Here to print this page
St. Patrick's Parish makes 'Ten
Most Endangered Historic Properties' list
By GAY GRIESBACH - Daily
March 30, 2000
TOWN OF ERIN - An independent advocacy
group has named St. Patrick’s Parish, a rural Catholic church in the
middle of contentious debate, as one of Wisconsin’s Ten Most
Endangered Historic Properties.
Built in 1857,
St. Patrick’s was chosen for the Endangered Property List because it
served as a community focal point for the town of Erin, said Michael
Hamer, executive vice president for the Wisconsin Trust for Historic
Preservation. Another religious building, St. Joseph’s Church in
Marinette, was placed on the group’s Preservation Watch List.
Henke reviews numerous
old photographs and historical
information she has gathered
regarding St.Patrick's Church
on Hwy 83 in Hartford. Henke and
other parish members are
fighting to save the church which,
thanks to their efforts, has recently
been named to the Wisconsin Trust
for Historic Preservation's 10 most endangered historic properties
St. Patrick has been surrounded by
bitter feelings since the Archdiocese of Milwaukee closed it in June
1999 and consolidated the parish with St. Kilian in Hartford.
“If a church feels the need to
consolidate and can’t cope with two or three churches, we’re not
here to tell them how to run their business,” he said. “Our concern
is that the property be saved.”
Although the first preference of
Hamer’s organization is to have the facility saved as a church, he
said buildings can perform other services to the community.
“The question then becomes what
will the church allow the property to be used for. It is normally happy
if (the structure) can be used for a youth center or day care,” he
The announcement is welcome news to
the Save St. Patrick Parish organization, which has been rallying to
preserve the church building since it was closed following the
“We are thrilled,” said Maureen
Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel, group spokeswoman. “Hats off to their
organization,” she added, referring to the Wisconsin Trust for
However, the Archdiocese contends
the designation is a misstatement, as the church building is not in
jeopardy of being sold or demolished, said Jerry Topczewski, spokesman
for the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
“We have no intention of selling
or doing anything to the St. Patrick’s property other than maintaining
the building and the cemetery and using it as a chapel of St. Kilian,”
Churches, in general, are a priority
for the organization, Hamer said. St. Patrick and St. Joseph’s
churches were picked because they are “of the greatest
significance,” he added.
“(The Wisconsin Trust’s) focus
is preservation,” said Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel. “They look at any
option as long as the building is not demolished. We are looking at any
option so we can get inside our church building.”
Topczewski contends that the
building can be - and has been - used for funerals, weddings and special
“We don’t want to get into a
fight with the parish,” said Hamer. “It can get awkward when it
comes to who is buying and preserving it. The business of ownership and
control makes it difficult to do the things everyone knows should be
Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel said the
church is not actively seeking a buyer at this time. In order to
dissolve the church corporation, a board consisting of the archbishop,
bishop, pastor and two church trustees are needed to sign off on the
sale - which St. Patrick’s representatives will not do, she said.
The group would consider buying the
church “but our ultimate goal is to become a parish once again. Buying
the church will not solve the problem.”
Topczewski said the archdiocese is
committed to preserving the building but not to re-establishing St.
Patrick as an independent parish.
“A fund has been established to
maintain the church building and cemetery perpetually,” he said.
“That should be a clear message to reasonable people that we are not
looking to do anything to the St. Patrick building.”
Hamer said many rural churches are
“Often they were one of the first
landmarks built and were the center of the community,” said Hamer.
“We try to draw public attention
to the situation so it becomes more visible and people become more aware
of the issue. Sometimes people get together and the building can be
Hamer said the WTHP did a survey a
few years ago and found public attention gained by the endangered list
saved structures about half the time.
“(The list) has a real impact -
people get excited,” he said.
The St. Patrick’s group submitted
information to the WTHP in an effort to keep the church from being sold
or torn down.
That information came from Erin
resident Nancy Henke. Henke is documenting a history of the church,
collecting photos and reminiscences. Her husband, Evarist, made a
replica of St. Patrick’s that was used for the recent Erin St.
She was pleased the church made it
to the endangered list.
“My history is here. My parents,
grandparents and great-grandparents were parishioners at St.
Hamer said the WTHP tries to pick
properties where there are indications the structure will be demolished
or will collapse from neglect. The condition of St. Patrick’s is
listed as good because of recent updates after soot damage caused by a
furnace malfunction, but a brief description of the property provided by
the WTHP states the main threats to the facility are disuse and the
possibility of development.
Hamer said WTHP campaigns have
proved successful in preserving and revitalizing historic structures
about half the time.
The WTHP is a Madison-based group
with more than 1,300 members throughout the state.
The preservation trust will have two
displays with photographs and commentary touring libraries and local
historical societies in the state until fall. This is the ninth year
that the group has designated endangered historic properties. The
endangered structures were announced at the March 23 Preservation Day
ceremony at the Capitol in Madison.
Here to print this page