Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli: God’s bridge of love to others Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Written by Fr. Donald Lange   
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

In 1982, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald newspaper conducted a survey to name the new bridge that connected Dubuque, Iowa, with Wisconsin and the Diocese of Madison.

The name "Mazzuchelli Bridge" received the most votes, perhaps because of ways Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli influenced early Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. It was then submitted to the Dubuque City Council, but the council named the new bridge the Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge instead.

God's bridge of Christ-like love

The bridge was not named after Father Mazzuchelli, but in my judgment, he was already God's bridge of Christ-like love to Catholics and non-Catholics in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and upper Michigan.

As God's bridge to others, Father Mazzuchelli reflects many of Pope Francis' qualities. Like him, he was a bridge of God's mercy, love, and justice to the oppressed.

He defended Catholic soldiers' rights to attend Sunday Mass at Fort Mackinac, Mich. He wrote to government officials protesting injustices against Indians and settlers. He opposed slavery and condemned the Civil War’s bloodshed.

Like Pope Francis, Father Mazzuchelli was a bridge of Christ’s mercy to the sick and dying. In 1850, a chlorea epidemic struck New Diggings, Wis. He buried the dead and

Fr. Mazzuchelli
Weekly reflections by Father Lange available online

Fr. Donald Lange, a priest from the Diocese of Madison, is sharing his weekly reflections for 2014 with anyone who wishes to use them. The year 2014 is significant because it marks the 150th anniversary of Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli’s death on February 23, 1864.
These reflections can be printed on blogs, websites, newspapers/newsletters, parish bulletins, at retreats, and anywhere else. They can be located at www.sinsinawa.org/mazzuchelli/mazz_reflect_lange1214.pdf
They can also be accessed by going to www.sinsinawa.org and clicking on the "News and Events" link at the top of the page. Then, click on the title "2014 Weekly Reflections."

consoled survivors.

He transacted wills and bequests hastily made by dying Protestant and Catholic parents. He took responsibility for orphans. He had a special place in his heart for orphans, probably because his mother died when he was six and some of his early classmates were orphans.

Bridge of peace between faiths

Father Mazzuchelli was a bridge of peace between Catholics and others. He lived when religious controversy was an accepted fact of life. Though he didn’t agree with some of their beliefs, he respected and was respected by Protestants, Masons, and others.

In 1862, when Benton's Primitive Methodist Church was destroyed by fire, Father Mazzuchelli sent $25 to help rebuild the church as proof of his goodwill. The $25 dollars was greater than the St. Patrick’s collection for six months.

A civic leader and builder

Like Pope Francis, Father Mazzuchelli liked people. To settlers he was civic leader, friend, and builder of the City of Man and City of God. Though Catholics were a minority, he was asked to serve as chaplain at the first Wisconsin territorial legislature.

He helped to design the Galena Courthouse, the Galena Market House, the original Iowa State Capitol building, and the Lee County Courthouse of Fort Madison, Iowa. He also helped to build numerous churches and schools.

He liked people of all walks of life

Father Mazzuchelli liked people. In Rudyard Kipling's words, he could "walk with kings, nor lose the common touch."

His friend, Judge Charles Corkery, wrote that today "Father Samuel could be found in the mansion of the affluent and tomorrow in the hovel of the poor. There he is high upon the scaffold, with coat off and sleeves tucked up, industriously at work in brick and mortar. In the evening, you see him in the pulpit, discoursing on some abstruse topic, and tomorrow he lectures before governors, judges, and legislators."

In some ways, he reminds me of Fr. Mathias Wernerus, who built the Dickeyville Grotto near my home.

Recognized women's gifts

Father Mazzuchelli also recognized women’s gifts. His vision of American Dominican life was realized by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, whom he helped found.

On August 18, 1848, when the Sisters were novices, the Wisconsin legislature granted them legal status to incorporate the Benton Female Academy. The Sisters retained full legal authority and ownership of their property. Bishop James Shannon wrote that it’s hard to name a group that has done more to Christianize and civilize the Midwest than these thousands of religious women.

A Christ-like master teacher

Like St. Dominic and many religious Sisters, Father Mazzuchelli was a Christ-like master teacher. He wanted the Sisters to actively teach and not be a cloistered community. When he learned that they were asked to do more domestic work than teaching, he protested. The Sisters were permitted to spend more time in teaching. It is fitting that the Dubuque Catholic Mazzuchelli Middle School was named after him.

At the Benton Female Academy, Father Mazzuchelli was respected and loved by the Sisters and students. Students remembered how he enjoyed seeing them have fun, share sleigh rides, and giggle with girlish joy. In the hearts of Sisters and students, Father Samuel -- as he was called -- was a superior person, always kind, simple, humble, and approachable.

Marking 150th anniversary of death

On February 23, 2014, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of his death. During the year, there will be pilgrimages, special Masses, and other activities too numerous to share here.

For more information email Sr. Betty Kugi at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call the Sinsinawa Dominican Archives at 608-748-4411. Many hope and pray that Father Mazzuchelli will be declared “Blessed” and eventually be canonized a saint.

May Father Mazzuchelli influence all of us, especially the Sinsinawa Dominicans, other Religious, priests, Native Americans, and laity who are spiritual descendants of those he served in upper Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.

Let’s pray that the yearlong sesquicentennial commemoration of his death and life inspires all of us to imitate Christ as he did and opens ways to share evangelization's fresh new wine.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.