Only a dozen or so people were on hand for the installation of a window in the chancel of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, but those who saw it knew they were witnessing an important moment in parish history.
It has been 10 years since three Catholic parishes in Beaver Dam began the painful task of consolidation.
In the process two churches were sold; the future of parish schools was called into question and many parish members either endured the pain or left for good.
The window installation is a sign that the healing process is, if not complete, then going well.
The window is symbolic of all of the struggles that parish members have endured. In the center is the figure of St. Katharine Drexel. According to Catholic Online, Saint Katharine Drexel, (Feast Day March 3) was born in 1858, into a prominent Philadelphia family, Katharine became imbued with love for God and neighbor. She took an avid interest in the material and spiritual well-being of black and Native Americans. Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Black and Native American peoples, whose members would work for the betterment of those they were called to serve. From the age of 33 until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life and a fortune of $20 million to this work. At her death there were more than 500 sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country. Because of her lifelong dedication to her faith and her selfless service to the oppressed, Pope John Paul II canonized her on Oct. 1, 2000 to become only the second recognized American-born saint.”
In the window the saint is depicted holding a black child with a slate and the equation, 1 + 1 = 2. At her side is a Native American Child holding a Bible. In the background on the left is a depiction of Beaver Dam’s first Catholic Church, St. Mary’s. on the right are the spires of the three churches that were consolidated, including St. Patrick’s, St. Peter’s and St. Michael’s.
Battles were waged over which church was to be retained; and later if that church, the former St. Peter’s, was to be replaced with a new structure outside the city. Plans were also being made to build a new school at the new location.
The priest leading the charge was Fr. John Schreiter, who departed from the parish several years ago. His replacement, Fr. Michael Erwin, set about the task of healing all of the wounds that had festered since consolidation began. Most recently the parish decided to pursue an idea to put a new window where one of St. Peter had formerly been placed. No one remembers whether the window was damaged, or why it was removed, but the opening where it once stood was bricked in and plastered, leaving only the ghost of its past glory.
Recently the parish united behind renovating its 112-year-old home, and Fr. Erwin suggested a move to celebrate 10 years of unity – the previously mentioned window. Several studios were contacted to do the work and a colaboration between the parish and Conrad Schmitt began.
On Wednesday Erwin, while watching the installation, said, “This is a sign that we’re coherent, united and holding strong as we go into the future.”
Donations are still being accepted to help cover the window’s nearly $17,000 price tag. Incidentally, at the same time a new $125,000 heating system was being installed — another investment in the future.
“The new heating plant will be so much more efficient than the old one,” Erwin said. “It has been cold recently in the church, but we’ll have some heat once more by the time people arrive this weekend.”
As he watched the window installation, Erwin said, “This is so exciting – so emotional.”
“This is a magnificent day,” said long-time parish activist Judy Johnsen.
Conrad Schmitt Studios had painstakingly duplicated the style and colors of other church windows, making the window blend seamlessly with others around it.
“It looks like it has been there for 100 years," said parishioner and volunteer Steve Haase.
“A person looking at this would know exactly what St. Katharine Drexel (and the parish) is all about,” Johnsen added.