Glimpses: The history of St. Francis Borgia – A stone church rises

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.

 A stone church rises

John Schuette deeded four acres at the junction of Hamilton Road and Washington Street at the south end of Cedarburg. Rev. Hermon pursued the $2,470 needed to build the first rectory and expand the cemetery. A rectory and barn at the site allowed for supervising progress during church construction. In 1868, Rev. Hermon moved to Wabasha, Minnesota to care for his elderly father. He was replaced by Irish-born Rev. Hugh McMahon who advanced Hermon’s efforts, arranging financing and purchase of the four-acre site in town. By mid- 1869, the rectory was completed and the cemetery had a new entry road, plus an additional acre of land bringing it to three acres in size. By this time, the congregation had grown to 400 members.

Construction of the stone church began in summer of 1869 with the bell tower and steeple going up first, followed by church walls. By March 1870, the roof and interior were being finished. The “dedication stone” was set into the tower and two crosses set on the steeple and roof. By late summer, the church was nearly ready.

Fr. McMahon planned a traditional St Patrick’s Day procession from the Newland site to the new church site in town. A snowstorm threatened to stop that procession, but Fred Hilgen and his horse-drawn plow saved the day, allowing the procession to go on as planned.

Over the next 150 years, the stone church would experience fires, 20 pastors, seven remodels, three new organs, a new rectory (1920), a new school (1951), and other improvements. However, parishioners sought to preserve the unique and “sacred” feel the stone-church offered with attempts to “modernize” the interior sup-pressed, including one attempt to replace the original pews.

A large celebration was held in 1942 for the parish centenary, attended by several thousand locals.

By the early 1950s, with 600 parish families and a “baby-boom” developing, our first parish school opened. Rapid growth due to urban sprawl, coupled with a priest shortage would, however, lead to overcrowding issues at the stone church.