MCFARLAND -- For some people a 40th birthday comes as a shock. For Christ the King Parish, its 40th birthday becomes an opportunity for reflection and for planning.
In the 1950s and early-1960s McFarland was a sleepy village with a mainly Norwegian-Lutheran population. The 1960 census lists the village population at 1,272.
Diocese had foresight
Bishop William P. O’Connor and the Diocese of Madison had the foresight in 1959 to purchase 15 acres of farmland from Robert Eighmy for $12,000 as the site for a future parish.
More than a decade passed before the parish would be formally organized. On Sunday, June 25, 1967, Fr. August Buenzli of St. Pius X Parish in Cambridge celebrated a field Mass on the empty lot of the future parish.
In about a month, a report was sent to Bishop O’Connor stating that 144 Catholic families — including 352 children — now lived in and around McFarland. They belonged to 10 different area parishes.
Christ the King is started
On July 7, 1970, Christ the King Parish was incorporated and became a mission parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Monona.
No one remembers why “Christ the King” was chosen as the name. Naming of new parishes is generally the prerogative of the bishop.
Msgr. Edward Bier, the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Monona, was named the first pastor of Christ the King.
Chuck Mulcahy was the first trustee-secretary of the parish corporation and Don Breitenbach was the president of the initial pastoral council. Chuck and Don — with original pastoral council members Gene Holzmann and Kay Strauman — remain members of the parish today.
In addition to Monsignor Bier, parish records indicate that Immaculate Heart of Mary associate pastors ministered to Christ the King families. Frs. Daniel Finnane, James Hinnen, John Gebhard, Stephen Gilmour, Thomas Vickerman, Bernard Kurz, Daryl Furlong, and Bruce Hennington have their names included in the early sacramental records.
In the early era weekend Masses were celebrated at the village fire station. Religious education classes were conducted at the McFarland Lutheran Education Center, at McFarland High School, and in homes of parishioners. Parish meetings took place in the meeting room of the old McFarland State Bank building on Main Street.
Until the parish could afford to construct an actual church building, most weddings and funerals were celebrated at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Babies were baptized at the fire station. Father Finnane has the distinction of baptizing the first baby at Christ the King Parish. James Lacy was baptized on August 30, 1970.
An independent parish
On August 18, 1972, Christ the King separated from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and became an independent parish. Pallottine Father Marc LaJoie (a teacher at the old Queen of Apostles High School on Cottage Grove Rd.) was appointed administrator of the parish.
Plans proceeded to raise money for the construction of a church and parish center. A letter from Vicar General Msgr. Raymond Klaas reminded Father LaJoie that he was not the pastor and that the parish could not build anything until a new pastor was appointed. Monsignor Klaas added that the planned new church must be large enough for future growth of the area.
On June 18, 1974, Fr. Arthur Koth, the second pastor and first resident pastor, succeeded Father LaJoie. Five days after Father Koth’s arrival, the parish bought the parish rectory at a sheriff’s auction.
New church, parish center
The parish broke ground for the new church and parish center on July 6, 1975, and celebrated the first Masses in the new church on the weekend of February 21 to 22, 1976.
In 1995 the parish hall was doubled in size with additional meeting rooms and office space. In 1996 the church was enlarged and the present offices, classrooms, and two meeting rooms were added.
Fr. Dave Timmerman succeeded Father Koth in 2000. He was succeeded by Fr. Steve Smith in 2002, who remains pastor today.
The parish staff has increased from just a pastor and a part-time secretary in 1974 to a pastor and a staff of seven professionals today. Programs have greatly expanded in a parish that now numbers 700 families.
Recent growth in nearby southeast Madison has made Christ the King a parish not merely of McFarland and of the Town of Dunn but also of the City of Madison.
The parish has recently been greatly enriched as families from Somalia, Rwanda, Columbia, Equator, Nicaragua, and Germany have moved to our area.
Christ the King anticipates a linkage with St. Patrick Parish in Cottage Grove next spring. Sharing a pastor with St. Patrick will be challenging for both parishes.
Consolidation of some services between the parishes may increase efficiency. Fourteen hundred families in the linked parishes should stretch the stamina of any pastor.
Marking 40th anniversary
The parish will produce a special parish pictorial directory to mark this 40th anniversary. During October parishioners will be invited to be photographed for the directory. The pictorial directory will also recall some of the important events in the parish’s first 40 years.
Fr. Art Koth was generous to the parish in his will. His legacy to Christ the King Parish is the nucleus for the formation of the Christ the King Parish Endowment Fund. The growth of the endowment and the income it will produce ensures the financial stability of Christ the King Parish for another 40 and even 400 years.