West Bend Daily
December 22, 2000
By gay Griesbach
An application from
former parishioners of a Catholic church in the town of Erin to have the
building declared a county landmark may not be granted because approval
hinges on the property owner granting permission.
The application was made to the county clerk's office
in a Dec. 14 letter from the non-profit Save St. Patrick Preservation
Fund, formerly known as Save St. Patrick Parish. The group - which has
been battling the Archdiocese of Milwaukee over control and upkeep of the
church building when the parish was merged with and relocated to St.
Kilian in Hartford - requested the designation because of the age,
historical significance and architectural style of the church.
County Clerk Marilyn Merten said requests can be
submitted at any time to the landmark commission. The commission meets on
a monthly basis and reviews applications, but the Erin petition needs the
signature from St. Patrick's present owner - the Archdiocese.
Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said as a rule,
the Archdiocese opposes historical status or landmark designation for any
of its properties with the exception of the Cathedral of St. John the
Evangelist in Milwaukee.
"Archbishop (Rembert) Weakland is renovating St.
John's for $10 million - we just want an acknowledgement of the beautiful
legacy that was left to us by our Irish ancestors," preservation
spokeswoman Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel said.
An article in the July 2000 Catholic Herald lists 19
area churches that have attained either state or national historic status
including St. Joseph's in Dodge County, St. Mary's in Port Washington, St.
John of God (now St. Michael Mission) and St. Peter in the town of
Farmington, St. Augustine in Trenton and St. Francis Borgia in Cedarburg.
"We're proud of our Catholic heritage and the
people who built it and the community who maintained (the church). That is
why we decided to go ahead with the landmark status," Fitzsimmons-Vanden
Topczewski said the difficulties of that type of
designation lies with restrictions that are imposed as part of the
"It's what comes over and beyond," Topczewski
said, adding that adhering to some historical restrictions can be very
Topczewski said in his experience, "people who are
the first to clamor for the designation are not the first to open their
pocketbooks in fulfilling the (restrictions)."
But Washington County landmark status does not have any
requirements past maintaining the building and plaque, according to
Merten said two or three landmarks are designated each
year, depending on the amount of applications received, and presentations
on the property usually occur in spring.
The 145-year-old church was built by Irish immigrants
and is one of the few churches built in the shape of a cross, according to
information provided in the preservation group's application.
St. Patrick's was chosen as one of Wisconsin's Ten Most
Endangered Historic Properties earlier this year, but that status was
revised when the diocese gave assurances that an endowment fund was
established for the building's upkeep.
The church was converted to an occasional-use chapel in
1999 after Weakland implemented a plan to realign the 10-county
Topczewski reiterated the position that there are no
plans to change or do anything with the Erin church.
"St. Patrick's will remain a chapel," he
said. "We have no intentions of demolishing or renovating it."