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Glimpses: The history of St. Francis Borgia – Saddlebag Priests

As St. Francis Borgia Parish approaches its 175th anniversary (1844-2019), we will share some short articles about our congregation’s growth through the 1800s into the present. Thanks to Marty Moore for his diligent research for these articles.

Saddlebag Priests

Fr. Marquette and Jesuit missionaries established our earliest religious foundations when we were still French territory. Following 1800, and under United States control, a great wave of immigration flowed westward into this new Northwest Territory. New cities arose – Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and others. As the region grew, new French religious groups also arose, focused on missionary efforts.

Born in 1805 in Schwyz (now part of Switzerland), Martin Kundig grew up during a European revolution, with one brother and three sisters. Raised in a deeply religious home, the young acolyte lived for one year in the parish house, then considered as a seminary. Before moving, he spent four years in a Benedictine monastery. He later entered college in Lucerne in 1823. In 1824, John Martin Henni also entered college in Lucerne forming a lifelong friendship with Kundig, who also became an expert horseman, which served him well in later life.

With missionary work their mutual goal and also the goal of “The Society for the Propagation of Faith” in France, the men ultimately sailed to this country, arriving May 28, 1828. Henni and Kundig arrived by stage to St. Joseph College (later St. Joseph Seminary) in Bardstown, Kentucky. This was, coincidentally, the same seminary of our first “priest son,” Rev. John Hemlock.

Both Henni and Kundig took extra English training to become “thoroughly American.” Both were recalled to Cincinnati where they were ordained on Feb. 2, 1829 at St. Peter’s Cathedral, celebrating their first Masses on Feb. 8. On that day, Rev. Henni sang a German High Mass at 9 a.m. and Rev. Kundig sang an English Mass at 11 a.m.

Stop and consider the advances of the missionaries’ work over the following 50 years from 1829 to 1879, the year Rev Kundig died in Milwaukee. In this country, the results are noteworthy. In 1829, there were 500,000 Catholics. That figure nearly doubling every ten years. By 1879, the figure reached 7,500,000. Those early missionaries were responsible for dozens of new congregations in Wisconsin, including St. Francis Borgia. In the next article, we will look at Rev. Henni’s and Rev. Kundig’s “saddlebag” evangelism from Cincinnati into Wisconsin and Cedarburg.