"Long Form"

Baraboo, Wisconsin


When Wisconsin was admitted to statehood in 1848, Baraboo was included in the Milwaukee Diocese, under the jurisdiction of Bishop John Martin Henni.  Fr. Maximillian Gaertner offered the first Mass in Baraboo in May of 1850, in the old Wisconsin House, on the site of the present Al Ringling Theater.  He had charge of Dellona, Sauk,and Lyndon, and traveled on foot to Baraboo once a month to say Mass in various homes.  In 1858, Fr. Gaertner became ill and returned to Austria.

Baraboo was without a priest until 1859 when Fr. Montague began periodic visitations.  Later in 1859, Fr. Joseph Schreiner became the first Pastor of St. Joseph Parish.  There were about 50 Catholic families in and near Baraboo at the time.

On August 1, 1861, the parish purchased a small brick church from the Congregationalists.  The church was located where the present Baraboo School Administration building now stands on Second Street.

 By 1868, the number of Catholics in the state of Wisconsin had increased and it became necessary to form a new diocese.  St. Joseph Parish became a part of the La Crosse Diocese under the direction of the Most Reverend Michael Heiss.

Fr. Schreiner was replaced as pastor in 1869 by Fr. M. White, who in turn was succeeded by Fr. William J. Coughlan. Fr. Coughlan in his own name, purchased the southern portion of the present parish property from William S. Grubb for $1500 in June of 1872.  The parish later assumed the mortgage and the deed to this land.  During

Fr. Coughlan's pastorate, the land for St. Michael Cemetery was purchased from John O'Connell for $1.  (Walnut Hill Cemetery was started in 1859.)

Fr. A. Verbeck is mentioned as pastor in 1873-74, instructing the first Confirmation class of 100.

 In 1874, Fr. Aloysius Laigneil became Pastor and built a cream brick church for $5000 on the property purchased by Fr. Coughlan.

Fr. Charles Gunkel served as Pastor from 1876-78, Fr. A. Michel from 1878-1880, and Fr. P.J. Lavin from 1880-1887.

Fr. John T. Durward came to St. Joseph Parish as Pastor in 1887, and remained here for 24 years.  Fr. Durward was a member of a famous family of poets and artists who discovered the beauty of Durward's Glen.  During his pastorate, a rectory was built and part of the present St. Joseph Cemetery property was acquired.  In 1902, after extensive study of church architecture, both in this country and abroad, Fr. Durward directed the building of our present church of St. Joseph at a cost of $30,000.

Fr. Durward saw the need for a parochial school and opened the first St. Joseph School in the old church building in 1909.  The school was staffed by Benedictine Sisters from Sturgis, South Dakota, followed by Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters in 1911.  There were only two classrooms for the eight grades, and the sisters made their home in the attic.

In October, 1911, Fr. Edward C. O'Reilly was named Pastor of St. Joseph.  He was instrumental in forming a unit of the St. Vincent de Paul Society which is still serving our community.

Realizing that the old school was inadequate, and that arrangements must be made for a home for the sisters, the parish borrowed $40,000 and began the construction of a school and convent.  This building project provided much-needed employment for the community with carpenters earning twenty-five cents per hour and bricklayers sixty cents.

On April 15, 1912, the old school caught fire.  The building was demolished and portions of the materials were used in constructing the convent.  Construction began May 15, 1912.

The new school and convent were dedicated on October 31, 1912.

 On May 13, 1935, Fr. O'Reilly, in accordance with the decree of Pope Pius XI, was invested as a Monsignor and Domestic Prelate. Bishop Alexander J. McGavick officiated at the rites in St. Joseph Church.

On January 15, 1946, it was announced that a new diocese had been laid out in the state of Wisconsin.  Baraboo and all of Sauk County would be part of this new Diocese of Madison.

In March of 1947, Fr. Francis X. Gray became our new Pastor following the retirement of Msgr. O'Reilly.  On October 12, 1949, Fr. Gray was invested as a Monsignor and Domestic Prelate as directed by Pope Pius XII.  Among his other activities in the parish, Msgr. Gray selected a site for a camp for the boys of the parish.  In February of 1953, he purchased 100 acres in the Town of Delton.  Camp Gray, named in his honor, is still used as a diocesan camp and retreat facility for all ages.

In December of 1953, Msgr. Gray became seriously ill.

Fr. Dennis W. Crowley acted as administrator until Fr. Joseph L. Henry arrived in November of 1955.

On Fr. Henry's first Memorial Day in Baraboo, in 1956, the church

was badly damaged by fire.  The entire church was damaged by smoke and heat, but the blaze was largely confined to the northeast corner of the building.

 Following the renovation of the church, Fr. Henry continued the efforts of Msgr. Gray to raise funds for a new school.  Sufficient funds were raised to break ground in May of 1957 and the school was completed and dedicated on August 31, 1958.

 In the early 1970s the interior of the church was completely remodeled following the guidelines of Vatican Council II.  After this work was finished, it was decided that the rectory was not in good enough condition to remodel and plans were made for a new rectory, offices and a basement meeting hall.  The building was completed in 1980 and the meeting hall named for Fr. Henry.

 Before the rectory was completed, it was discovered the south wall of the school was sinking.  Repair work was done at this time; in 1985; and again in 1992; however, due to the fact that the school was built on a landfill, the settling continues.

 Fr. Henry retired as Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in 1984 and continues to reside in Baraboo as Pastor Emeritus.

 In June of 1984, Fr. John B. Walsh was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish.  The continued structural problems of our school building caused a financial burden to our parish resulting in a lawsuit against the original contractors.  Fr. Walsh's first tasks were to bring the lawsuit to a satisfactory settlement, initiate further repairs to the school, and establish financial stability in the parish.

 Once this was done, he began what was to be an extensive refurbishment of our church building.  In 1986, the first phase of the refurbishment included a new roof and the cleaning, re-leading, and protection of our stained glass windows.

Fr. Kent A. Schmitt assumed the role of Pastor in June of 1990.  Under his direction a Refurbishing Committee was formed and a Refurbishing Fund Raising Committee quickly followed.  Working with the Studios of E.J. Potente, plans were soon finalized and the pace of fund raising increased.  In January of 1994 Fr. Schmitt said Mass in the church for the last time before remodeling started and the parish found themselves once again attending services in the school gym.  Funerals were held either at the funeral home or in a "borrowed" church; weddings luckily held off until the completion of the project in April of 1994.  On April 9, 1994 Mass was once again celebrated in the church building.  In the intervening four months, decades old wiring had been brought up to current codes, the floor had been reinforced and new flooring installed, replacing the patchwork of duct tape that had held the old carpet together.  A new heating system replaced the old steam heaters which frequently clanged and clattered during the pastor’s sermon.  The final result was a blend of the old miniature cathedral Fr. Durward and envisioned and some of the new innovations church design.  On October 23, 1994 a Day of Remembrance and Rededication was held.  Auxiliary Bishop George Wirz concelebrated Mass with Fr. Schmitt and ten other priests of the diocese.  Included in the group were former pastors

Fr. Joseph Henry and Fr. John Walsh along with some of the former Associate Pastors.

A Sunday/Sundae social followed the Mass giving parishioners a chance to acquaint themselves with the priests who had been here and to get to know their fellow parishioners.

 Just two weeks after the Rededication of St. Joseph Church, Fr. Schmitt was called to Madison by Bishop Bullock and informed that on November 23, 1994 he was to become Pastor of St. Dennis Parish in Madison.  While Fr. Schmitt packed his belongings and prepared to say good-bye to Baraboo the parish waited and wondered who the new pastor would be.  After two long weeks word was finally received from the Bishop's office that Fr. Gerald P. Vosen was being transferred from St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville.


 Amid the hustle and bustle of the Advent season Fr. Vosen quietly arrived on Monday afternoon, December 5, 1994, to assume his new role as Pastor of St. Joseph Parish.


 While one tends to mark time in a parish by the coming and going of pastors, it is important to note that many other changes go on in the parish too.  The number of Associate Pastors was cut from two to one in 1970 and in 1990 the Associate Pastor position was removed entirely leaving the pastor alone.  Meanwhile the number of families registered in St. Joseph Parish has climbed from 675 in 1970 to the current number of 1265.

Partly as a result of this shortage of priests and partly in an effort to bring the common person more in touch with the workings of the Church, lay people have come to play a greater role in the parish.  In many parishes across the country lay people are now serving as Eucharistic Ministers, Proclaimers, Leaders of Prayer, Greeters and Pastoral Ministers, all serving a vital role in the care of a parish such as ours.  Lay members are helping prepare parents for the Baptism of their children and helping couples prepare for their Marriage.  By performing the duties that do not require the presence of a priest the local parish members come to a better understanding of their religion as well as assisting a Pastor who is often assigned to shepherd a parish alone.

Many religious/social groups thrive at St. Joseph Parish.  In addition to the St. Vincent de Paul chapter already mentioned, there is a chapter of the Knights of Columbus, Daughters of Isabella, Legion of Mary, Art and Environment Committee, Choir, Council of Catholic Women, and its circles that include Mission Sewing, Fellowship and St. Martha's Funeral Lunches.  In support of St. Joseph School there is Home and School Club and J-Club, which serves as an athletic booster group.  Many other people serve the needs of the parish by acting as workers at bingo, festival, fish fries, parish coffees and pancake breakfasts, as well as ushers, servers, money counters, music ministers, members of prayer groups, and tutors and aids at the school.  Volunteer teachers assume the responsibility for teaching CCD and CYO so that the Catholic religion will continue for generations to come.  In 1994 a Stewardship Committee formed to focus attention on the already established practice of sharing our time, talent and treasure with the parish.  Under diocesan direction, a Parish Education Commission began to function in 1995 to help direct the religious education of all parish members.

Numerous commissions function under the direction of the Parish Pastoral Council.  This body of elected parishioners and pastoral staff members advises the pastor concerning decisions that need to be made in the parish.

The number of parish employees has also grown since the days of

Fr. Durward.  A Pastoral Associate functions much like the Associate Pastors did.  Although this position is filled by a lay person, the Pastoral Associate handles many of the day to day administrative functions that do not require the services of a priest.  He also assists with sacramental preparation, prayer services, and teaching.

The Bookkeeper handles not only the bill paying but also oversees the budget and advises the Pastor as to what money is available for the many projects that need to be implemented.

The Director of Elementary and Adult Religious Formation is responsible for guiding the after-school religion sessions for grades 1-5, RCIA and adult education programs.  This involves recruiting and training teachers, recruiting students, running retreats, and planning a variety of special programs that come up during the year. This person works in collaboration with the Youth Minister, a position created in 1997, on special programs involving all ages. The Youth Minister is responsible for the middle school and high school programs as well as Confirmation preparation and joins in planning the Vacation Bible School.


In 1999 a Parish Nurse was hired to assist parishioners with the health of the mind, body and soul. Although hired as a part time position, there are many needs, many questions, and many ways in which she has been of assistance to parishioners and their families. 

As the name implies, the Parish Home Visitor makes regular visits to the sick and elderly who cannot attend church.  This person also organizes a group of volunteers who regularly take Communion to shut ins and plans two Anointing Masses during the year.

The School Principal of course, oversees the running of the school.  Currently there are 11 teachers, six of whom are full time. The kindergarten class was changed to a full day program in 1999. The School Endowment Fund committee continues to work for their goal of a $1,000,000 endowment to help fund the school.

This administrative staff is also supplemented with a group of support personnel, including secretaries, janitors and cooks.

In this year of 2002 we mark the 100th anniversary of the building of our church. As we look back and reflect on what the history of our parish has taught us we must also look forward at the legacy we will leave to future generations. With that thought in mind a commission was formed to study the possibility of expanding the church. With the shortage of priests, the continued growth in the Baraboo area and the church's desire that a priest say no more than three Masses on a weekend, the time is approaching when our building (meant to seat 375-400) will need to accommodate at least 700 and possibly 1,000.

As of the compiling of this directory, the commission is working with an architect and a financial consultant to come up with a plan that would not only add worship space and the often requested bathrooms, it could add those areas that would enhance the concept of Church as community.

 The Parish Pastoral Council has adopted a vision statement for our parish; it reads, "Stewards:  Living Christ's Teachings".  If we truly try to live this motto and apply Christ's teaching to our everyday lives the parish of St. Joseph will be an active, thriving parish for many generations to come.

 2003   Plans were finalized for an addition to the church. The old sacristy and chapel were removed to make room for more seating. In addition the huge organ originally donated by Mrs. Adella Ringling in 1922 was removed to allow about 50 more seats to be added. The new addition included a sacristy, chapel, Reconciliation Chapel, kitchenette, bathrooms and storage space.  Groundbreaking for the addition was held in June of 2003. The project was completed in time for the Easter Vigil in 2004.

2004  In February of this year, Fr. Larry Bakke arrived in Baraboo to shepherd the

parish. A Rededication of the church was held on July 4th - exactly 100 years from the date of the original dedication.

 As of March of 2007 St. Joseph Parish is home to 1051 households, consisting of nearly 3000 individuals.