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Glimpses: The History of St. Francis Borgia – Ethnic Parishes

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.

Ethnic Parishes

Early European immigration and the 1683 founding of Pennsylvania’s predominantly Catholic “Germantown” community blossomed spreading the faith to the north and west.

The French represent the earliest Europeans in Wisconsin. Fr. Rene Menard said the first Mass in Wisconsin, and Fr. Allouez built the first church in Ashland. The French converted Native Americans, followed by German immigrants, who bolstered Wisconsin’s Catholic population. By 1900, nearly 70 percent of Milwaukeeans were of German descent.

From 1840 to 1860, 4.5 million Irish immigrated to this country with most of them settling in Wisconsin. As German immigrants arrived between 1860 and 1900, the Irish population shifted out of Wisconsin. After 1900, southern and eastern European immigrants from Italy and Slavic countries arrived.

Each ethnic group established their own congregation staffed by members who spoke their native tongue and under-stood their native traditions. It was common to find Catholic churches with sermons in German, French, Polish, Italian and the languages of Native Americans.

St. Francis Borgia was served by pastors reflecting their own ethnic heritages. Examples from recent years: Fr. Thomas George Gajdos was proudly of Ukrainian ancestry and was pastor of St. Michael Ukrainian Parish in Milwaukee prior to be appointed to St. Francis Borgia. He offered Ukrainian Rite Masses until 1991 and was elevated by the Ukrainian Rite Patriarch to the title of “Very Reverend Canon” (“Rev Monsignor”). Similarly, Fr. Louis Luljak, proud of his Slovakian heritage, offered Masses in Slovak around the country and globally while visiting his homeland.

We can find a distinct and interesting beauty in experiencing different worship styles with an open mind.