Historic St. Mary’s Lake Church to close

Divine Savior Parish decides to shutter Town of Belgium church, Little Kohler chapel due to increasing maintenance costs, shortage of Catholic priests

TWO NORTHERN OZAUKEE County churches are scheduled to close Sept. 1. Members of the congregation at Divine Savior Parish’s St. Mary’s Chapel in Little Kohler gathered at the church for a reunion celebration on Sunday, Aug. 19 (left photo). The last Mass at Divine Savior’s St. Mary’s Chapel in Lake Church (right photo) will be held Thursday, Aug. 30. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The final Mass at Divine Savior Parish’s St. Mary’s Chapel in Lake Church will be held Thursday, Aug. 30.

The parish’s chapels at Lake Church and Little Kohler will be shuttered after that, a victim of rising costs of maintaining seldom-used buildings and a priest shortage that has stretched resources.

“It’s sad,” said longtime parish member and former parish council member Pat Uselding. “I’m realistic about the issues. It’s a financial thing. You have to do what’s best for the future, and what’s best for father.

“The church to me is Jesus and the parishioners. It’s not the buildings. But the church is also memories, and those are so important to the people.”

For many people, the churches have been the center of their religious lives, noted Uselding, who with her husband Rich have maintained the exterior and interior of St. Mary’s Lake Church.

“The church, years ago, was the center of the community. You went to weddings and funerals there, met up with people there and connected with them,” she said. “We have a lot of members of the community who were baptized there, went to school there, were married there and attended Mass there.

“The Luxembourgers in the area have a strong connection to their heritage — they feel this is part of their heritage that’s going away.”

In recent years, St. Mary’s Chapel in Lake Church has been used for weddings and funerals, as well as Thursday Masses, while St. Mary’s in Little Kohler has been used for praying the rosary and saying the Stations of the Cross during Lent. The last Sunday Mass at Little Kohler was in 2012.

The Divine Savior Finance Council has been keeping a close eye on the cost of the buildings and recently recommended shuttering the two chapels, a recommendation the Pastoral Council accepted, Father Todd Budde said.

“As painful as it is when decisions need to be made that change the way we use our buildings, today’s reality requires such decisions to be made,” the parish said in its announcement about the closing.

Budde said, “The decision did not come without a great deal of thought and discussion, and came with a dedication to being fiscally responsible and realistic about the future of the Catholic church in light of the decreasing numbers of active Catholics and the growing priest shortage.

“We recognize that decisions such as these are difficult and can be very painful to those whose family histories include a strong connection to certain chapels.”

In recent years, the parish sold its rectories in Fredonia and Lake Church and the parish center in Lake Church and razed the school in Lake Church.

No decision has been made on what to do with the church buildings, Budde said.

Both churches have been landmarks in northern Ozaukee County since the late 1800s — St. Mary’s in Lake Church was built in 1885 and St. Mary’s in Little Kohler in 1868.

According to the parish, St. Mary’s in Little Kohler was established in 1846, when area Catholics began celebrating Mass in the home of Martin and Theresa Koller Sr. Three years later, the family donated land to erect a church, and in 1849 a simple log church dedicated to Mater Dolorosa, Our Mother of Sorrows, was built and dedicated.

The current church building was erected in 1868 with stone quarried a few miles north of the building. Oxen and mules brought stones to the site and moved them into place, and a bell from the original church was installed in the building.

The church was a hub of Catholic activity in the area, but eventually became a mission parish to St. Rose of Lima Church in Fredonia and they shared a pastor. The Little Kohler church’s name was formally changed to St. Mary’s in 1915.

A parsonage was built in 1879, and in 1886 the parish school was constructed. The School Sisters of St. Francis served the school until it closed in 1917.

In 1972, an addition to the church was built and in 1979 the interior was renovated.

St. Mary’s at Lake Church was formed in 1848, initially as a mission parish to Holy Cross and later to St.Mary’s in Port Washington. Traveling priests originally celebrated Mass in farmhouses and later in a small log church. A small stone church was built in 1865, but the steeple was hit by lightning and the building burned in 1884. The current church was then built and dedicated in 1885.

The interior of the church was renovated in 1984, and in 1987 stained glass figures were inserted in the church windows. Further renovations occured in 2003, including a handicapped ramp

The original parish school was built across the street in 1886, replaced with a brick building in 1888 and then replaced again in 1950. The school was closed after the 2008-09 year.

The rectory was built in 1891, and a convent in 1960. The convent was renovated into the parish center in 2000.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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