St. Charles Borromeo Marks 125th Anniversary

November 4, 2009
By Mark Gunderman
Reprinted by permission from the Chippewa Herald.
At one time, determining why people went to St.Charles Borromeo Church in Chippewa Falls was easy.
They were Germans - specifically Roman Catholic Germans who could hear the Gospel and Homily in their native tongue and talk with fellow parishioners easily.  A bit later, Catholics went to St. Charles because they lived in the West Hill section of Chippewa Falls.
Well, today, as the parish approaches its 125th anniversary celebration on Sunday, current pastor Rev.  William Felix has no illusions about keeping his flock together by appealing either to ethnicity or geography.
What remains, though, is the faith.  For some it's the faith of their upbringing or their ancestors, the faith of the original Apostles, or faith in the Eucharist.  The faith brings them together and holds them together at St. Charles.
And it really was not different 125 years ago, even if ethnicity or geography were factors in the formation of the parish.

Father Goldsmith
It's impossible to talk about the history of a Catholic church in Chippewa Falls without starting with Father Charles Francis Xavier Goldsmith.  The founder of what is today Notre Dame parish played a leading role in starting St. Charles, which took its patron saint's name from Goldsmith.
Felix noted that one of the church historical documents mentions giving thanks "to the English and French speaking Catholics who did not forget that the German speaking Catholics helped them."  Later the ethnic groups united to build another church, Holy Ghost, for the French.
"When I was little I remember the Irish went to Notre Dame, the French to Holy Ghost, and the Germans went to St. Charles,"  said Helen Zutter, a long time-parishioner.
"They could go to Confession, and that was important for them, because they could understand them," said Vi McMahan, parishioner and administrative assistant.
When a Catholic church was constructed, so was a school, usually immediately.
"A school, church rectory and convent were all built about the same time," said Felix.
Goldsmith brought in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who established a long tradition in area Catholic schools, including St. Charles.
That Catholic church played a major role in the formation of Chippewa Falls.  Edward Rutledge was one of the men making pledges for the construction of the church.  One of the founding families was that of a brewer namend Jacob Leinenkugel.  But besides those famous names, the church helped establish trends.
Chippewa Falls drew Catholic settlers and drew them in ethnic groups to the parts of town where their respective churches and schools were built.
Zutter had a brother baptized at St. Charles in 1910.  "I suspect it was because they built their house on the West Hill, and because they were German," she said of her family.
Golden age
Goldsmith also brought in the Hospital Sisters a year after St. Charles was founded.  Later, a hospital was constructed across the street from the church, where it thrived until moving in 1975.
The children at St. Charles School would help out the sisters at the hospital, and patients and staff would often come to Mass at the church.
It was in many ways a golden age of the Catholic churches in Chippewa Falls in the middle of the last century.  Felix said there would be three priests in every parish, plus a hospital chaplain too.  There were 16 sisters at the convent at St. Charles at one time, with more in convents at the other churches.
"There were more kids in the school here than there are in the whole (Catholic school) system today," said Felix.
Many vocations to the religious life were coming out of the school and parish of St. Charles.  Deacon Kinnick pursued his, and there have been a number of others becoming priests and sisters.
Zutter had four brothers and sisters follow religious vocations.  The children of Henry and Katherine (Schneider) Anderl included Rev. Msg. Steve Anderl (ordained 1936), Mother Mary Gabriel (vows 1952), Brother John Anderl (vows 1940) and Rev. Henry Anderl (ordained 1945).  A trust for the support of vocations has been set up in the family's honor.

Community of faith
After the ethnic lines became blurred the Catholic churches in town became regional, with the church fairly strict for a while on where Catholics were supposed to go to church based on where they lived.  The policy provided some balance and helped break up the ethnic characters of each.
"There are no visible ethnic roots anymore," Felix said.  Neither are there geographic restrictions.  St Charles is in competition with all the other Catholic churches - and for that matter, Protestant churches - for parishioners.
So why do more than a thousand people attend Mass at St. Charles every weekend?  It starts by asking why they are Catholic.
For some, the question may draw deep theological answers, or reasoning based on tradition.
"I wouldn't leave the Catholic Church because it is the one true church, the one instrituted by Jesus Christ," said Zutter.  "It's what holds us together."
"I think people come here on a regular basis because they love the authentic communion," said Kinnick, who teaches the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults classes.
"We can be authentically in communion with Christ, then with one another," said Kinnick.  "Then we can extend that communion to others.  I think it is the heart of Catholicism . . . We come to be fed, then we are equipped to give."
All Catholics feel such beliefs are at the core of their faith, even if many stay with the faith out of a sense of family tradition or personal identification.
St. Charles, though, is one of three Catholic churches in town that the faithful can choose to join.  The reasons for preferring one to another are varied.
For some it's the pastor.  Felix has been at St. Charles for 14 years, making him one of the longest-serving pastors, along with Rev. William Jablonski (1981-1995), Rev. Charles Wolf (1966-1980), Msg. William Daniels (1951-1966) and Rev. John Kaiser (1919-1941).
"When Father Kaiser died, the mayor asked that no business be conducted in town during the funeral," McMahan said.
Rev. Felix knows his personality alone is not what's packing them in on weekends.
"Sometimes it's the beauty of the church; sometimes it's the music," he said.  "What turns one person on at one parish turns another person off."
The common denominator, though, is the Mass itself.  The Catholic Mass celebrated at St. Charles is essentially the same, including the readings for the day, same as the ones celebrated at the Vatican.  Catholics feel at home at Mass, no matter what church they are in.

Celebration begins
That's one reason why there was a connection across the world at the start of the St. Charles 125th anniversary celebration.
A year ago today, on the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo, Felix was with a group of nine from the parish visiting the basilica in Milan, where the patron saint was archbishop, and where he is buried.
"That's where we kicked off the whole year," said Felix.  "We've been celebrating here for a year."
Meanwhile, back in Chippewa Falls, local parishioners shared the same Mass.
Even after the anniversary celebration is over, parish life will continue to thrive.  Their faith will sustain them.

St. Charles' anniversary celebration culminates Sunday, a date set as closest to today's Feast of St. Charles Borromeo.
The highlights:
- A Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrating the anniversary will be held at 11 a.m., with Bishop Jerome Listecki of the Diocese of La Crosse as the celebrant.
- The Mass will be followed by a free-will offering meal.  Parishioners were asked to indicate their attendance ahead of time.
- There will be a number of special guests, including some St. Charles alumni who pursued religious life, former pastors and other clergy.
- A quilt made by parishioner Jan Zutter and on display in the church entry will be raffled off.  The colors and shapes all have significance to the windows and art work in the church.
- The celebration will continue in December with a concert.  St. Charles is the home of the endowed Casper Chair of Sacred Music, which allows a director to be employed.  A December Casper Sacred Music Community Concert will highlight the chuch's anniversary.
Copyright 2009 Chippewa Valley Newspapers.