaining priest serving St. Joseph's. After sixteen years, he was reassigned to Hudson, Wi. and Fr. Thomas Thakadipuram became pastor. In 2015 Fr. Michael McLain was assigned to Nativity of Our Lord and St. John in Pelican Lake. The people of St. John’s welcome all who wish to come and worship the Lord with them.

Priests that have served at St. Joseph’s Parish
  1909 Fr. P Raczaszek      1966 Fr. Joseph Kelchak  
1913 Fr. Frydrychowicz 1969 Fr. Richard Burzinski
1914 Fr. Walter Kolandyk 1981 Fr. Allen Bradley
1931 Fr. Anthony Borucki 1986 Fr. Dean Buttrick
1943 Fr. Anthony Tabencki 1996 Fr. John Gerritts
1947 Fr. Thaddeus Lesniak  
1959 Fr. Joseph Miller