History of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church
First baby was Stan - naturally
According to a parish history compiled in 1943, the first baby baptized in St. Stanislaus Church was a Helminski child. The baby was said to have been born Aug. 11, 1 918, the day the church was dedicated, ‘during the ringing of the bells at the blessing of the church and first Mass." Appropriately, he was christened Stanislaus.
That’s just one little nugget of parish history. Here are a few more:
The life of the early St. Stanislaus Parish was different in many respects from what it is today, as related in the Kiosk. The Kiosk was a quarterly parish newsletter published in the late 1970s under the direction of the Rev. Dennis Lynch, then a member of the pastoral team. Parishioner Stan Trebatoski contributed an article to the Kiosk, which said 50 percent of the early congregation members were farm families. They came to church in buggies and sleighs, and hitching posts lined Stanley Street.
That was an era when much land east and northeast of Stevens Point was agricultural. Now most of this acreage has gone out of farming and is woods or residential subdivisions.
Like almost everyone else, the farmers experienced hard times in the Depression of the 1930’s but Stan Trebatoski said they toughed it out by growing most of their own food. Parishioners in town did the same thing. Most of them had big gardens and chickens.
Some of the farmers, Stan wrote, built a shed on the west end of the church property in the congregation’s early days to shelter their horses. Material for the shed is said to have come from an old frame church at Ellis, unused since 1885. Parts of the old church were also used for kneelers and small moveable confessionals in St. Stanislaus Church.
Stan recalls when parishioners sat in assigned pews, and paid pew rent. Rent was highest for the front seats. It was less farther back, and still less in the choir loft. He believes some people paid their pew rent in wood, which was used along with coal to heat the church.
One janitor served both the church and the school, and he rang the bells three times a day. He was paid $50 a month, but that was at a time when some of the factory workers in town were making 25 cents an hour or less. "Everything is relative, I guess," said Stan.
Another feature of the good old days, as recalled by Stan, was lengthy sermons. They lasted 30 to 45 minutes. Sunday Masses were proportionately long, and the kneelers weren’t padded.
The Mass? In Latin, of course. That didn’t change until the 1960s, after Vatican II. Lots of old altar boys can still remember the Confiteor and other Mass prayers in Latin. Now they’re in English, and not all the altar boys are boys.
In the old days, operating funds were a concern, as they still are. Soon after the cornerstone ceremony in 1917, a fundraising picnic was held at Waterworks (Bukolt) Park. And Stan Trebatoski, writing in the Kiosk, recalled that fundraising ponczka parties used to be held on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. As an incentive to attend, $2.50 and $5 gold pieces were baked in a few of the ponczkas.
The Church’s birth in Stevens Point
When St. Stanislaus Church was founded, Catholic history in Stevens Point was only 66 years old.
The first known visit of a Catholic priest was in 1851, when the Catholic population of the entire county was said to number 25 families.
The first Mass of record in the community was celebrated in 1853 in a little Schoolhouse that stood in the 1000 block of Clark Street. The first local Catholic parish, St. Stephen, was founded in 1856. Then came St. Peter and St. Joseph Churches.
St. Peter Parish was established in 1876 for the city’s Polish people, most of who spoke little or no English. Poles were not new to the United States. There were, in fact, Poles among the Jamestown settlers in the early 1 600s. But the 2reat wave of Polish immigration came much later, and the first Polish settler in Portage County, Michael von Koziczkowski, arrived in 1857. So at the time St. Peter Church was founded, its members were newcomers to this country.
Early in the 20th century, the capacity of St. Peter Church became strained and Bishop Joseph Fox of Green Bay began thinking of another parish.
In 1916 the bishop of Green Bay was Paul P. Rhode, and he took steps to turn the ‘hypothetical parish into reality. The diocese bought the lots bounded by Fremont, Reserve, High and Stanley Streets for $5,000, and it was there that St. Stanislaus Church was built, starting in 1917.
Stanley Street used to be called Jordan Road, pronounced "Jurdan" by the old-timers. In 1933 it was renamed after St. Stanislaus Church, according to Malcolm Rosholt’s history, "Our County Our Story."
Muscle went into the church building
St. Stanislaus Church cost only about $32,000 to build in 1917-18.
You can credit the low cost to an uninflated dollar. You can also credit it to the fact that much volunteer labor went into the building, right from the start. Fieldstone for the foundation was deposited in central Wisconsin by the glacier, but farmer-parishioners hauled it to the church site and excavated the basement with teams and scrapers.
In the new church the altar was ornate, with many statues. It was similar to the one in the present day St. Peter Church.
The donors of the altar were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Trzebiatowski Sr. They were among many contributors of furnishings to the church. Mr. and Mrs. John J. Bukolt gave one church bell and Stephen Martenka gave another. At one point in the church’s history the bells stopped ringing and remained silent for about a decade. The bells were affixed to wooden wheels, which were considered unsafe. In 1978 the problem was corrected and the bells rang again.
The volunteering spirit didn’t end when the church was completed. Parishioner Stan Trebatoski said that when fall bazaars and dinners were held in the 1 920s, the food was donated - chickens, potatoes, milk, canned vegetables and the rest. The chickens were brought to the Peter Jurgella farm, where they were picked and cleaned.
Labor was donated, too. "Those women got together terrific dinners," Stan recalled. Mrs. Roman Suplicki was the first hostess.
The bazaar-dinner festivals, the ancestors of today’s Winter Carnival, used to net $4,000 or $5,000 for the congregation, "which was big money in those days," said Stan.
Craftwork was sold at the bazaars, and games of skill and chance were played, including bingo, still a money maker for the parish. In the early days they called it "the corn game,’ because corn kernels were used to keep track of the letters that had been called.
Would you have understood the bishop?
The Stevens Point Journal said Bishop Paul P. Rhode of Green Bay gave an eloquent address at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for St. Stanislaus Church on Aug. 8, 1917. Either the reporter was bilingual or he took it on faith, because the bishop spoke in Polish.
But there’s little doubt that most of the parishioners understood the address because St. Stanislaus was very much an ethnic parish. All, or nearly all, members of the parish were immigrants from Poland or their mined descendants.
St. Stanislaus Church was an offshoot of St. Peter Church, which likewise was a Polish congregation.
Parishioner Stan Trebatoski remembered a time when nuns taught catechism and Polish reading every Saturday, all day, during the school year in the church basement. "This was COD of the good old days," he wrote in the Kiosk, a par newsletter published in the late 1970s, "and I’m sure we had 100 or more children attending these classes every week."
Time changed. Catholics of many ethnic backgrounds moved into northeast Stevens Point, and some of them joined St. Stanislaus Parish. The process w. accelerated in 1967 when firm parish boundaries (which are no longer quite firm) were established here. Many Catholics who lived near St. Stan’s b belonged to another congregation now joined this parish.
People of Polish descent still make up the largest ethnic group at St. Stanislaus but no longer is the parish solidly Polish. Father Don Przybylski, the pastor, mad an off-the-cuff estimate that 50 percent of the parishioners, give or take a few points, are of Polish ancestry. The rest are from a mix of backgrounds.
Though only a small minority of parishioners speak Polish today, the language was slow to fade at St. Stan’s. John Klismet enrolled at St. Stanislaus School as fifth grader in 1938. By then, foreign languages were gradually dying throughout the United States, but John recalls that while he was in grade school there was sermon in the Polish language at one Mass every Sunday, which he could understand "a little bit."
Polish wasn’t emphasized in the school. John said that once a month or so there was a class in which Polish vocabulary was taught, but students weren’t drilled in conversational Polish.
Years ago confessions in Polish were common at St. Stan’s, but not today. Father Przybylski can understand the language fairly well but can’t speak it. And his immediate predecessor as pastor, Father Thomas Finucan, could neither speak it nor understand it. Few Irishmen can.
It took courage to build a parish
The Rev. Anton Malkowski had a lot to think about when he arrived in Stevens Point.
He was a pastor without a parish, and Polish, not English, was his native tongue. He was about to start up a congregation, St. Stanislaus, that faced major expenses, and his parishioners weren’t wealthy.
The year was 191 6. Despite his problems, the 36-year-old priest had a few things going for him. For one, virtually all the members of the future parish spoke Polish too, and they were a hard-working bunch willing to substitute their own labor when cash was lacking.
The priest and the parishioners were equal to the challenge, and St. Stanislaus Parish has survived for three-quarters of a century.
The founding pastor was born in Lublin, Poland, and came to the United States at the age of 18 to join his brother, Teofil, a priest. Here, he began his own studies for the priesthood and was ordained at the age of 24.
He was assigned to the Green Bay Diocese, of which Portage County was a part. (It was moved to the La Crosse Diocese in 1945.) He served briefly at St. Peter Church in Stevens Point, and then at churches in Junction City and Crivitz.
Father Malkowski came here as chaplain of St. Michael Hospital and tentative pastor of the soon-to-be St. Stanislaus Parish. The organization of the congregation began that fall, and in the spring of 1917 construction started on the church. The parish was also incorporated that year, so 1992 is the 75th anniversary of the congregation.
Division Street marked the boundary between St. Peter Church and the new congregation. Among the early officers of the parish were Frank Trzebiatowski Sr., Joseph Zagrzebski, Dominic Martenka and Adam Rajski. Bishop Rhode chose the church’s name, which honors St. Stanislaus Kostka of Poland, and architect Frank Spalenka of Stevens Point designed the Romanesque building. It was dedicated on Aug. 11,1918.
The parish didn’t have its own cemetery. It used St. Peter Cemetery on Old Wausau Road at first, and then, with St. Peter Parish, jointly used Guardian Angel Cemetery when it opened a few years later.
Father Malkowski wasn’t finished as a builder when the church was completed - the rectory, too, was constructed during his pastorate, in 1922.
The founding priest died of cancer at the age of only 44 on May 22,1924. As a monument he left the St. Stanislaus Church building, still in use three-quarters of a century after it was built. And his greater monument is a 3,500-member congregation that has kept the faith.
His successor, the Rev. Francis Nowak, was the next thing to a native of Stevens Point. He was born in Green Bay and came here with his parents when he was only 3 years old. He was an outstanding baseball player in his youth, but his goal in life was not sports. He studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1904 in Green Bay.
Father Nowak served parishes in the Green Bay Diocese, including 12 years at St. Adalbert’s, Rosholt, before coming to St. Stanislaus, where he was pastor until his sudden death on Nov. 6,1937.
An outstanding feature of his pastorate was the construction of the parish’s first school in 1925. On the building committee for the school project were Joseph Zagrzebski, Dominic Martenka, Robert E. Kostka Sr., Joseph Bemka, Michael Dziekan, Peter Jurgella, Stanley Brzezinski, Frank Hintz and Michael Omernik.
During Father Nowak’s pastorate, a pipe organ and stained glass windows were installed. Many of the windows, which cost about $200 each, bear the names of people who donated them some 60 years ago. According to a parish history compiled in 1933, the organ was bought in 1929 from the M. P. Moeller Co. of Hagerstown, Md., for $7,000. It is still in St. Stanislaus Church and is believed to be the largest church organ in Portage County. It was restored during the church renovation that began in the late 1980s. James Benzmiller, former St. Stan’s organist who worked on the restoration, estimated in 1991 that building an identical organ today would cost $360,000.
The last physical accomplishment of Father Nowak’s pastorate was construction of a convent, which wasn’t quite finished when he died. There’s a letter in the parish files from Bishop Rhode to Father Nowak, written in 1 937, saying the parish should spend $25,000, not $20,000, on the convent. "My reason for doing this is that I am firmly convinced that you cannot put up the right kind of building for $20,000 and accommodate the number of sisters for whom you must provide," he wrote. At that time, St. Stan’s School had 10 sisters. Now all the teachers are lay people, and in 1991 the convent building was leased to the Salvation Army.
The Rev. Leo Trojanowski followed Father Nowak in 1938 and served until his retirement in 1958. His pastorate was the longest in the parish’s history. He died in 1963.
Like Father Malkowski, Father Trojanowski (familiarly known as Father Troy) was a native of Poland. He was ordained in Louvain, Belgium, in 1911, and after coming to the United States he was a priest of the Green Bay Diocese. He was assigned to Niagara before coming to Stevens Point. The present St. Stanislaus School was built while Father Trojanowski was here.
Following Father Trojanowski, briefly, was Msgr. Joseph Cysewski, who was born in Arcadia and was ordained in 1923. He came here from Mosinee in June 1958 and left in June 1959 for Marathon City. He died in 1985.
A much longer pastorate was that of the Rev. Francis Piekarski. Born in Wilno, Minn., Father Piekarski was ordained in 1936 and came here from Thorp in 1959. At that time the church had a $280,000 debt and a roof that leaked. The roof was fixed and the debt paid off while he was pastor.
Also, in 1963 the church underwent its first major remodeling. The sanctuary and sacristy were enlarged and many other changes were made. One of them recognized a fashion that didn’t exist in 1917 - spike heels. Linoleum flooring that was resistant to the heels was laid. The altar was greatly changed and the old sanctuary furnishings were distributed to other churches in the area. Then in 1974 an addition was built to enclose the church’s front steps.
There was a time in the 1960s when it appeared that St. Stanislaus Congregation might build a new church somewhere else in Stevens Point. That was when the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was growing explosively and its facilities were surrounding the parish. There was even a site picked out for a new church, east of Green Avenue. But the university’s enrollment leveled off, thoughts of moving the parish were dropped, and St. Stan’s and UWSP now co-exist congenially.
Father Piekarski retired in 1975 but continued to serve the parish for a time as an associate pastor. He died in 1983.
After Father Piekarski came a team ministry. The administrator was the Rev. Vaughn Brockman, who grew up in in Pittsville. He was here from 1975 until 1981. The Rev. Dennis Lynch was another member of the team, coming in 1975 and leaving in 1982.
Succeeding Father Brockman was the Rev. J. Thomas Finucan, who was born in Eau Claire. Before coming here, he had been president of Viterbo College in La Crosse. The priest shortage brought an end to the team concept, and Father Finucan became the sole pastor.
St. Stanislaus Parish had as many as three priests during the 1970s but times were changing. Preparations were already being made to turn over more of the day-to-day responsibilities to parishioners, in anticipation of the growing priest shortage. It was during the team pastorate period that the groundwork was laid for today’s Parish Pastoral Council.
The Parish Council, three-fourths elected and one-fourth appointed, offers its advice and vision to the pastor. Reporting to the council are the Catholic Education, Family Life, Sacred Worship and Justice and Peace Committees. Another important parish body is the appointed Finance Council, which aids the pastor in budgeting, upkeep of building and grounds and financial support of the parish by members of the congregation.
As this is written, Father Brockman is pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Menomonie, and Father Lynch is pastor of St. Stephen Church in Stevens Point.
Father Finucan, who promoted parish education and the Stevens Point Area Catholic Schools while here, became superintendent of schools in the St. Paul (Minn.) Archdiocese after leaving Stevens Point, and then director of development at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
The Rev. Donald Przybylski followed Father Finucan in 1986. He grew up in Junction City, was ordained in 1974 and came to our parish from La Crosse. He is the first pastor of St. Stanislaus, at least in recent times, to serve the parish as its only priest.
Father Przybylski, like several of his predecessors, has been called upon to be a builder - or, more accurately, a rebuilder. The parish buildings were aging when he arrived, and the congregation owed the diocese a sizeable debt. The building needs of the church and school were numerous. Some were a matter of maintenance, such as organ, roof and window repair and the refinishing of pews. Others were designed to make the church more usable - air conditioning, carpeting and handicapped access, including an elevator.
Finally, changes were made to improve the worship atmosphere. The sanctuary was redesigned and projected forward, front pews were removed, chairs were located at the sides of the altar and a new crucifix was installed, bearing the original corpus.
The cost would have stunned those 1917 parishioners who built St. Stanislaus Church for $32,000. To pay for the improvements in the church and school and erase the debt, the parish held a fund drive with a goal of $600,000. About $750,000 was pledged, and on July 10, 1988, Bishop John Paul of La Crosse blessed the church’s altar and accepted the parish’s final debt payment.
So the giving spirit that characterized the first members of St. Stanislaus Parish hasn’t died. People still contribute generously. A few years ago, Robert Kostka Sr. and Jr. each gave $50,000 to the parish.
For a time after he came to St. Stanislaus Father Przybylski had an associate pastor, the Rev. Mark Pierce, but now he is the only priest in the parish. He does, however, have the assistance of a deacon, Hugh Walker. Hugh is a professor at UW-SP, a linguist and an expert in Chinese history. In 1983, he was one of the first group of 11 men ordained permanent deacons in the La Crosse Diocese.
Deacons don’t say Mass or hear confessions, but they perform baptisms, officiate at marriages and funerals, preach homilies and do other things once thought to be the sole province of a priest.
Lay members of the parish also perform many more functions than they once did. While the priest shortage can’t be called a blessing, it has involved many lay people in the service of the Church, and the end result may be a strengthening of the religion of those who, in times past, thought their only duty was to "pray, pay and obey."
Parishioners help keep it going
St. Stanislaus Congregation is 75 years old this year, and so is the parish Rosary Society.
Both were founded in 1917. The Rosary Society, the oldest parish organization, was formed for the purpose of helping furnish the sacristy.
Other organizations now in existence in the parish include the Holy Name Society; St. Elizabeth Court No. 879, National Catholic Society of Foresters; Boy Scout Troop 298; and the Woodland Girl Scouts.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There’s the Parish Pastoral Council, and under it are the:
And under these committees are the following sub-committees and functions:
Justice and Peace
And there’s the Parish Finance Council, under which is the Building and Grounds Committee.
Finally, there are the volunteers, who include religious education teachers/aides, office volunteers at the rectory, school and religious education office, Confirmation advisers, bingo workers, carpenters, builders and painters, bulletin stuffers, Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders, representatives to the Stevens Point Area Catholic Schools, deanery and diocese, babysitters and RCIA helpers.
The priests of St. Stanislaus
These are the priests who have served St. Stanislaus Parish from the beginning to the present. (The list of associate pastors in the early years of the parish, when it was part of the Green Bay Diocese, may be incomplete.)
Fathers Malkowski, Nowak, Trojanowski, Cysewski, Piekarski, Finucan & Przybylski served as pastors, and Father Brockman as administrator in a team ministry. Father Greatorex taught at Pacelli High School but lived at St. Stan’s rectory. The others were associate pastors.
Parishioners who chose religious life
Here’s a list, possibly incomplete, of men and women who have entered religious life from St. Stanislaus Congregation
The school - and memories of the nuns
It didn’t take many years after the parish’s founding for St. Stanislaus congregation to put up its own parochial school.
It was built in 1925, and as was the case with the church, much donated labor went into construction. The school was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, members of an order founded in Stevens Point. They lived in the school building at the outset. The first-year enrollment was 280, and the 13 members of the first graduating class received their diplomas in 1926.
The cornerstone of today’s St. Stanislaus School was laid in 1950. For a time, the enrollment in the 16-room building climbed past 500. Initially, there was a plan to build a gymnasium and auditorium alongside the school, but it was never carried out.
Like the other Catholic schools here, St. Stanislaus once housed the first eight grades, and later kindergarten as well. In 1987, the local Catholic schools were reorganized into a community-wide system, and St. Stan’s now has kindergarten through fifth grade. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders attend St. Peter’s Middle School.
For years, all the teachers in the parish school were nuns. But there have been no sisters here since the 1985-86 school years, said Principal Joyce Trebatoski, and all the teachers are lay people. In recent years the enrollment has held steady at about 250.
One parishioner with fond memories of the original St. Stanislaus School is John Klisrflet, a pupil here from 1938 to 1942. He recalls it as a square, two-story brick building in the middle of the present church parking lot. It had six classrooms on the first floor and six on the second. A house stood where the school playground equipment is located today.
Across High Street to the south of St. Stanislaus School was Central State Teachers College, now the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Immediately below High Street was the football field where college games were played.
During recess and noon hours, the city closed off High Street so St. Stan’s would have more playground space. The school also had the use of a big, privately owned field to the northwest, now occupied by university buildings.
"We’d all line up on the sidewalks and march into the school at recess and lunchtimes to a John Philip Sousa march, played from a record on a spring-wound Victrola," Klismet recalls. (Translation for the younger generation: ‘Victrola" is what people used to call a record-player.) Klismet got to run the Victrola as a seventh and eighth grader.
Each classroom in the school had a wide, room-length cloakroom. Floors were shiny maple, the trim around the windows and doors was dark-stained pine, and desks were mounted on wooden strips, spaced for proper alignment. The playground was crushed granite.
The first year he attended St. Stan’s, Klismet was in a combined fourth and fifth grade class. Each class had about 20 pupils, and the teacher, Sister Juliana, alternated between the two grades in half-hour segments. "Sister Juliana was in her very early 20s and a very jovial person," Klismet said. "She handled the kids just beautifully. She also taught the altar boys their Latin responses each noon hour. Since we brought our own lunches, we sat in the classroom and learned the prayers without being altar boys."
All students went to Mass every morning, marching in as a group. All the teachers were nuns, and they lived in the newly built convent just north of the church.
On First Fridays the school children went to Communion and brought egg sandwich breakfasts to eat after Mass. "Imagine eating a cold egg sandwich on homemade bread - all carried in a re-used brown bag that you took home," said Klismet.
Klismet’s sixth grade teacher was Sister Alberta, a bit more stern than Sister Juliana but "very good." In seventh grade the teacher was Sister Olympia, "a lot like Sister Juliana. We teased her about having red hair but we never knew if that was true." The sisters’ habits concealed their hair color.
Sister Anatolia, his eighth grade teacher and the principal, was "a very muscular nun. . . All she had to do was grab a misbehaving boy by the arm and squeeze. It was kind of like a submission hold in wrestling.
Klismet has good memories of the sisters who taught him. "Don’t believe all that stuff about nuns rapping knuckles with a wooden ruler," he said. "They were very dedicated ladies who liked good kids and made those who got out of line behave, just as you and I would - or should."
"There were the formative years for me at St. Stanislaus that are now appreciated more fully," Klismet said. "The four years at St. Stan’s School taught me how to become a better student in the following years. Thanks to the Sisters of St. Joseph and the parishioners who made this all possible.
"Hopefully many others share these views, and that today’s youngsters will someday feel the same, more than 50 years later."