1887 First Church
Congregation of St. John the Baptist in Waunakee was established in 1874
with the blessing of the Most Reverend John Martin Henni, Archbishop of
Milwaukee. Reverend W. G. Miller supervised St. John the Baptist, which
was a mission of his parish, St. Mary of the Lake in Westport. At the
time, the congregation was composed of nineteen German Catholic families
from the Westport and Ashton/Springfield Corners areas* and Mass was
celebrated twice a month in Waunakee. These founding families treasured
their faith and sacrificed greatly in order to build a Catholic school
for their children's education. Money was scarce, but the parishioners
purchased a site and erected a one-room frame building which served as a
church and school.
1875, a separate school was built and staffed by lay teachers. Father
Miller remained pastor until September, 1880. He was succeeded by
Reverend Francis X. Etschmann, also pastor of St. Mary of the Lake.
Father Etschmann was in poor health, and found that shepherding both
congregations was too great a task for him. He resigned in the summer of
1881 and was succeeded by the newly ordained
Reverend Matthew M. Gerend.
Gerend began to celebrate Mass at St. John the Baptist weekly, in
addition to his duties as pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Parish. He was
able to obtain three sisters from the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du
Lac to staff the parish school. The parish built a convent for them in
the spring of 1882 at the cost of $725.
Over the years, the Congregation of St. John the Baptist grew rapidly
and it was soon evident that a larger church was needed. According to
parish records, the congregation approved the construction of a new
church at a meeting held January 6, 1885.
The foundation of the church was laid during the summer of 1886.
Records described the new building as "a stately edifice, built
entirely of quarry stone." It measured 42 x 100 feet and had a seating
capacity of 400 persons. It was well furnished throughout, having
hardwood pews, cathedral glass windows, a furnace and many other modern
conveniences. The building cost the parish approximately $15,000. The
congregation proudly moved into their new church in 1887.
Bernard A. Siepker was appointed the first resident pastor of St. John
the Baptist in 1889. The parish had grown to 85 families and the school
enrollment was at 100 students. Shortly after his arrival, the
parishioners built a rectory for Father Siepker at a cost of $2,700.
As the parish continued to grow, it became necessary to expand the
size of the church. New side wings were added in 1906 and the interior
was remodeled to include a new sanctuary, sacristies, and a choir loft.
The cost of this project was $9000.
C.J. Hausner served as pastor of St. John the Baptist from 1917 until
1935. Under his direction, a new convent was built in 1922. The interior
of the church was repainted and redecorated in honor of the parish's
Golden Jubilee celebration on June 4, 1924. Father Hausner was a leader
in promoting the observance of Good Friday. He urged businesses to close
from noon to 3:00 p.m., and had remarkable success in Madison and its
Michael J. Jacobs served as pastor from 1935 until July of 1946. He was
instrumental in making preparations for a new parish school. A building
fund was established and plans were presented to the congregation in
Reverend Nicholaus B. Schneider was transferred to Waunakee in July
1946, he decided to construct the new school across the street from the
existing building. Bishop William P. O'Connor laid the corner-stone
for the new eight-classroom school on September 26, 1948. The structure
was completed in 1949 at a cost of approximately $200,000.
was also in 1948 that St. John the Baptist received its first Assistant
Pastor, Reverend Benjamin J. Reddington, who served the parish until
1951. When Father Schneider was forced into retirement due to poor
health in 1952, he was succeeded by Reverend Raymond H. Ziegler. During
Father Ziegler's tenure, the school again grew crowded. Plans were
made for a large addition to that building. It was dedicated and blessed
by Bishop O'Connor on September 17, 1961. The cost to the parish was
Reverend Elmer J. Dietzel was appointed pastor of St. John the Baptist
in November 1969, the congregation had grown to over 1,000 families. In
anticipation of the parish's Centennial celebration, the interior of
the church was again repainted and redecorated. The stained glass
windows were repaired and refurbished.
A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1981 in honor of the Sisters
of St. Agnes and the 100 years of service they provided to St. John the
Baptist Parish and School.
A new parish center was constructed in 1987 under Father Dietzel's
direction. This addition, which cost $352,000, included a gathering
area, office space, living space for the priests, restrooms, and a
handicapped entrance. Bishop Cletus O'Donnell dedicated it on Sunday,
June 18, 1988.
St. John School Endowment Fund was established in 1989 to assist with
the every-increasing costs of operating our parish school. The most
recent renovation of the church interior began in 1992. Extensive work
was done, including repainting the walls, altars, statues, stations of
the cross, ceiling and pillar detailing, and rebronzing the tabernacle
and candlesticks. Above the altar, a stained glass ceiling light
depicting the Eye of God was discovered and restored. It is believed to
have been part of the 1906 alterations and was hidden by several layers
of plaster and canvas. A new sound system was installed, the radiators
and roof were replaced, and the entire building was rewired.
Bruce M. Hennington was appointed pastor when Father Dietzel was
transferred to Brodhead in 1994. During the years of his leadership, he
began the process of assessing space needs for our various parish
programs. St. John the Baptist was growing at an amazing rate, as was
the Village of Waunakee.
Reverend James L. Gunn was assigned to St. John the Baptist in 1999, he
continued to meet with the Facilities Planning Committee. The group
determined in early 2000, after much discussion with numerous boards and
committees of the parish, that additional space was necessary to meet
the demands of the rapidly growing congregation.
A feasibility study conducted by Kirby/Smith Associates showed that
the majority of the parishioners preferred that St. John the Baptist
remain a "campus," rather than build the new church on a greenfield
site. St. John the Baptist contracted with Groth Design Group to draw up
plans for a new church, expanded gathering space, offices, classrooms,
kitchen and dining room.
The parish and Village officials negotiated closing the 100 block of
East Third Street to make way for the new building. Infrastructure which
was located below the surface of the pavement needed to be relocated.
Numerous parcels of land on East Second and East Third Streets also
needed to be purchased by St. John the Baptist.
In the meantime, two Building a Community of Faith capital campaigns
were conducted from 2003-2006 and $8.5 million was pledged toward the
project. J.H. Findorff & Son was selected as our general contractor.
Reverend Eric Sternberg was named parochial vicar at St. John the
Baptist upon his ordination in May 2005. He and Monsignor Gunn continued
to work closely with the Facilities Planning Committee, the architect
and general contractor. On June 2, 2007 Bishop Robert C. Morlino blessed
the construction site for Phase I, which includes our new church nave
and narthex. The remaining rooms will be added to the east side of the
structure sometime in the future, as Phase II.
* Heming, Harry H., The Catholic Church in Wisconsin from the
Earliest Time to 1898, Catholic Historical Publishing Co., Milwaukee,
WI, © October 9, 1896.