MONONA -- Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Parish in Monona is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
In 1950, St. Bernard Parish on Atwood Ave. in Madison saw such tremendous growth that Bishop William P. O’Connor announced that a new parish would be formed in Monona to serve the growing number of Catholics in the area.
Fr. Jerome Mersberger was assigned as the first pastor of the new parish. The diocese purchased six acres of land between Schofield St. and Shore Acres Rd. in Monona.
Gratitude for a ‘spiritual treasure’
Following are excerpts from Fr. Bart Timmerman’s homily at the Mass on September 19 marking the 60th anniversary of Immacualte Heart of Mary Parish in Monona:
“Jesus is calling us in today’s Gospel to be wise stewards of the gifts we have received. We give thanks for the many prudent stewards, the priests and members of our parish who have carefully and thoughtfully been good stewards of their time, talents, and material resources who have built and maintained our parish property and established here in Monona a spiritual treasure as well in our lives over these past 60 years.
“At the heart of our parish family is a core of faithful, dedicated, and generous families. These families prayerfully worship and generously support the ministries of our parish that reach out to our parishioners, community, diocese, and world.”
A temporary church building was needed until construction could begin on the new facilities. A chicken coop at a farm on West Dean Ave. was restored and converted into a chapel in just five weeks, costing less than $300. The first Sunday Masses were offered on June 16, 1950, with 325 people in attendance.
By fall of 1950, as parish membership continued to grow, a new facility was built on the Schofield St. site. It included an auditorium/gym (which doubled as the church), a rectory, and a chapel. (This building continues to serve as the school gym/auditorium and houses IHM preschool and after-school programs.)
The first section of Immaculate Heart of Mary School was built in 1954. It consisted of eight rooms. In 1956 the playground and parking lot were constructed, providing 265,000 square feet of playground space for softball, football, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. (The parish offers the playground to Monona community baseball, football, and soccer teams.)
Growing, new church
Church membership continued to grow. By 1961, over 200 baptisms were being performed per year. In 1961, after two years of construction, the new (current) church building was completed.
It has seating available for 1,000 people, beautiful mosaic murals, and stained glass windows. The main altar is made of solid marble and weighs seven tons.
The bell tower stands 57 feet high, surmounted by a 16-foot cross. When approaching the front entrance, church-goers are welcomed by a 20-foot tall, 12-ton statue of Mary.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was also home to the shrine of Our Lady of the Green Scapular from 1950 to 1968, which drew thousands of visitors annually from all around the world.
The school was expanded in 1962 to include additional classrooms, a kitchen, and a cafeteria. The convent and rectory/parish office were completed in 1968.
In 1968, Msgr. Edward Bier became pastor until his death in 1985. Fr. Robert Gille was pastor from 1985 to 1993, and Fr. John Meinholz served as pastor from 1993 to 2010. Fr. Bart Timmerman is the current pastor.
Currently, IHM membership remains stable at 1,100 households. IHM School serves students in Pre-K and 4K through eighth grade. Religious education programs are offered for public school students in grades K-10, with an annual mission trip for high school students.
The parish also offers adult faith formation, sacramental preparation, and ministry for those who are homebound, hospitalized, or living in care facilities.
Monthly, IHM families provide the meal at Luke House in Madison. Through the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter, food is collected for the food pantry, and drives are held for clothing, blankets, and Christmas gifts.
Each year on Memorial Day, the parish holds its annual festival on the church grounds. Other events throughout the year include a Super Bowl Brunch, Holiday Bazaar, Soup ‘R Raffle, and Spaghetti Dinner. The most popular fund-raising event at IHM, sponsored by the Home and School Association, is the “Fabulous Friday Fish Fry” held approximately seven times per year.
To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the parish held a Mass on September 19 followed by an open house. More activities are in the planning stages.
For more information on IHM, visit the parish Web site: www.ihmparishmonona.org