Diocese erected in 1868; included that part of the State of Wisconsin , U.S.A. lying north and west of the Wisconsin River. In 1900 the establishment of the Diocese of Superior subdivided this territory and reduced it to the Counties of Adams, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Dunn, Eau Claire, Grant, Iowa, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Marathon, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Richland, Sauk, Trempealeau, Vernon, and Wood; an area of 17,299 square miles. It is suffragan to Milwaukee. At the establishment of the diocese there were ministering to the scattered Catholic population twenty-two priests, who had to care for twenty-three churches and about fifty stations. Besides the English and German congregations provision had also been made for Poles and Italians. Franciscan sisters and lay teachers had charge of six parish schools. The Very Rev. Michael Heiss, then head of St. Francis's Seminary, Milwaukee, was elected as the first bishop, and consecrated, 6 Sept., 1868. He was born at Pfaldorf, Bavaria, 12 April, 1818; in 1835 he entered the University of Munich, where Möhler, Döllinger, and Görres were professors, intending to study law, but changed his mind, took a course in theology, and was ordained at the age of twenty-two. Knowing the need of German priests in the United States he arrived in New York, 17 December, 1842, and was affiliated to the Diocese of Louisville. Two years later he moved to Milwaukee at the invitation of Bishop Henni, and in 1846 erected the first parish church in that city, his charge extending over an area of fifty- two square miles. He opened a seminary in a private house, which was subsequently merged into the Seminary of St. Francis, of which he was president. During the twelve years of his administration in La Crosse, he built several churches, including the cathedral, and the episcopal residence. While president of St. Francis's Seminary he published in English "The Four Gospels Examined and Vindicated on Catholic Principles" and a Latin essay "De Matrimonio." As a priest he took part in the Councils of Baltimore in 1849 and 1866, and Pius IX made him a member of one of the four great commissions of bishops engaged in the preparatory work for the Vatican Council, 1869-70. On 14 March, 1880, he was appointed coadjutor with right of succession to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, and succeeded, 7 September, 1881. He died at La Crosse, 26 March, 1890.
Kilian Flasch, second bishop, was born at Retzstadt, Bavaria, 16 July, 1837. His parents took him to the United States when he was ten years old, and settled near Milwaukee. He made his academic studies at Notre Dame University, and his theological course at St. Francis's Seminary, where he was ordained, 16 September, 1859. With two brief intermissions he spent the subsequent years as professor and rector of this seminary until he was selected as the successor of Bishop Heiss and was consecrated Bishop of La Crosse, 24 August, 1881. During his administration of ten years he laboured zealously to increase the churches and the schools of the diocese, and died after a long illness, 3 August, 1891.
James Schwebach, his vicar-general, succeeded him as the third bishop, and was consecrated, 25 February, 1892. He was born at Platten, Luxembourg, 15 August, 1847. He made his early studies at the college of Diekirk, and in 1864 emigrated to the United States, where he completed his course at the Seminary of St. Francis, Milwaukee, and was ordained. 17 July, 1870. Soon after, appointed rector of St. Mary's Church, La Crosse, he built two schools and two churches there under Bishops Heiss and Flasch. The latter appointed him vicar-general and administrator of the diocese.
Religious communities in the diocese
Men: Jesuits, Dominicans, Fathers of the Holy Ghost, Missionary Fathers of the Sacred Heart . Women : Franciscan Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration, Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic, Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of St. Dominic, Franciscan Sisters of Charity, School Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, Sisters of St. Benedict, Polish Sisters of St. Joseph , Sisters of the Society of the Divine Saviour. Priests, 177 (26 religious); churches with resident priests, 126; missions with churches, 86; stations, 6; chapels, 24; college, 1, students, 225; academies for girls, 2, pupils, 292; high schools, 2; parish schools, 76, pupils: boys, 4874, girls, 5044; orphan asylums, 2, inmates, 180; total young people under Catholic care, 10,468; hospitals, 5; Catholic population, 112,400.
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