||St. Thomas Parish in Potosi, founded in 1836, is marking its 175th anniversary. St. Thomas Church, built in 1847, is the oldest continuing church in the diocese, pictured at right as it is today, still in continuous use. (Contributed photos)
POTOSI -- St. Thomas Parish will be celebrating its 175th anniversary on Sunday, July 17. There will be a celebration Mass at 3 p.m. at St. Thomas Church, located at 101 Church St. in Potosi.
Bishop Robert C. Morlino will preside at the Mass. Concelebrants will include Fr. Richard J. Leffler, pastor of SS. Andrew and Thomas Parish, along with area priests.
A reception will immediately follow at SS. Andrew-Thomas School, 100 Hwy. 61 North, Potosi. All are welcome to attend. For more information, call 608-763-2671.
A new 68-page book on the history of the parish will be for sale at the celebration. The book, edited by Father Leffler, details the 175-year history of the parish.
Founded by Father Mazzuchelli
The Dominican missionary priest, Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, founded St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in 1836. It was considered the “Irish parish” in the community of Potosi. It was served by missionary priests, including Fr. Mathias Loras, later bishop of Dubuque, Iowa, and Father Mazzuchelli.
A log chapel was built in 1838, just below the site of the present church. Father Mazzuchelli wrote in his memoirs that the structure, which seated 150 people, cost $500.
St. Andrew Parish in the nearby village of Tennyson was established as the “German parish” in 1846. The two parish churches are located about a mile apart from each other and both are still used for weekday and weekend Masses in SS. Andrew and Thomas Parish, which was established in 1970 when the two historic parishes merged.
Oldest church in diocese in use
The current St. Thomas Church was built in 1847 and is said to be the oldest church in the Diocese of Madison still in continuous use. It is the first consecrated church built in Grant County.
The brick structure cost $11,000 when it was built by Fr. James Causse, the first resident pastor, who served from 1840 to 1854. Bishop John Martin Henni of Milwaukee dedicated the church in 1847.
The facade of the church was altered slightly between 1895 and 1915, when two wing-like projections were removed and an addition was made to the back of the church. A 1996 restoration project included a new entrance and modifications to accommodate people with special needs.
The church underwent a major restoration in 2006, which included painting and tuckpointing, adding new flooring, and restoration of the stained glass windows.
This year, four new altars are being built for the church including the main Eucharistic altar, back altar, and side altars. The main altar will be ready for the 175th anniversary Mass.
All the new altars, costing about $80,000, will highlight the Irish heritage of the parish with the use of celtic crosses in the design.
Education is a priority
Education has always been a priority at St. Thomas Parish. It is believed that St. Thomas had the first Catholic school in Wisconsin taught by Sisters. St. Mathias Academy was started at the parish in 1843 and was staffed by the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) from Dubuque, Iowa. They taught at the school until 1852.
The academy is considered the second oldest parochial school in Wisconsin.
In 1965, students at St. Andrew and St. Thomas Parishes started classes in a newly constructed school building. Prior to that time, each parish had its own school.
SS. Andrew and Thomas School in Potosi continues the parish educational tradition, educating students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
A parish heritage room has been established at St. Andrew. It includes old sacramentals from both parishes, old stained glass windows, an old confessional, pictures, Bibles, and other items. People are invited to visit the room to see some of the heritage of these historic parishes.