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Glimpses: The History of St. Francis Borgia – the Newland Missionaries

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.

The Newland Missionaries (Continued from the June 9 bulletin article)

Our area’s early missionaries were based out of Milwaukee. Fr. Patrick O’Kelley was the first to arrive (1839) and under his direction St. Luke’s, Milwaukee’s first Catholic Church, was erected.

From there, O’Kelley and other priests sent from Detroit served the area settlers by horseback. In May 1842, Rev. Martin Kundig arrived from Detroit replacing O’Kelley as the pastor of St. Luke’s, later renaming it St. Peter’s. At the time, only six churches existed in the area that is presently Wisconsin – St. Gabriel’s (1839) Prairie du Chien and five smaller frame churches.

In 1839, most Catholic groups were of German, French or Irish decent. At that time in what is presently Cedarburg, Irish settlers, this area’s earliest Catholics, were served by “saddle bag” priests who offered Masses in homes.

Fr. Kundig felt this area was “ripe” for organizing churches and for the formation of new bishopric. His time here was intended to be temporary, but he eventually convinced his Bishop in Detroit to allow him to stay and Fr. Martin Kundig’s organization of churches in the area began.

Rev. Kundig campaigned to Catholic authorities for the creation of a new Milwaukee bishopric. To promote that goal, he issued a report detailing over 20 new Catholic parishes. One in particular was in Town-10 (Grafton) with 36 families – the German St. Francis Xavier group. The Irish community of Newland (Cedarburg) was not mentioned in that report.

Discussions advanced as to where a new area diocese might arise with Chicago, Prairie du Chien and Green Bay topping the list.

To promote Milwaukee as the new site, Fr. Kundig advanced a plan – a major Milwaukee city and Catholic demonstration held on St. Patrick’s Day in 1843. Well covered in newspapers, more than 3,000 Catholics joined the celebration. At that event, a new group marched displaying a “St. Francis Congregation – Cedarburg” banner.

Newspaper copies were forwarded to the Bishops, vicar-general and Church superiors with the desired result. The infant city of Milwaukee was given a Bishop and on November 28, 1843, Rev. Kundig’s friend, Rev. John Martin Henni was named the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Milwaukee.