HIGHLAND -- After fire destroyed St. Anthony Church in Highland on April 17, 2002, the parish put a sign out front that said, "Church is people, not a building."
Fr. Kenneth J. Frisch, the pastor, said that is still true. However, he adds, "It is the people that have brought about a new building and it is people who will continue to make the journey of faith that Christ calls us to walk. We have built not only a structure to pray in, but we have also built a community that worships together."
From sadness to gladness
As the new SS. Anthony and Philip Church was dedicated on Sunday, Sept. 28, Bishop William H. Bullock, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Madison, also recalled the fire.
In a message to the parishioners in the dedication booklet, Bishop Bullock recalled being in Highland at the time of the fire. "I want you to know that as I watched fire and smoke burst forth from the old tower of St. Anthony on April 17, 2002, as I stood there across the street, I was filled with great sadness. Today I will stand on the same spot, but I am filled with great gladness."
Parishioners also expressed happiness at the dedication of the new church. Before the Mass, Dan Pustina, chairman of the CORE Building Committee, was all smiles. "It's such a wonderful feeling," he said. "To see people in the church is just wonderful,"
Pustina noted that the parishioners of today have been "living off" the generosity of their ancestors. While the fire was a tragedy, it gave today's parishioners "the opportunity to step up," said Pustina, and contribute their time, talents, and financial support for the building of a new church to serve future generations.
For example, Pustina helped with the site work and grading for the new facility. Parishioners Grace and Don Hasburgh were responsible for building the altar, ambo, and other liturgical furniture.
The dedication rites began outside the church as parishioners gathered near the front door. The bishop and about 15 concelebrating priests processed to the entrance while the choir sang.
Bishop Bullock greeted everyone, saying "this is a day of rejoicing." Dennis Richgels, former Parish Council president, also offered a welcome.
Bishop Bullock received a copy of the plans for the church from Allan Birschback, architect; a book of the minutes of the Building Committee from Dan Pustina; and a key to the church from P.A. McGuire, construction manager.
The bishop then invited Father Frisch to open the doors and parishioners followed him into the new church. They passed by two stained glass windows created to replicate the windows in St. Anthony and St. Philip Churches.
Bishop Bullock blessed the water in the new baptismal font, then sprinkled the people, walls, and altar with holy water.
Bishop offers challenges
At the beginning of his homily, Bishop Bullock drew laughter and applause from parishioners when he said with an allusion to the presidential elections, "Please allow me to say to all of you, 'I am Bishop William Bullock and I approve this message.'"
Bishop Bullock said, "I am pleased to be here with you today. Your pastor invited me, and Bishop Morlino, who certainly is with us all today in spirit and in prayer, gave me the opportunity because of his crowded schedule to do the blessing."
Bishop Bullock said that while he rejoices with the people of Highland on their new church, he also offered them a challenge. "We know that the forces of evil are more blatant than ever in our day," he warned. "Daily news reports call our attention to an uncertain economy, the increase in abuse of drugs, alcoholism, obesity, and other forms of addictive behavior. These influences plague our country, our state, and our families."
Gifts of faith, hope, and love
How do people cope with these challenges? The bishop reminded the parishioners that "Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He has given us the gifts of faith, hope, and love, to help us make the right choices in life, said Bishop Bullock.
"We need to be simple and real believers again," said the bishop. "The most basic belief is that there is life beyond the one we live in now. Death does not end it all. There is a world yet to come. Faith is basic to our journey from earth to heaven."
Besides faith, we have the gift of hope. Bishop Bullock left a prayer card with the parishioners with quotes from Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi.
The bishop also reminded the parishioners that "love should permeate everything we do; it should motivate us and complete us as the people who belong to God."
Bishop Bullock noted that the chalice used at the Mass was a gift from the late Fr. Bernard Pierick, a diocesan priest from Highland.
Father Frisch announced that Bishop Bullock gave a relic of St. William to the parish. "It will be placed in the altar. We are grateful for that gift," said the pastor.
Father Frisch also thanked the many people involved in the building project and the diocesan priests who came to the dedication before going to the Presbyteral Assembly in Wisconsin Dells. He also welcomed Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer, a priest-son of the parish.