Jefferson parish, priest celebrate anniversaries Print
Around the Diocese
Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Bullock and Father Coyle laugh
Bishop William H. Bullock and Fr. Thomas J. Coyle, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Jefferson, laugh during the reception following a Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of the parish and 40th anniversary of Father Coyle's ordination. (Contributed photo)

JEFFERSON -- St. John the Baptist Parish in Jefferson recently held a combined celebration of the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the original church and the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Thomas J. Coyle, pastor.

On Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, over 700 parishioners and friends of the parish, including Bishop William H. Bullock, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Madison, gathered for meals in fellowship and thanksgiving following weekend Masses.

Fr. John Urban, a priest son of St. John the Baptist Parish, presented the compelling story of the establishment of the parish and the construction of the first church building during weekend Masses.

History of Catholics in Jefferson

The first Catholics settled in Jefferson in approximately 1842. They initially held religious services in their homes when visited by traveling priests. Jefferson later became a regular stop for Fr. Maximilian Gaertner, who traveled extensively throughout southern Wisconsin serving the mission of the Church. With the assistance of Father Gaertner, these Catholic pioneers erected the first religious building in Jefferson in 1846 to 1847. This first church, made of native lumber, was constructed on the site of the present St. Lawrence Church, located just outside the city limits of Jefferson.

As the population of Jefferson grew, parishioners met in 1858 to propose the building of a new church and to start a congregation within the city. An existing building located in Jefferson was then purchased for $1,050. The new church was solemnly dedicated and blessed on January 9, 1859, by Bishop John M. Henni of Milwaukee, and the name St. John the Baptist was bestowed upon it. The altar was tastefully ornamented with several spiritual paintings. Fr. Michael Beiter served as the first resident pastor in 1862.

With the coming of the railroad through Jefferson, the parish grew and the original church building became too small. Collections for a new church began in 1866, and the cornerstone of the present church was laid in June of 1866.

In preparation for the golden jubilee of the parish in 1909, the interior of the church was redecorated during the summer of 1908. Several improvements were made throughout the years, including the installation of the first stained glass window in 1905. The remaining stained glass windows were installed in 1909.

The church roof was replaced and the interior of the church was extensively remodeled in 1996 under the guidance of Fr. Terrence Connors.

Teaching the youth

In 1899, the first school association was established in order to maintain the Catholic school and assist in providing financial well being (tuition) for Catholic pupils. The faithful members of St. John the Baptist Parish have provided some form of Catholic education for its children since the beginning of the parish. This Catholic tutelage was maintained through a remarkable financial sacrifice by the early parishioners.

Today, the parish continues to provide the majority of the financial support for St. John the Baptist School. A constant focus of the parish throughout its history has been the importance of its Catholic school as the first servant of the Church in establishing and maintaining the teachings and precepts of the Catholic faith in the hearts and minds of its children.

Today at St. John the Baptist Parish

Fr. Thomas J. Coyle was welcomed by the parish and community in 2002 and is currently the residing pastor at St. John the Baptist Parish. Father Coyle, named Citizen of the Year for the City of Jefferson in 2009, today continues the ministry of the church to 2,228 parishioners in over 850 households. St. John the Baptist School presently serves 198 students in preschool through eighth grade.