By Kris Leonhardt
With Christmas just one week away, elves worked feverishly in preparing their holiday gifts. In Marshfield a different set of hardworking “elves” were preparing a much larger Christmas gift to the city and the Catholic residents that called it home. The year was 1916.
Preparations for the blessed gift had begun back in February of the same year when Father Hubert Stehling, an assistant priest, began organizational work with members of the St. John’s Parish. At that time the name of a second parish was chosen, and plans were made to construct a building that would house a church, school, auditorium, as well as a convent. The architecture of the church was to be among the finest in the state of Wisconsin.
While requesting subscriptions from the intended members, the ladies of the church set to work on organizing sales, suppers, and social events to raise the needed funds required for the mammoth endeavor.
Finally, enough funds had been raised to purchase the $1,500 lot, and in August the cornerstone was laid, marking the beginning of the nearly $50,000 project.
Located halfway between 11th and 12th Streets, the school/church/convent building was constructed in a position to leave enough space for future additions to the north of the planned structure.
As Christmas drew near, parish members worked in a frenzied manner to get the pews placed in the spacious auditorium and the venue decorated for its first church service.
In the evening hours of Christmas Day during a special midnight Mass, the “Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church” opened its doors to its parishioners now beaming with a holiday glow as well as a sense of accomplishment. The Mass, led by now head priest Stehling, was a symbol of a glorious new beginning, paired with Christ’s birth and the promise that it held.
In the ensuing years, the church/school would grow in both parish numbers and student enrollment. The parish would then construct a convent to fill the needs of the burgeoning student numbers.
Within 10 years the parish would find itself in great financial standing, having all of its debts paid off, a feat not only for its time but also by today’s standards.
Within five years the church would look to address the area to the north of the building that was left open during the original construction. The school had already spilled into the area originally intended for the convent and was now threatening to infringe on the area used by the church.
Once more, the parish was looking to build. Again, they looked to the parish for the needed funds. Timed with the dawn of the Great Depression, the needed finances were hard to find.
Eventually, the decreasing construction costs would dip to meet the rising funds gathered by the parish, and the cornerstone on a new Tudor Gothic church was laid in June of 1932.
The new church doors swung open to welcome parishioners that November, and the initial structure was then used solely as a school. Today, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church continues to welcome its parishioners in for weekly masses while the school has since been closed.