History

The first Catholics in Jefferson arrived here about the year 1842.  They were, for the most part, farmers who settled east of town. In the beginning they held their infrequent religious services in private homes. Through the efforts of the Dominican Missionary, Fr. Maximillian Gaertner and their own zeal, a log church was erected in 1846. This church was situated on the site of the present St. Lawrence Church.

As the population of Jefferson grew, so also did the number of Catholics.  They found the task of attending church to be strenuous, especially during inclement weather.  One of the villagers proposed that a church be built halfway between the town and "The Hill" as St. Lawrence church was often called.  The proposal did not find favor, especially with the early settlers.

A short time after their proposal was rejected; a meeting of villagers took place on November 7th, 1858, in the blacksmith shop of Donatus Beischel. The purpose of this meeting was to consider the founding of a Catholic congregation within the village.  Thirty-eight persons attended the meeting, pledging themselves to donate a stipulated amount within two weeks.

At their next meeting, the question arose as to whether they should build a new church or purchase a building and remodel.  The majority favored the latter and selected a committee to open negotiations for the Universalist Church.

On November 29th, 1858, the committee visited the trustees of the Universalist Congregation and completed a deal on the following day.  The purchase price was $1050.00.  The necessary remodeling was completed on January 2nd, 1859.  The church was solemnly dedicated and blessed on January 9th, 1859, by Bishop Jon M. Henni of Milwaukee, and the name St. John the Baptist was bestowed upon it.  From that day forward Sunday Liturgy has always been celebrated in the town.

St. John’s did not acquire a resident Pastor until April 30th, 1862.  At that time, Fr. Michael Beiter moved to the rectory in town and continued to care for St. Lawrence as a mission.  The wish of the Faithful in Jefferson was now a reality!

The population of Jefferson had so increased with the coming of the railroad, that the present church became entirely too small.  The Pastor, Father Jansen, began a house-to-house collection for a new church in May, 1866.  His zeal proved successful and the cornerstone of our present church was laid in June of that same year.

 

In 1885, $4,200.00 was expended on the church interior, which was entirely remodeled and beautifully arched in gothic style. On January 6th, 1886, the church was dedicated anew and the Stations of the Cross were erected.

In preparation for the Golden Jubilee of the parish (1909), the interior of the church was again redecorated during July and August of 1908. On January 10th and 11th, 1909, the Golden Jubilee was observed with a Solemn High Mass and a Requiem Mass for all deceased members, respectively.

In 1905, during the pastorate of Fr. Norbert Dieringer, the first of our priceless stained glass windows were installed. The Annunciation (west side of the sanctuary) and The Holy Family (East side of the sanctuary) were procured from the Tyrolese Art Glass Co. of Innsbruck, Austria.  The amount, $600.00, was donated by a number of benefactors.

In 1909, during the pastorate of Fr. William Pichery, the remaining stained glass windows were installed. The Good Shepherd is in the sanctuary.  The East side of the nave includes windows depicting; the Angel appears to Zachary; the Adoration of the Magi; the Baptism of Christ by St. John; Jesus, the Friend of Children; Pope St. Gregory the Great; St. Anne and the child Mary.  The West side of the nave includes; the Visitation; the Adoration of the Shepherds; St. John the Baptist preaching; Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus; St. Cecilia; St. Notburga.  These windows were imported from Munich, Bavaria through the Emil Frei Art Glass Co. of St. Louis, MO.  The names and / or initials of the benefactors appear at the bottom of each of the above windows.

The interior of the church was again redecorated and frescoed in 1927 during the pastorate of Fr. William Bruecker.  The cost of the project was $5,694.00.

In 1949, extensive work was done in the church during the pastorate of Fr. Michael Jacobs.  Changes included; laying of a Marflex flooring, extension of the sanctuary and installation of a bronze communion railing, removal of the old Gothic pulpit, repainting of the three altars, stenciling of the column, repairing/varnishing of the pews, addition of another confessional and the lining of both confessionals with acoustical tile.

Work continued in 1950 with the cleaning and gold leafing of the altars, the statues were redecorated, new church steps, railings, light standards, sidewalks, church doors and landscaping installed.  In 1954, the Wm. Schuelke pipe organ of 1891 was replaced with an Allen electronic substitute. (The value of that pipe organ by 1998 standards would be approximately $150,000.00!)

During the pastorate of Msgr. Edward Brill, it was decided that the interior of our church would be completely redecorated and remodeled in preparation for the Centennial of the parish, Msgr. Brill’s 25th Jubilee and the First Solemn Mass of Fr. John Urban. Some of the changes included: three new altars of Brocadillo marble, a new crucifix and statues of the Holy family and St. John the Baptist all carved in Germany, remodeling of the Stations of the Cross from the old ones, new pews of blond oak, painting of the interior soft gray-green accents of green and gold, new lighting and new holy water fonts.  The cost of the project was slightly in excess of $29,000!

In 1976, a large bequest from the estate of Anna Kemmeter was received.  This was the impetus for yet another redecorating of our church interior under the pastor Fr. David Runde and a committee. Sanctuary furnishings were made in a darker oak with a large reredos replacing the 1959 high altar. A multiple earth-tone color scheme was used with gold in the sanctuary ceiling complimenting the toes of the wood.

During the spring/summer of 1996, our church roof was totally replaced.  This project was made possible through the wonders of stewardship and the generosity of many donors.  Now that the church interior was safe from any water damage, etc., attention could be given to a possible restoration.

Fr. Terrence Connors and the Pastoral Council discussed the formation of a restoration committee during 1996, as well.  A group of persons was selected and the process of investigation begun.  After many meetings, interviews, and site visits, the firm of Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, WI was selected to accomplish Restoration ’97.

The philosophy behind our restoration has been two-fold:

-To preserve the Gothic features and architecture of a building erected in 1866
-To allow full, active and conscious participation by the worshipping community.

Other elements key to our restoration included; hospitality, community an preservation of the sacred mysteries.  To that end, Conrad Schmitt Studios an our Pastoral Leadership have achieved the desired result.

With the angels above, they look both down to the sanctuary and above to God. Keeping the mystery of Christ foremost in the restoration, the tabernacle was placed in the center of the sanctuary, behind the Eucharistic screen. The simple elegance reminds us all of the beauty that can be expressed with God's love.

On January 1, 2014 the parish communities of St. John the Baptist and St. Lawrence were merged together under the new mission of St. Francis of Assisi.