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Established as a diocese, 28 Nov., 1843; became an archbishopric, 12 February, 1875, comprises seventeen counties of the State of Wisconsin : Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Jefferson, Kenosha, Marquette, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, an area of 9321 square miles. The metropolitan city of Milwaukee is picturesquely situated on Milwaukee Bay, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Its name is derived from the Algonquin family of Indian dialects and means Good Land. In the history of Catholicism it is first mentioned in the "Catholic Almanac" of 1840: "Milvakie, Rev. Mr. Kelly who visits alternately Racine, Rochester, Burlington, Southpost (Kenosha), etc." The first Mass, however, was celebrated in Milwaukee as early as 1837 by Rev. J. Bonduel, a missionary from Green Bay, in the home of the "founder of Milwaukee," Solomon Juneau. In the same year Rev. Patrick Kelly came to the city and held services in the court-house till, in 1839, he erected the first Catholic church, dedicated to St. Peter, for several years the bishop's cathedral. It was afterwards removed to its present site near St. Peter and Paul's Church by Msgr. Leonard Batz, V.G. Northwest territory, of which the present State of Wisconsin forms a part, belonged to the Diocese of Quebec and afterwards to Bardstown, Ky., till it was affiliated to the newly created See of Cincinnati in 1821. In 1833, when Detroit was made a see, it became a dependency of that see. It was in 1841 that the first bishop visited Milwaukee in the person of Rt. Rev. P. Lefèvre of Detroit, accompanied by one of his zealous priests, Rev. Martin Kundig, later vicar-general, whose name is inseparably linked with the early history and subsequent growth of the diocese. In 1843, the Fathers of the Fifth Provincial Council of Baltimore petitioned the Holy See to make Milwaukee a see and to appoint the Rev. John Martin Henni as its first bishop.
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John Martin Henni, first Bishop of Milwaukee, was born at Obersaxen, Switzerland, 13 June, 1805. He studied philosophy and theology in Rome, where he met the Very Rev. Frederic Rese, Vicar-General of Cincinnati (later Bishop of Detroit ), who had come there in quest of priests for the American missions. Together with his fellow student M. Kundig, he landed in New York, in 1828. Having been ordained priest at Cincinnati, 2 Feb., 1829, he laboured with the zeal and enthusiasm of an apostle for the scattered Catholics of Ohio, traversing the state in all directions, baptizing, preaching, and building churches. Later on he was appointed vicar-general of the diocese and pastor of the church of the Holy Trinity. He also was the founder of the Catholic weekly, "Der Wahrheitsfreund," for some time the only German Catholic paper in the United States. On 19 March, 1844, Henni was consecrated Bishop of Milwaukee by Bishop Purcell of Cincinnati, and soon after started for his new field of labour. He came accompanied by the Rev. Michael Heiss, who for some time acted as his secretary. The prospects of the new diocese were far from encouraging. He found only four priests in the whole extent of his diocese, a few Catholics scattered over the territory, and a small frame church encumbered with a heavy debt. But undaunted by these difficulties the youthful bishop set to work with apostolic zeal, and, thanks to his untiring efforts, the number of Catholics, mostly immigrants from Germany and Ireland, increased from year to year, so that after three years the number of priests had risen from four to thirty. But a rich share of this phenomenal progress is due to the arduous labours and sacrificing spirit of his priests, the pioneers of the North-west, men like Mazuchelli, the founder of Sinsinawa, Morrissey, C. Rehrl, Wisbauer, Beitter, Inama, Gaertner, Gernbauer, Holzhauer, Conrad, and others.
In 1847 there arrived from Austria Dr. Joseph Salzmann , founder of St. Francis Seminary (Salesianum). In the same year Henni laid the foundation of his new cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. To raise funds for the building, he made extensive journeys to Cuba and Mexico. The cathedral was consecrated by Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal ) Bedini, 31 July, 1853. Owing to the large influx of Germans at that time, St. Mary's church, for the spiritual wants of the German Catholics, was erected in 1846. In the same year the first hospital was opened under Catholic auspices in charge of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. In 1856 the Seminary of St. Francis of Sales, destined to become the fertile nursery of priests for the North-west, was erected and in the course of years became one of the most flourishing institutions of the country. Its first rector was the Rev. Michael Heiss, while its founder, the Rev. Dr. Salzmann, acted as procurator. On the elevation of Father Heiss to the episcopal dignity, Salzmann was appointed his successor, a position which he held to the time of his death which occurred, 17 January, 1874. Salzmann was also the founder of the first Catholic normal school in the United States and of the Pio Nono College. Both institutions were opened in 1871, and have to this day faithfully carried out the intentions of their founder. In 1866 two new dioceses were established in Wisconsin with episcopal sees in La Crosse and Green Bay. In 1875 Milwaukee was made an archiepiscopal see, with Msgr. Henni as first archbishop. During the last years of his administration, his burden was considerably lightened by the appointment of Rt. Rev. M. Heiss as coadjutor, with the right of succession, and titular Archbishop of Adrianople. Archbishop Henni who is rightly called the Patriarch of the Northwest, was called to his reward, 7 Sept., 1881.
Michael Heiss was born at Pfahldorf, Bavaria, 12 April, 1818. Having finished his theological studies at the famous University of Munich, he spent the first two years of his priesthood in his home diocese of Eichstätt, and then offered his services to the American mission. He first had charge of St. Mary's church in Covington, Ky., where he remained till 1844, when he consented to accompany Bishop Henni of Milwaukee to his new see. Having filled the office of secretary for some years, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary's church, Milwaukee. In 1856 he was appointed first rector of St. Francis Seminary, an office which he held till his elevation to the episcopal dignity as first Bishop of La Crosse , in 1868. On the death of Archbishop Henni, in 1881, he succeeded him as archbishop. Archbishop Heiss was known and esteemed as one of the most learned theologians of the country, a reputation which secured to him a place among the members of the dogmatic commission at the Vatican Council. His works "De Matrimonio" (Munich, 1861) and "The Four Gospels Examined and Vindicated [on Catholic Principles]" (Milwaukee, 1863), hold a prominent place in theological literature. In 1883 he was invited to Rome to take part in the deliberations preparatory to the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, which he also attended in 1884. In 1886 he convoked the First Provincial Council of Milwaukee, which opened its sessions on 23 May, in St. John's cathedral. Bishops Flasch of La Crosse, John Ireland of St. Paul, Seidenbusch of St. Cloud, Marty, Vicar Apostolic of Dakota, and Katzer, administrator of Green Bay, took part in its deliberations.
During the last years of Archbishop Heiss's wise and peaceful administration, the ecclesiastical horizon was somewhat darkened by the plot of the American Protective Association, a new phase of defunct Know-nothingism. In their bigotry and hatred of everything Catholic, they aimed their first blow at the Catholic schools by the "Bennett Law" which seriously interfered with the rights of Catholic parents. But the timely and united action of the bishops of Wisconsin, and their vigorous protest, by which they branded the bill as "unnecessary, offensive, and unjust," effectively defeated the iniquitous scheme. In 1888 the Diocese of St. Paul was separated from Milwaukee and made an archbishopric. Three suffragan sees were thenceforth subject to Milwaukee: La Crosse and Green Bay in the State of Wisconsin and Marquette in Upper Michigan. The Diocese of Superior was added in 1905. Archbishop Heiss died at St. Francis Hospital, La Crosse , 26 March, 1890. His mortal remains rest beneath the sanctuary, of the seminary chapel at St. Francis, at the side of his faithful friend and co-labourer, Joseph Salzmann .
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Frederic Xavier Katzer was born at Ebensee, Upper Austria, 7 February, 1844. His preparatory studies he completed at Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers. He came to America in 1864. Having finished his theological studies at the Salesianum, he was ordained priest, 21 December, 1866. After his ordination he remained at the seminary where he taught mathematics and, later on, philosophy and dogmatic theology. In 1875 he followed Fr. Krautbauer, the newly appointed Bishop of Green Bay , to his see, where he acted as secretary, and afterwards as vicar-general. Upon the death of Bishop Krautbauer, in 1885, he was appointed administrator of the diocese ; and on 31 May, 1886, he was chosen Bishop of Green Bay and consecrated in St. Francis Xavier's cathedral, 21 September of the same year. After the death of Archbishop Heiss he was promoted to the archiepiscopal dignity as third Archbishop of Milwaukee in December, 1890. Archbishop Katzer was a man of profound learning and a thorough theologian. His poetical talent is evidenced by an allegorical drama, entitled, "Der Kampf der Gegenwart," (The Combat of the Present Age). His administration was marked by a uniform regard for justice and strict adherence to the laws of the Church. He died at Fond du Lac, 4 August, 1903, on the same day on which the great pontiff Leo XIII breathed his last. His earthly remains found their last resting place in the little cemetery near the " chapel in the woods" at St. Francis.
Sebastian Gebhard Messmer was born at Goldach, Switzerland, 29 August, 1847. Having finished his theological studies at the University of Innsbruck he was ordained priest in the same city, 23 July, 1871. In the same year he came to the United States , where he joined the Diocese of Newark . For several years he taught canon law, Scripture, and dogmatic theology in Seton Hall. For a short time he also had charge of St. Peter's, Newark, N.J. In 1889 he was called to the chair of canon law in the Catholic University at Washington, but first went to Rome to study Roman civil law. After his return he entered upon his duties as professor and kept this position till his elevation to the episcopal dignity. On 27 March, 1892, he was consecrated Bishop of Green Bay in St. Peter's Church, Newark, by his former classmate, Bishop Zardetti of St. Cloud. On the death of Archbishop Katzer he succeeded him as archbishop, 28 November, 1903. Archbishop Messmer is honourably known as a very able and prolific contributor to Catholic literature, and his name is intimately linked with the principal religious movements in the country. Together with Bishop Augustine McFaul of Trenton he has been chiefly instrumental in inaugurating the American Federation of Catholic Societies.
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Religious Orders in the Diocese
Orders of Men
The rapid, almost miraculous growth of Catholicism in the State of Wisconsin is chiefly due to the apostolic zeal of the pioneer priests of the secular priesthood ; but the labours and trials of the early missionaries belonging to religious orders ought not to be forgotten. In 1857 the first Capuchin convent was erected at Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. It has been asserted, not without reason, that the foundation of the Calvary Province is a fact unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church in this country, in as far as the order of Capuchins was introduced into Wisconsin, not by religious, but by two secular priests, Rev. Francis Haas and Rev. Bonaventure Frey. The opposition which they met on all sides, the trials which they had to endure, and the undaunted courage with which they met them, border on the miraculous. Today the order possesses a flourishing community with convent and college at Calvary, a convent and two parishes in Milwaukee, not to speak of the numerous religious houses and communities in other dioceses. The Society of Jesus was established in Milwaukee in 1856, and St. Gall's church, erected in 1849, was placed in charge of the Society. In 1880 the Jesuit college known as Marquette College was opened, and has lately developed into the flourishing Marquette University. The Jesuits, also have charge of the Gesu church, one of the finest religious edifices in the Northwest. The Fathers of the Holy Cross conduct the College of the Sacred Heart at Watertown; the Servite Fathers, a monastery and novitiate at Granville Center; and the Discalced Carmelites, lately arrived from Ratisbon, Bavaria, attend to the chapel on "Holy Hill," a well-known place of pilgrimage.
Orders of Women
The School Sisters of Notre Dame came to Milwaukee in 1855, on the invitation of Bishop Henni, who showed himself their generous friend and protector, especially during the first years when they had to struggle with poverty and violent opposition. To Mother Caroline Friess, who brought the first band of sisters from, Munich to Milwaukee, and who for forty-two years stood at the helm, is principally due the present flourishing condition of the community. The sisters have their mother-house and novitiate in Milwaukee. In 1876 the community was divided into two provinces, with the second mother-house in Baltimore ; and in 1895, a third province was formed with a mother-house at St. Louis, Mo. The Sisters of St. Francis have two mother-houses in the diocese, one at St. Francis, where they built their first convent in 1847, near the present site of St. Francis Seminary, the other in Milwaukee (St. Joseph's Convent and the Sacred Heart Sanatorium). The Sisters of St. Agnes have their mother-house at Fond du Lac, where they also have charge of a hospital, a home for the aged, and an academy. The Sisters of St. Dominic have their mother-house at Racine, and an academy at Corliss. The sisters of these communities teach in the numerous parochial schools of Wisconsin and other states. The Sisters of Mercy, too, have a mother-house in Milwaukee. Other communities which have no mother-house in the diocese, but are in charge of some charitable or educational establishment are: the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent of Paul, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary , Franciscan Sisters of St. Louis, Mo., Polish Sisters of St. Joseph , Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, Little Sisters of the Poor , Society of the Divine Saviour, Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary, Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic (Sinsinawa), Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Felician Sisters , and Sisters de Misericorde.
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The official reports for 1910 give the following figures: There are in the archdiocese 377 priests (303 secular and 74 regulars). The city of Milwaukee counts 38 churches ; outside of Milwaukee there are 169. Besides there are 65 mission churches without a resident priest and 41 chapels. In the seminary of St. Francis de Sales there are 150 students of philosophy and theology studying for the different dioceses of the province and other dioceses. There is one university, one Catholic normal school, and five colleges with 770 students; six academies for young ladies; 142 parish schools with 33,279 pupils, four orphan asylums with 401 orphans, one infant asylum, one industrial school for girls, one deaf-mute asylum, one home for boys, one school for feeble-minded, nine hospitals and sanatoriums, two homes for aged poor, and one home for girls. The Catholic population of the archdiocese is estimated at about 238,000.