Saving a last vestige of beloved church

Group’s effort to create a memorial to St. Mary’s Parish in Lake Church takes shape as three bells are removed from church that was closed after merger in 2012

MEMBERS OF THE Bells of St. Mary’s Committee who posed with one of the three bells at St. Mary’s Church, Lake Church, Saturday after they were taken down included (from left) Gerri Bichler, Leon Jacoby, Kevin Peiffer, Brenda Peiffer, Bob Hubing, Kevin Wester and Pat Wester. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The work of Bob Hubing and the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee started to come to fruition last Saturday morning.

The three bells in the shuttered church in Lake Church were taken down from their approximate 60-foot tall tower to be refurbished and then placed in a memorial at nearby St. Mary’s Cemetery. A school bell was also taken from the church’s basement where it had sat for years.

For Hubing, the moment the bells were lowered brought mixed emotions.

“It was kind of sad yet joyous. The closing of St. Mary’s Church was very sad for everybody, and I think this will help with the closure people need to finally accept that the fact that the church is closed,” he said.

The bells fate hung in the balance last year after Father Jim Weyker, who served as a missionary in Africa for 48 years, approached the church about sending the bells to the continent.

That struck an emotional chord among church members, many of whom were still hurting from the way the closing of St. Mary’s was handled.

Hubing formed the bells committee, which has since earned nonprofit status to raise money for the memorial.

A listening session last October at Holy Cross Chapel drew about 60 people who supported saving the bells rather than shipping them overseas. Many said it was the only connection they had to their former church, which merged to form Divine Savior Parish in 2012.

When St. Mary’s was closed in 2018, many members felt the church was not given appropriate reverence. The church building is for sale and the fear is it may be torn down.

The three bells are solid bronze and are estimated to be four feet, three feet and 26 inches in diameter, though now that they’re down exact measurements may be taken. The heaviest bell weighs about a ton, Hubing said.

They rang for daily Mass, funerals and the daily Angelus for more than 100 years, as well as to announce deaths. They were silenced in the mid-1980s when the parish converted to an electronic carillon system.

The school bell is smaller and weighs 100 to 150 pounds, Hubing said.

St. Mary’s Parish existed from 1848 to 2012, when Divine Savior Parish was formed.

Kevin Wester, who isn’t a parish member but has personal ties to St. Mary’s and has led four church closings, said they are “like a death” and that the church’s final Mass could have been better.

“I feel like perhaps it wasn’t done as respectfully or perhaps with enough adieu to help people through the grief process,” he said at the session.

Wester was living in Spain at the time and read about the Mass in Ozaukee Press.

“It killed me not to be there,” he said.

Early this year, it was decided the bells would be put in a memorial. Even Weyker supported of the idea.

“I just got this idea because I thought the bells were going to be discarded or not used. I wasn’t looking for bells,” he said. “As long as they are going to use them, this memorial seems to be a good idea.”

Hubing said the nonprofit group is working with an architect on a preliminary design for the memorial, which will require the approval of Divine Savior and the Lakeshore Cemetery Association.

Hubing said the memorial might include photos and a history of the church, along with donors’ names.

A capital campaign to pay for the memorial is expected to kick off late this summer.

Construction of the memorial is hoped to begin in spring.

The bells were taken to Lee Manufacturing Bell Co. of South Milwaukee, which had maintained them for decades. The bells will be cleaned and restored.

Divine Savior Parish paid for the bells’ removal which, Wester said, is “a sign of their partnership and collaboration in this important project.”


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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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