The St. Francis de Sales Congregation was first organized by Fr. Martin Kundig in the 1840’s. Fr. Kundig rode on horseback from Milwaukee to the various Catholic settlements in the area. During his monthly visits, Mass was offered in someone’s home with a simple table or wagon bed used as an altar.
The present church site was selected and a rectory was built in 1844. This rectory was first used by Fr. Thomas Morrissey as a way-station for trips between Milwaukee and the Janesville area. The first resident priest in Lake Geneva was Fr. Patrick McKernan, who was pastor from 1847 to 1849. In addition to St. Francis de Sales, he cared for the mission churches of Janesville, Whitewater, and Jefferson Prairie. Mass was held on the second floor of the rectory until 1852, when the first church was built.
The new church was a frame structure constructed southeast of the present building. Fr. Pendergast was pastor at the time. Costs were estimated to be $1500, with most of the materials and labor donated by parishioners. This first frame church served the growing parish well, providing a place of worship for nearly 50 years. It continued to be used as a parish hall and for storage until 1927 when it was destroyed during a wind storm.
Construction of the current church began in 1889 while Fr. Eugene Reilly was pastor. The building was completed in 1892 at a cost of about $18,000, and at the time of dedication, very little debt remained. The beautiful stained glass windows and original Stations of the Cross were donated by members of the congregation. The members of St. Francis de Sales continue to be thankful for the kind and generous assistance received throughout the years from the many visitors who come to Lake Geneva. P.J. Healy of today’s Lyon & Healy Harp’s Inc. was the donor of the beautiful pipe organ which graced many generations of worshippers.
The parish school was constructed and opened in September of 1952 and began with a student body of 80 children, instructed by nuns from the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Although much has changed, the parish school continues to thrive today as an active part of our parish community, with a student body of around 150, instructed by dedicated lay teachers and staff.
The church was remodeled and the new convent was attached in 1959, while Fr. Harold O’Connor was pastor. The St. Francis de Sales window was moved from the front of the church to the choir loft, the old high altar and side altars were removed, and new altars were created from imported marble. The renovation was overseen by the Studios of Potente, Inc. This renovation also included the addition of the basement space which made space for the first restrooms and the Bride’s Room.
The Parish Center was built and opened in 1994, creating space for offices for parish staff, meeting rooms, a music room, a new kitchen, and a parish hall. In addition, the new front entrance was completed in 1999, while Fr. Dave Braun was pastor. Since 2005, many improvements have been made to our facilities. Both the school and the church have received new roofs, the Parish Center and Church AC units have been replaced, the bulbs in the lighting fixtures have been updated, and the steeple bell has been fixed which now calls us to worship once more, as it did over 100 years ago. Msgr. David Malloy continues to lead us and care for this parish community.
Today, over 1300 families belong to St. Francis de Sales Parish. In addition to our Parish School, we are proud to offer Religious Education for students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We offer sacramental preparation for Baptisms, First Reconciliation, First Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage. Our Director of Religious Education works closely with our Director of Youth Ministry to care for the needs of the students in our parish. Our Director of Liturgy and Music coordinates and provides for the participation of all gathered at our liturgical celebrations, as well as directing the choir and working with the school students. Our Associate Pastor, Fr. Angel Anaya works with our growing Hispanic community, and in addition joins Msgr. David Malloy in ministering to the needs of the whole community. We are a diverse parish, all united and joined by our common faith heritage and prayer.
We are proud to have many active organizations within St. Francis de Sales, as well as many committees and ministries who reach out into our community and beyond. Even though each group has its own specific purpose, all have the same basic goal…to care for others in order to strengthen our parish.
Growth and change have had their effects on St. Francis de Sales, yet the forces of faith have meant that the parish is still defined as it was in 1842. St. Francis de Sales exists today as a community of faith, with its members striving to be the expression of Christ and his church in Lake Geneva.