Westport parish celebrates 150 years of faith Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Sep. 01, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
westport offertory
Troy and Helen Hellenbrand, members of one of St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Westport’s charter families from more than 150 years ago, bring up the gifts to Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who celebrated the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass on August 20. To view or purchase photos, go to (Catholic Herald photos/Kevin Wondrash)

WESTPORT -- “We thank God in a special way today for all of your forefathers and foremothers on whose shoulders the faith of this parish stands,” said Bishop Robert C. Morlino at the start of Mass on August 20 at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Westport.

The Mass was to recognize and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the parish.

Serving the faith

While a sign outside the church says, “Serving the faith since 1852,” the parish itself was established in 1866. For those 14 years prior, Mass was celebrated in settlers’ homes.

Fr. Peter Lavin was the first pastor of St. Mary of the Lake, which served 64 families when the parish was new.

Today, the parish has more than 200 families. It is linked with St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee, which was started in 1874 as a mission of St. Mary of the Lake.

The current Romanesque church building opened in 1953 to replace one destroyed by fire.

The flag of Ireland in the church serves as a reminder of the Irish settlers who were the first parish families and their descendants who are still parishioners.

From 1956 to 1984, the parish supported St. Mary of the Lake School. Benedictine Sisters, the Religious of the Assumption, and Salesian Sisters served the school and parish during that time.

The school building now serves as a venue for parish events.

Thanksgiving and joy

During his homily, Bishop Morlino talked about thanksgiving and joy, the latter of which “brings hope,” he said.

“One hundred fifty years means that this parish family has had lots of time to practice being thankful, being joyful, being hopeful,” Bishop Morlino added.

When dealing with the challenges of the modern world, he said, “Building upon 150 years of practicing the faith, today, you have a very important mission. You have a mission in your own heart. You have a mission in your family life. You have a mission in the Church. And, you have a mission when it comes time to vote.”

Bishop Morlino called those missions, “The best way that you can honor that 150 years, with which you have been blessed so generously by the Lord himself.”

Celebrating 150 years

As Mass concluded, Msgr. James Gunn, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake, thanked Bishop Morlino for celebrating Mass.

He acknowledged some of the original parish families still active with the parish, including the Hellenbrands, who brought up the Offertory gifts during Mass, and the Kennedys, who helped with music ministry.

“We’re very grateful,” said Monsignor Gunn, “they still have that great spirit.”

He also remarked how some of the parish’s first families came from Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, thus giving the name to the town of Westport in Dane County.

Following Mass, a reception was held in the school cafeteria where parishioners and guests, young and old, gathered to share memories of the parish and meet each other.

St. Mary of the Lake Parish is located at 5460 Mary Lake Rd. in Westport.

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