St. Joseph History

St. Joseph Catholic Church

German immigrants who settled the Lyons area founded St. Joseph’s Catholic Church with help from Father Benedict Smedding of Lake Geneva.

Those recorded as being the first members of the congregation were: Henry  Howe, John Howe, Peter Strassen, John Heck, Hilary Heck, George Scheller, Benjamin Borchert, Mrs. Anna Ursprung, A. J. Host, Joseph Host Sr., Julius Host, Joseph E. Host, Alex Cook, Matthias Bachmeyer, Joseph Holcamp, Mrs. H. Geese, Anthony Emmerling, Matthias Shenk, William Kirschner, Michael Farley, Anthony Brown, Thomas Moran and James Moran. 

This group bought four lots for $100 in the name of Archbishop John Martin Henni in 1869, but it wasn’t until 1870 that construction of a building was begun. They built a 32’ x 28’ church at a cost of  $1,700 and added a 10 x 24’ lean-to rectory. This church stood where the current church is now.
Fr. Smedding served the new church for two years, dividing his time between St. Joseph and his parish in Lake Geneva.
Fr. Leonard Blum was appointed the first resident pastor of the congregation in 1873 and served until 1875.

In 1880 a 70’ steeple was added to the church, with a bell purchased from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Burlington.

When Fr. William Lettee left the parish in 1892, St. Joseph’s was left without a priest until 1894. During this time, Mass was offered on alternate Sundays by Father Cyril Kufner, who came from Milwaukee.

During the Pastorate of Fr. Hillenbrand it was decided that the congregation, which had grown to 75 families, was in need of larger quarters. After an addition was voted down in 1909, it was decided that a new church should be built. The new red brick structure was planned with Joseph A. Reuter and Brothers of Burlington as general contractor. The original wooden church was disassembled and the lumber was used to construct a house on Center Street.

The new cornerstone was laid on June 26, 1910. A dedication was held on October 27, 1910.

Stations of the Cross were added to the interior of St. Joseph Church by a donation.
On November 1, 1927, a new pipe organ was purchased for $3,000 from the Wagerin Organ Co in Milwaukee.
It was first played on Christmas of that year. 
A Eucharistic tabernacle was donated by the Christian Mothers Society in June of 1930.

In 1944, in preparation for the 75th anniversary, new lighting fixtures were installed and the floor and pews were refinished. The next major change came in 1966 when a small altar was built to enable the priest to say Mass facing the people and the Communion rail was removed.

The interior of St. Joseph’s has undergone a few renovations, the most recent being in 1994 when new windows were installed, pews were refinished, new kneelers were added, new carpeting was laid, and the church was painted in shades of cream and mauve in anticipation of the  125th Anniversary of St. Joseph Parish.

Construction began on a new addition to the church in 1988, complete with a wheelchair ramp and restrooms. It was finished in the spring of 1989 by Frank Voss Construction. Brickwork was completed by Hewitt and Ehlen. St. Joseph’s parishioners also worked on the addition.
Burt Phelps did the plastering while Richard Henning, Sr. painted and varnished the woodwork.

St. Joseph Church, rectory and school building

St. Joseph's Rectory
In 1894, under Fr. John Diebold, St. Joseph’s erected a new parsonage at a cost of $1,200, and enlarged the church by converting the lean-to rectory into a sanctuary and sacristy at an additional cost of $300.

A screen porch was added to the rear of the parsonage and the front entrance was enclosed in 1940.

The parsonage remained until 1964, when the a new rectory was built, attached to the church. The old rectory was purchased
by Walt Iselin and relocated to Center Street in Lyons in December of 1964.

St. Joseph School 1889 - 1982

Ours was the first and only catholic school in Walworth county for 60 years. The first classes were taught by Father Dries in when it opened in the fall of 1889. At that time there were 23 pupils in the small brick building, which cost $700 to build.  During 1889, while William Robers was the teacher, the land for a playground was purchased from Mrs. Anna Ursprung.

The first class to receive First Communion included Anna Hallen(Mrs. Fred Rieck), Mary Hallen (Mrs. Vernon Loomis), Michael Robers, Ernest Host, Frank Held, Frank Cook, Florence Spiegelhoff, Elizabeth Wagner (Mrs. John Vogt) and Elizabeth Roanhaus (Mrs. Henry Howe).

Tragedy struck in 1903 when the school burned. On a cold morning, the students had placed their coats around the school-room stove before going to Mass. By the time the fire was discovered, it was too late to save the building. The school was rebuilt the following year, a large one-room frame school with living quarters upstairs for the Sisters of St. Francis from St. Joseph’s Convent in Milwaukee who taught here. They were followed by the Sisters of  St. Francis of Assisi, who taught until the school was permanently closed.

The second school cost $2,225.60, while furnishings cost $615.90. Mr. P.H. Lacy was the contractor, with the plans drawn by Jos. Reuter. Only a small debt of $549 remained after the completion of the building, the rest having been paid for by subscriptions, donations of outside friends, bazaars and picnics. It was an English school, but the German language was given to those children who desired it.

The first graduation was held June 20, 1913 with three graduates: Florence Heck (Mrs. John Rice), Margaret Robers (Mrs. Peter Weber) and Edward Vorpagel.

The school then was divided into two rooms, making it possible to teach all eight grades, with an additional classroom added in 1918.

The school remained adequate and useful until 1945 when it was found that the school was too small to accommodate the fall enrollment. That year kindergarten was taught in the parish hall and in succeeding years it was also used for first grade classes.

In 1951, ground was broken for St. Joseph’s third and final school building. Costing $94,000, it consisted of four classrooms, an office, and an 11-room convent with small chapel. The old school was dismantled and the upper portion moved to New Munster where it was remodeled into a house. The lower portion was taken to Pell Lake where it was used as Trinity Lutheran Church.

Beginning in 1963, it became necessary to hire lay teachers in addition to the nuns. The class of 1966 was the last to graduate, as increasing costs of education made it necessary to discontinue grades seven and eight.

By 1982, enrollment was down to a total of 37 students for six grades. Grades 1-3 were in one room, grades 4-6 in the other. Projected enrollment for 1983 was 32 students, and it was not feasible to keep the school open any longer. St. Joseph’s Catholic Grade School was closed after the 1981/1982 school year ended.

In 2005, our school building was renovated into a new parish center with offices, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and a large gathering space.

Parish Hall

In April of 1919, parishioners undertook building a 28 x 70 foot Recreational Hall made of concrete and stucco. It was built by E. A. Baumeister. The concrete basement was put in by Hand and Son on June 26, 1919. The Hall was remodeled in 1961 with new washrooms and a new kitchen and dining room on the lower level.

Demolition of Old Hall Leads to Prayer Garden

The church hall stood until 2009. Since it was not handicapped accessible, and there were faults in the foundation causing moisture damage, pastoral council decided the building should be razed. A lovely prayer garden now occupies the space where the hall once stood. Plants, structures, and landscaping installation were all donated anonymously.

Parish Center Renovation

Parish leadership, after surveying parishioners, determined it was necessary to renovate our facilities in order to house an array of parish activities, including meetings, religious education classes, funeral dinners and fundraisers.

In 2000, St. Joseph’s Buildings & Grounds Committee began working on the feasibility phase of our building project. In that time, they held more than 15 meetings, consulted with several architects and contractors, and reviewed 9 building plans. Ideas ranged from building an extension on the church on the existing parking lot to selling the whole church campus and starting over on a 40 acre site on highway 36. Ultimately it was decided to renovate the existing school building at a cost of $900,000, with floor plans posted in church in November 2002.

Fund were raised with a Capital Campaign launched in 2003: “If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me!” There was a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday, July 31. Work began on August 1, 2005 with removal of asbestos material and demolition. Construction was completed in November of 2005 and celebrated with a Dedication ceremony on December 4, 2005.

Phase two began with renovation of the north end of the building (former convent) in August of 2007. It was completed in the summer of 2008.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided at Mass on August 24, 2008 and then dedicated the completely renovated Parish Center.

St. Joseph Cemetery

As early as 1871, the parish had set aside land for a cemetery. Records show that Peter Strassen and Joseph Host donated two acres of land for that purpose. Herman F. Smith and his wife Tracy deeded additional land and together this comprises the old section of the cemetery. In 1968,  Alice Walbrandt and Evelyn Vorpagel deeded 1.5 acres which comprise the newer section.

Adloph Holcamp was the first member of the congregation to be buried within its confines in 1871.

The cemetery association was formed in 1923 with Joseph Schaefer named as custodian. He served until 1942, when Joseph Ahler was named. Since that time, Ed Zaccard and Ed Wieners have served as custodian.

White Ash Tree becomes Holy Family Statue

On November 3, 2016, Complete Tree Service removed the White Ash tree from the courtyard.
They estimated that the tree was 102 years old, and had been in decline for the last 10 years.
There was considerable decay in one of the main limbs. The bottom of the trunk was saved in order to have a sculpture created from it. In 2019, we received the finished sculpture from Bob Younger of Eagle, Wisconsin. The statue was blessed and dedicated on October 10, 2021 at St. Joseph's 150th Anniversary celebration.


St. Kilian Merger and Closing

St. Kilian was founded in 1856 after area families petitioned Archbishop  Henni for a church of their own where Mass would be said in German. Initially it was a mission church of New Munster, but became a mission of St. Joseph in 1884.

St. Joseph Parish and St. Kilian Mission in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were formally merged effective July 1, 1998. The occasion was marked with a special Mass celebrated under a large white tent at St. Kilian on July 12, 1998. A luncheon and fellowship followed.

After 15 years of break-ins and vandalism at St. Kilian church and cemetery, beginning at least a decade before the last Mass, the decision was made in 1999 to demolish the buildings in order to keep them from attracting vandals to the cemetery. On Saturday, May 11, 2002, the Lyons Fire Department did a controlled burn, allowing the church to serve the community one last time. It was a solemn experience which began with prayer led by Parish Director Dan Hull.

A monument was subsequently built on the premises in November of 2005 and dedicated in May of 2006.

Click HERE for a history of St. Kilian Church

Tragedy on the Feast of the Epiphany

On Saturday night, January 6, 2001, while presiding at Mass, our priest of four years, Ron Bandle, died suddenly of a heart attack. He had just finished the sprinkling rite and had handed the holy water to the server when he collapsed. Parishioners prayed while others tried unsuccessfully to revive him. He was 59 years old. His memorial service was held at St. Joseph on January 14 at 3:00 p.m.

Changing with the Times

In 1996, St. Joseph was one of four additional parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be assigned a Parish Director to lead them. The announcement came on January 8th, along with the news of  Fr. Don Quartana’s upcoming retirement. Bishop Sklba had sent letters to parish council members, who then read them at Masses. Assisting priests were assigned while the parish directors were still being interviewed. Dan Hull joined St. Joseph as director in July of 1996.

As the archdiocese began planning for the anticipated priest shortage, they developed the “2020 Plan.”  The plan called for 72 clusters of parishes and 28 free-standing larger parishes to be created from the current 203 parishes. St. Joseph parish council members and trustees began meeting with those from St. Charles and St. Mary in 2012. The collaboration of the three parishes was announced at Masses in April of 2013. The leadership created a Tri-Parish covenant that is a commitment from each parish to the shared work of the Holy Spirit.

With Fr. John Baumgartner’s retirement in 2014, the 2020 plan was implemented. Fr. Jim Volkert became the Pastor of St. Joseph as well as St. Charles and St. Mary.

Sons and daughters of St. Joseph who have embraced the religious life:

Rev. Aloysius Ahler
Bishop James Schuerman
Kenneth Clapp
Sister Mary Antonella Ahler, OSF
Sister M. Aqueline Robers, Franciscans
Sister M. Priscilla Robers, Franciscans
Sister M. Clara Ahler, OSF
Sister Janet Ahler, CSA
Sister Francis Cabrini Rittman, Sisters of Mercy