Saint Joseph Parish

404 W Lawrence St
Appleton, WI 54911


"Past Pastors" of St. Joe's

Fr. Ferdinand Stern

Last week, we introduced Fr. Joseph Nussbaum who was our first pastor. He was replaced by Fr. Ferdinand Stern who served the parish for seven years. The fact that he was here for seven years is short of a miracle! His Pastorate was characterized by turmoil, arguing, disagreeing and finally, his resigning from the parish.

Fr. Stern was 29 when he arrived in Appleton from his birthplace in Austria. Because of his temper, he encountered many difficulties in addressing the needs of the parish. His first order of business was to establish rules concerning membership in the parish. There seems to be a great laxity in this regard and Fr. Stern insisted on order! Some agreed with his approach, but many did not.

His next task was in regards to the school. Within a month after arriving here, he got two Sisters of St. Agnes to come and teach. The "German Catholic School" had 90 students. English was taught in the morning and German in the afternoon. For some unknown reason, in July 1873, the Sisters were told to return to their motherhouse. Fortunately, the School Sisters of Notre Dame were willing to come and teach the children.

Other troubles that faced Fr. Stern: In 1871 a fire occurred in the rectory. Fortunately, it was quickly extinguished and the damage, amounting to $7, was paid by the insurance company. Fr. Stern wanted to have a lightening rod on the rectory, but his request was voted down at a parish meeting. However, he realized that a pastor could incur expenses of up to $30 without consulting the parish; and the rod was installed. When Fr. Stern wanted a sidewalk built from the church to the street, it was refused unless he himself would collect the money. It took a while, but he finally got the money.

The biggest headache was the building of a new church. In 1871, the parish decided to replace the ramshackle building that had been called a church. It was dedicated on November, 1872 and is essentially the same structure we have today. It cost $21,140. That's where the headache began. Parishioners contributed $10,000, leaving a loan of $11,000. On account of subsequent events, this debt soon became a nightmare.

Besides paying off a loan, a new school needed to be built. A scheme was devised to quickly raise a lot of money. The parish would hold a national lottery with 30,000 tickets to be sold at a dollar a piece. $12,000 would be given away in prizes, resulting in $18,000 profit. Well, the tickets were sent all over the country. However, soon after that, the US Congress passed a law forbidding the use of mail for lottery purposes. A frantic appeal was made to the Postmaster General for an exception. It was denied! The end result of all the planniing and hard work was a profit of less than $1,000. As such, this scheme was deemed as a grand failure.

Fr. Stern knew he was faced with a mess. The parish was facing the real prospect of bankruptcy and had lost all confidence in their Pastor. Fr. Stern sent a letter of resignation on April 15, 1877, and left the parish.

History of St. Joseph Parish

The history of the Catholic Church in the United States bears witness to the fact that the majority of the original parishes were organized and built by the immigrants who came to this country from Europe. Because of the various languages they spoke, it was only natural that they organized and built parish life around their specific language. They wished to pray and worship God in their native tongue. So it was with St. Joseph Parish.

Originally, St. Mary's Parish was the only Catholic church in Appleton, which was started in 1857 by the Irish immigrants. When the Germans began to migrate to Appleton, they could not understand English and therefore longed to have their own community where they could sing and pray to God in German. On March 18, 1867, the feast of St. Joseph, Archbishop Henni of Milwaukee gave permission for the Germans to build their own church, which was dedicated on December 13, 1868 by Bishop Melchoir, the first Bishop of the new Green Bay Diocese. On February 26, 1869, St. Joseph Parish received its first resident pastor in the person of Rev. Joseph Nussbaum.

From the beginning, there were problems between the parishioners and the pastors, which reached their breaking point at the beginning of 1875, a situation which lasted until 1877. Bishop Krautbauer looked for help to the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, with whom he was on very friendly terms. The Capuchins accepted the pastorate of St. Joseph and took possession of the parish on April 22, 1877. Fr. Didacus Wendel was the first Capuchin Friar to be pastor. Since then, many Capuchins, both clerical and non-clerical, have served the parish until the present.

Little by little what had been started in 1867 continued to grow - buildings were raised for a school, meetings, living quarters for the Friars and a convent for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught the children. The Friars were interested not only in the physical part of the parish, but mainly in its spiritual development, and so parish societies were organized - Holy Name, Christian Mothers, as well as societies for young men and women, married women, children who had received their First Communion, and others. Basically the pastor let and the people followed.

With Vatican Council II, parish life changed. The church began to once more recognize the gifts and talents of its lay members. The old societies were replaced with the Parish Council, Finance Council, Ministers of the Word, Eucharist, Hospitality, Music, Assistants of the Altar, Maintenance, etc. Decision making for the direction of the parish was now on a broader base, with the lay members of the parish expressing their desires. Education of children has improved as we evolved from our own school to be fully integrated in the Appleton Catholic Education System (ACES/Xavier).

Today, St. Joseph Parish is an alive, welcoming community. We have recently added an addition that gives us the space for growing parish groups and activities. Our focus, as it has always been, is the full, active and participated worship of God. Our mission is to serve all those who choose to come to us.

May God continue to bless St. Joseph Community.

St. Joseph Parish in earlier times showing the old school and school

The interior of St. Joe's before the changes to the front of the church.

St. Joseph School and Hall built in 1894 and 1907 with the convent behind the school before the school and hall were razed for the new school building.

Old classroom photo, date unknown.

Old classroom photo, date unknown.

Interior during the 1960's.

Interior of St. Joseph Church - 1992
125th Year of Jubilee