Portage parish celebrates 175th anniversary Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Karen Camilleri, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 04, 2008 -- 1:00 AM

PORTAGE -- St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish began a year-long celebration of its 175th anniversary with a logo of the cross with the wording, "Our Legacy -- Our Future."

Special mobile in church

A special mobile has been hanging in the center of church as part of the 175th anniversary. Fr. Jim Murphy, pastor, explained that the 175 is one of the woodcarvings hanging from the mobile. Pointing to the anniversary theme, the words "legacy" and "future" are also carved in the wood.

The colors of the ribbons are the liturgical colors from the season of the church year -- white, purple, and green. The mobile also has blue ribbons at the center for our patron, Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

The words and ribbons hang from bamboo poles, commonly used as fishing poles. The disciples were former fishermen who were sent by Jesus to fish for people as followers of Christ. As St. Mary parish members, we too are to gather those who seek to follow Jesus.

Finally our mobile turns or moves. Our parish has a rich history but it also lives and moves. The mobile will be lowered at our final event, the Mass on Monday, Dec. 8.

Anniversary events

Each month the parish joined in special activities that involved the whole parish, often the whole community.

The January event was a weekend where anyone could come and walk the labyrinth in the school gym. The final event will be the closing Mass on December 8 with Bishop Robert C. Morlino presiding. The Mass will be celebrated 149 years after the dedication of the current church to the Immaculate Conception.

Other events were planting of a special tree in April, Best Fest in May, publication of the Parish Directory in June with a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, and a special outdoor Mass in July held at Pauquette Park on the anniversary of the first parish Mass.

Other events included a food drive for local pantries in August, a family picnic in September, and an Irish wake in October. Also, a special edition of the 175th anniversary cookbook featured many family recipes; some cookbooks are still available.

In May the Portage Catholic Woman’s Club invited Sisters who taught at St. Mary School for a reunion and a reception for the parish members to visit with them. About 18 Sisters came from all over Wisconsin.

History of parish

St. Mary holds the distinction of being the oldest parish in the Madison diocese and the second oldest in Wisconsin. In 1831, at the age of 24, Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, a Dominican, arrived in the area to work with the Ho-Chuck Indians.

By 1833, the fledgling parish was established and had built its first church. The first Mass was offered in what was known as "Pauquette's Church," located near the current intersection of Conant and Adams Sts. Other churches were built in 1851 and 1854. The current church was dedicated on December 8, 1859.

In 1855 St. Mary School was opened and staffed by Sinsinawa Dominicans; 100 years later a new school was built on the corner of Conant and MacFarlane.

In 1877 German immigrants who arrived in Portage to dig the canal formed St. Francis Xavier Congregation, which was incorporated into St. Mary in 1906.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the building of a rectory to house the pastor and his two assistants. The church interior was redecorated in 1959 and 1976.

Karen Camilleri is chairperson of the 175th anniversary celebration at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Portage.

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