1830 - 1880 Beginnings: The French Canadian settlers grew in number along the banks of the Chippewa River. They were industrious, law-abiding faithful Catholics employed in lumbering at the large mill in town and at camps in the north, as well as fur trapping of bear, fox and wolf. They worshipped at “Our Lady of the Pines” (now Notre Dame) and also founded St. Jean Baptiste and St. Joseph’s Union church societies.
1880 - 1900 Community Established: Father Goldsmith and Father Sturm, his assistant, made trips to lumber camps for donations to build a church. A 3-acre plot was purchased in spring of 1886; ground was broken for the original building, a combination church and school. The enthusiastic and energetic French Canadian families worked together, volunteering skilled and unskilled labor, so that the church was completed in October, 1886. Father Sturm was appointed pastor. The school opened its doors to 120 children, grades 1-7. During the next 2 years, a large brick rectory (1887) and convent (1888) were added in the same way. The Sisters of Notre Dame faithfully served the school, and would do so until 1972. Father Sturm joined the Jesuit Order, and a succession of pastors followed in an effort to establish and nurture the French-speaking faith community.
1900 - 1910 Holy Ghost Congregation came under the charge of Holy Ghost Fathers: Father Joseph Roth became pastor. A zealous and experienced administrator who had come from the mission fields of Africa, he served the parish by organizing elected trustees, formulating new regulation, and directed the liquidation of the debt of $1,500. Under the influence of Father Joseph Frecenon, (pastor in 1904), parish fêtes, dinners, and social activities blossomed. Prior to this, parish dinners were prepared by the ladies who supplied their own utensils, cookwares, and dishes and carried everything to the church hall. Now, kitchen facilities were added to the church-school.
At this time, four other companion priests ministered to missions in Springfield, Holcombe, Cook’s Valley, Jim Falls, Cornell, and Bob’s Creek. The transition of our area from lumbering to the industrial era was accompanied by unemployment and crop failures which burdened the parish with debt. With the generous help of Chippewa businessmen, the parishioners responded and were able to make the transition.
In October, 1910, the parish family of Holy Ghost celebrated its 25th anniversary, with sermons and talks given in both French and English.
1910 - 1948 War Years, Growth and Construction: In 1912, the school added the 8th grade. The parish family received Father Francis Schnabel as pastor in 1917 after Father Frecenon returned to France, where he died. Father Schnabel’s calm spirituality and command of French encouraged the parishioners greatly.
During the 10 years Father Fandrey pastored the parish, 1923-1933, a period of growth and prosperity ensued. The people generously responded with labor and money, to make repairs, install two new furnaces, and wipe out the parish debt, all by 1925. The Lord had blessed our congregation with increased numbers, so that permission was granted to construct a new church.
In 1927 Henry Bartlett (Eau Claire) designed the church, contracted by Shafer and Olson of Chippewa. In March, farmers came out with their teams to break ground, while parishioners and their non-Catholic neighbors came to dig the foundation. They labored hard, and with much fund-raising and volunteer labor, the church as it presently stands was completed in September, 1927.
The parishioners generously and faithfully worked to reduce the debt greatly by 1935. In spite of the depression of the 20’s, men and women vied with each other in arranging sales, parties, bazaars and picnics. The children with the sisters produced and staged plays as an added source of income.
Father Fandrey was succeeded in 1933 by Father Charles Wolffer. Father Michael Sonnefeld replaced him in 1936, the year the Holy Ghost congregation celebrated the golden jubilee. Special events included a solemn mission, publishing of a printed booklet of parish history, pictures, and original poetry, and an evening of entertainment by the choir, drama club, school children, and parish orchestra as well as the annual picnic celebration.
In 1939 Father Alphonse Favre was appointed pastor here. At that time, Holy Ghost Parish was responsible for mission in Springfield, Elk Mound, and Wilson, as well as Catholics at Northern Colony. By 1941, a total of 3 priests assisted Father Favre. During the post-war years, the parish family nearly doubled. Plans for a new school were formed. The parishioners again came forward volunteering skills, labor and talent to complete and dedicate the present school by September, 1949.
1948-1976 Building and Changing - Renewal: During this era of rapid growth, plans were made and funds were raised for a new convent, to be completed in May, 1955. While the new convent was under construction, a fire destroyed the original rectory after Christmas, 1954. Anticipating the completion of the convent, the nuns moved into the school basement; the priests would live in the old convent (directly behind the school) until 1958.
The parishioner’s traditions of resourcefulness, community spirit and willingness to work hard were outstanding during this “building boom”, especially regarding electrical, plumbing, and heating installation. The present rectory was completed in 1958. The old convent was demolished, and in 1959 a school addition of 4 classrooms, library and materials room occupied that space. This expansion required lowering the school basement and installing a new heating boiler as well.
In these years, 3 Holy Ghost priests remained at the Parish, especially since they served the missions of Edson, Drywood, and Springfield (St. Bridget’s). 1960 brought to a close the service of Holy Ghost fathers to the Parish; and the parish once again returned to the spiritual guidance of diocesan priests. Father Comisky was welcomed as pastor.
Remodeling the renewals of facilities continued with the church-school kitchen (early 60’s) and a city-wide effort to build the new McDonell High School (1961-1963). Holy Ghost Parish contributed $8,000.00 toward the land alone, and assumed 23% of the construction debt. Liturgical renewal, social changes and changing times prompted extensive renovation of the church interior in 1968, to complete the building effort. Changing traditions in the church were even reflected by the change of school staff from the Notre Dame Sisters to lay teachers in 1972. The convent building, purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Manny in 1973, is presently a group home for the retarded children.
When Father Comisky moved in 1970, Father Mathieu became Pastor from 1970-1972, until Father Jeremiah Cashman became pastor in 1972.
1984 - 1991 -Under Rev. Thome, the interior of the church was decorated. Bible studies started and there was a Mission with Fr. Warner Wolf - Capuccian. The Reverend Thomas Smith had a brief stay at Holy Ghost in 1984.
1986 -2002 - Under Rev. Scherman’s stay, he was the administrator at St. Bridget’s. Our parish had 950 families, about 2900 members in all.
1987 While Father Edwin Thome was still our pastor at Holy Ghost Parish, Carl and Jean Prueher approached him with a generous offer. The parish staff received computers for more accurate and speedy office work!
1989 - 2008 - While Father Doerre was our pastor for 19 years, he had the carpet put down in the church, new black top laid, a new piano and organ were purchased, names were put on the piano from the music fund, conducted bible studies, mission, new rectory windows, new carpet in the rectory, had air conditioning installed in the church and rectory, church steps were replaced with names on the steps, new fencing by convent and rectory and an elevator lift was installed.
1991 The Boy Scouts of Troop 13 helped uncover valuable storage area. There were two coal bins beneath the concrete slab on the west end of our church. These coal rooms served their purpose for many years when our main source of heat was from coal. Ron Litke and Dave Schock did the most unpleasant job of removing 2500 pounds of coal and other debris, leaving the remainder of the project for the Scouts to do with the leadership of Scout Leader Skip August.
1993 The Diocese of La Crosse asked for volunteers to reach out to people with the special needs. Sr. Yvonne Heiss spearheaded the Friends of Jesus program in our parish and it is still thriving today.
1994 Our parish sign was erected, compliments of Bob Marek who created the design. His grandson C.J. Marek helped Bob Springer lay the foundation for the structure. Larry Dahl installed the lighting. We now have a sign that states our parish Mass schedule along with the names of our priests.
2000 A new organ was purchased, thanks to Lorraine Thompson. Joe Meske and Rodney Thompson constructed the speaker cabinets for the organ and installed the speakers which are anchored to the west wall.
2002 After years of sealing windows and doors to save energy, air quality declined in the parish hall. To correct the problem, the parish hall and kitchen ventilation project was started by Mike Durch. Funds needed to be raised and parishioners responded by publishing a cookbook. Over $20,000 was raised.
2003 The addition of air conditioning in the main church was completed in June of 2003; the first in a three-phase project to improve the air quality of the church and parish hall.
2004 The lower level of the rectory underwent a facelift. A fresh coat of paint was applied to walls in the conference room and the hallways. Carpet was installed in the conference room and the restroom was updated as well.
2005 The church front entrance was updated to utilize the space more efficiently. The statues were removed and a new display holder was installed. Bulletin boards were put up to post informational flyers. Ray King designed and built the tables that fold up to the wall when not in use.
2008 - Current Fr. Arul Joseph V., and Fr. James Weighner. The rectory is currently being renovated. There are currently 1,020 families that belong to Holy Ghost Parish.
The church steps were replaced and included name plates of those who made donation to the project or in memory of a loved one. A new fence was constructed on the west side of the parking lot and an elevator lift was installed.
2010 The inside of our church was painted. The carpet was pulled out and a new wood floor was put in. We also installed new lighting and a new sound and speaker system.
2011 A mediation garden was added next to the rectory with some plants from Eleanore Stuttgen’s personal garden. The big trees in front of the church were removed due to a root problem to our sewer system. We now have pin trees planted in front. New steps were laid along with installation of hand railings. Two benches were added as well. Outdoor lights were also put up next to the steps.
Our current parish numbers consist of 1004 families, 2406 individual parishioners.