The St. Francis de Sales Congregation was first organized by Fr. Martin Kundig in the 1842. 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.
St. Franics de Sales 1895
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. Summer resident P.J. Healy (of Lyon & Healy) 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. Instructed by dedicated lay teachers and staff, it currently serves a student body of over 170 students, from 3K through 8th grade.
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. This renovation also included the addition of the basement area 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. This year, in conjunction with celebrating 175 years as a parish, an extensive church renovation is in progress. Entitled Project 2017, Lighting the Way to the Future, our historical church building is being lovingly restored while brightening the interior. The neo-gothic architecture is being recreated where possible and at the same time incorporating other pieces of our parish history. Some features include new gothic style reredos and side shrines, new frames for our existing stations of the cross, new porcelain tile flooring, a new living waters baptismal font, new lighting, a beautiful new organ, a stunning new stained glass window over the altar, a new Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, historical statue restoration, gorgeous paint and stenciling, new custom entry doors, and the refinishing and repair of our original pews. In addition, many maintenance items were completed including structural work, roofing repair, new carpeting, electrical updates, and stained glass window cleaning and reinforcement. Our pastor, Bishop Schuerman, has guided the way throughout the planning and fundraising process to make this project become a reality.
Today, more than 1,000 families belong to St. Francis de Sales Parish. In addition to our Parish School, we are proud to offer Religious Education for students from 4-Year-Old 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 Catechists to care for the needs of the children and teens 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 various choirs and working with the school students. We have an active and growing Hispanic community, and offer a Spanish Mass on Sundays at 5 p.m., as well as Hispanic prayer groups throughout the week.
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 are wonderful examples of carrying out our mission statement: We, the Community of St. Francis de Sales Parish, seek to LIVE JESUS through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit by ministering to the needs of our brothers and sisters through Word, Worship, Education and Service.
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.