Sacred Heart Parish: A season of change
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – As summer turns to fall, members of Sacred Heart Church are seeing more than just the seasons change, the changes they will see include some departures, as well as some new additions, that will bring hope for the future of the parish.
“The school was built in 1916,” said Dennis Wolf, chair of the Sacred Heart Finance Council. “The people that built the school (watched as) attendance grew and grew. The school actually hosted the church and the living quarters of the nuns. So, as the parish grew, they found that they needed to have a church.”
The stand-alone church was built to the north of the school in 1936, and the previous church area in the school was turned into a basketball court. The parish continued to grow, and Wolf said that at one point the school had 450 students attending class there.
Over the years attendance fluctuated, but as society moved farther away for private schools, attendance waned.
“It got down to a very small amount to the point where the (Marshfield) Catholic schools consolidated,” Wolf recalled. “I believe the last class here was in 2002.”
The consolidation left Sacred Heart School vacant, used only for small religious classes and hosting funeral meals, as well as parish meetings.
When the Marshfield Clinic developed Youth Net, the building once again found a purpose in the community, as Sacred Heart leased the building out to the program.
“Their rent helped pay for our utilities,” explained Wolf.
After a 10-year relationship, Youth Net has found a new home in the enhanced Marshfield Clinic Health System YMCA facilities.
“As of the end of this month they are gone,” Wolf added.
“The school was beyond repair, so we decided it was more feasible to take it down and build a new hall,” stated Wolf.
The parish began to raise money through a fundraising program called, “Future Family Life.”
Through the program, the parish is raising $2.25 million. Wolf said that the money is needed for multiple purposes.
“The school hosts the furnace that heated the church, so underground the steam went into the church,” he said. “So, with the school going down, the church needed new furnaces; that was the first phase of this whole program. We are toward the end of putting in the furnaces.
“The next phase is to tear down the school.”
Wolf said that enough money has been raised to cover the new furnaces, as well as the demolition of the school; but, money would need to be raised for the creation of a new parish hall to house classrooms and host weddings and funerals.
In addition, the Diocese of La Crosse requires that 80 percent of the funds be collected before accepting bids on project and that the parish would want to have 100 percent in hand before construction started.
“The design of the building has to be set up yet,” Wolf stated. “We have a real good idea – just the floor sketch was 65 feet wide, 100 feet long – that encompasses classrooms, utility rooms, kitchen, and a seating capacity of 200 for lunch. We were hope to have enough money to make it look presentable, like the church, but today’s costs are escalated more than what it cost to build that church in a Gothic way. The appearance outside is going to be a concern, so we would like to have the monies up front to address that.
“We are right in the middle of having the asbestos sampled; looking at about a two-week stint to get the results back,” Wolf said. “October is when we would hope to have the asbestos removed, and November would be demolition.”
The parish is currently selling items still housed in the school. The monies raised will be donated toward the fundraising program. The public is invited to look through items the weekend of August 25 and 26. For more information on the sale or fundraising, contact Sacred Heart at 715-384-3213.
Keith Kitzhaber is a 1993 graduate of Greenwood High School. He attended the UW-Marshfield/Wood County and UW-Platteville before doing a one-year stint in traveling youth ministry. He returned to Platteville to finish his engineering degree. He then took a job at a firm in Madison, but the year in youth ministry had left an impression on him.
After two years at the Madison firm, Kitzhaber realized that he had found a purpose.
“I encountered several priests and religious that really caught my attention,” he said. “They were just a couple of years older than me. It was at that time that I began to realize that it was something I could do, and then it became something of a possibility instead of just a novelty or something that was foreign to me. Then, after finishing it up, working, I realized that the work was not as satisfying as when I had been doing in ministry. So, the experience of the ministry – realizing that was where I was called to be – led me to sell my stuff, go off to the seminary, get the philosophy degree and theology degree, and then begin the priesthood. I started that 10 years ago.”
Kitzhauber has completed short stints with Catholic parishes around Wisconsin, as well as spending two years in ministry in Bolivia, but he expects his term in Marshfield to last a minimum of six years.
“I am near family here,” he said. “Being from Greenwood, I have my brother that lives in town. He is just starting a new job. He was the youth minister at St. John’s, but now he is the assistant director for the Office of Marriage & Family Life for the (La Crosse Diocese.) He has taken a promotion. Most of his work will be done from home – he has a home office…”
Kitzhaber said that he is looking forward to his new assignment, bringing a fresh perspective, while welcoming new and returning parishioners.
“There is talk about all of this stuff – the church is redefining itself – some places are shrinking and some places are growing, but I see a lot of potential here for growth.”