Church Of The Blessed Sacrament--Corpus Christi
In 1900, Catholics on the west side of the bay belonged to and attended Mass at St. Joseph Church, on the east side of the bay. To get there, they had to cross a toll bridge, sometimes in very bad weather. The tolls could be as much as $400 a year, which was a burden for many. For those reasons, the pastor of St. Joseph, Msgr. Alphonse Broens, contacted the bishop about opening a new parish on the west side for the 51 families who lived there.
By 1904, it became possible. Msgr. Broens offered a tract of land he owned on Belleview Heights, 300 feet by 300 feet, for the new parish, and contacted the Norbertine Fathers of West DePere to staff it. Before the church could be built, the first Mass of the new parish was offered by Msgr. Broens on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1904, at the Sawyer Opera Hall on Oak Street. (Later Andre's Supper Club and currently vacant.)
In September 1904, Rev. Francis Peters was appointed the first pastor by the new bishop of Green Bay, Bishop Joseph Fox. Among his first acts was to call a meeting on Oct. 2, 1904, to organize the young parish.
At this meeting John Kessler, one of the original petitioners, and J.J. Neuville were elected trustees by unanimous vote and the young parish officially became CORPUS CHRISTI CONGREGATION. They decided to build a rectory for a sum not to exceed $2,000. On Oct. 4, 1904, the Articles of Incorporation were signed and registered with the state of Wisconsin in the City of Sturgeon Bay.
The rectory was completed in the summer of 1905. Both structures were completed at a total cost of $10,023.01. The first Mass in the new church was held on Oct. 1, 1905.
At the first meeting of the officers of the congregation, held on October 12, 1905 membership fees were set at $2 for families and $1 for singles. Each family was to contribute $10 in pew rent and the membership fee toward the support of the church. If their contributions did not reach this amount they were assessed the difference. Singles were to contribute $5 per year. According to minutes of a directors meeting in 1906, the parish flourished. Receipts for 1906 amounted to $30 over and above the expenses.
In 1907, Fr. Claude Hugo became pastor. During his tenure, a parochial school was opened in the church basement. To accomodate the schol, the basement was divided into three rooms: one for grades 1-4, one for grades 5-8, and the third for the kitchen and social activities. It wasn't long before the that area also was turned into classroom space.
In 1908, Fr. Henry Pfeifer became pastor. It was then four more lots north of the first church were bought for the growing parish. In 1915, the parish built a convent on the north end of the property so the sisters (from Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc) would no longer have to live in a rented house. In 1917 the parish hired a part-time custodian to relieve the priest of janitorial duties. In 1940 the the new window installations were completed with the addition of the "rose window." (Those windows are now in the chapel at St. Joseph Cemetery.) That same year, the custodian's job became full time.
In 1945, fund raising began for the construction of a new school, since the basement school was overcrowded. In 1948 the parish purchased land north of and adjoining the the parish property, and construction of the new school began in 1950. They built bigger than they needed, and left part of it as one unfinished room for a time.
(To pay for the school the parish started having two-day picnics, including rides, chicken dinners and games, each summer.) The first classes were held in the new school in April 1951. There were four classrooms: 1st and 2nd grades, 3rd and 4th grades, 5th and 6th grades, and 7th and 8th grades. By 1958, in order to meet the demands of a growing school enrollment, the north end of the school was completed. In July 1956 a tornado which roared through southern Door County also hit the bell tower located on the top of Corpus Christi Church during the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass, knocking it totally off the building. The tower was never replaced on the Maple Street Church.
By 1957, the church built in 1905 had become inadequate to serve the parish community¸ much less also handle the needs of the summer residents and vacationers. Up until this time Corpus Christi offered six Sunday Masses during the summer months, one every hour beginning at 6 a.m. Making this schedule possible the Norbertine Fathers (sometimes called “White Fathers”) continued to assist at Corpus Christi. The parish also needed to provide additional housing for the sisters and some parish members felt a social hall was needed to accommodate and permit an extension of parish activities.
In 1959 Father John P. Baum, who was now pastor, proposed and purchased two lots located west of the school which would become the sites for the new convent, church and rectory. Undaunted by the size of the project Father Baum with the help of the project planning committee: George Baudhuin, Clement Fehring, Francis LeRoy, Bernard Lienau (Trustee-Treas.) Hilbert Lodl, William Moore, Al Neuville, Louiss Rockendorf, Roman Ross (Trustee-Sec’y.), Henry Schelzer, Ottmar Schmidt, Leonard Stoneman, Homer Willems and Joseph Zettel, presented a Pledge Programs to fund the project.
Of local interest, Ernest Dombrowe, a local professional woodcarver for over 63 years, carved 17 figures which were to be placed in the new church. A figure of Christ, nearly six feet tall, was mounted on a 15-foot tapered cross which was hung over the main altar; statutes of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, each standing 5’4” were placed over each side altar; the 15 Stations of the Cross, in relief carving, were hung on the walls of the nave. The construction cost of the convent, a gift from the George Baudhuin family, was $63,345. The social hall construction cost was $111,733. The construction cost of the church was approximately $200,000. The building of a rectory was postponed.
In 1963, Corpus Christi dedicated its new social hall, convent (in 1963, the old convent was sold to Myron Alberts who moved the home to a site on Stevenson Pier Road-the homes is still on that site), and church on May 12, 1963.
Vatican II in 1962 was the beginning of several changes in the church. Father Baum guided the parish through several changes. About 1965 he had the altar turned around so that the priest would be facing the congregation as he said Mass. In 1968 he guided the parish in the formation of the first Parish Council. Norb Schachner was elected the first President of the Corpus Christi Parish Council. Several committees were also formed at this time including, but not limited to, a Worship Committee, a Board of Education and a Buildings and Grounds Committee. All committees reported to the Parish Council. Under Father Baum’s gentle and constant guidance, the parish continued to flourish. When he repairs that were accomplished, including the insulating and roofing the social hall and pitching the area over the kitchen, re-roofing the church, carpeting the church, pitching the roof of the school, not one dollar had to be borrowed. Father Birdsall has led this parish through example.
With Father Birdsall’s encouragement Sr. Mary Kabat guided the school through the steps necessary to achieve Accreditation from the Wisconsin Non-Public Schools Accrediting Association. She also was instrumental in the development of Catholic Schools of Door County, an organization formed for the purpose of fund raising for the three Catholic Schools in Door County and for coordinating education programs such as physical education, which hired one teacher for the three schools.
Father Birdsall was instrumental in making Corpus instrumental in making Corpus Christi a singing parish. Through his leadership the liturgies at Corpus Christi have come to life.
In addition to the ongoing Building and Maintenance Fund the parish has conducted three major fund raising campaigns. The rectory fund generated enough fund and volunteer labor to build a $170,000.00 home in 1996 at a cost of about $130,000.00. (The old rectory was sold to Kevin & Carol Butler for $100. The Butlers moved the house to its present location on May Road in southern Door County.) When the new rectory was dedicated in 1996 Bishop Robert Banks suggested to Father Birdsall that he should not ask to be transferred for a good 30 years. The next fund drive was conducted to build an addition on the school. The addition joined the original school in the middle and extended to the east. The Birdsall Family, including Father Anthony Birdsall, his parents Laurence and Anna Birdsall, Rev. Richard Birdsall, and Dr. Benjamin & Florence Birdsall were major contributors. The parish family contributed the rest. The $500,000.00 school addition, which included new school new school offices, a Kindergarten Room, an Art Room, A Music Room and a Media Center, named the Birdsall Family Media Center, was dedicated in 1999.
The third fund drive is still in its active stage. Funds raised have been and are being used to renovate Corpus Christi Church. The pastel-colored glass windows have been replaced with stained glass windows purchased from SS Cyril & Methodius Parish in Eaton. That parish had been merged a few years earlier. The windows were resized for Corpus Christi and were installed in the church in June 2003. Earlier in the year the blonde pews were refinished to a rich brown oak, the carpet in the church were replaced, and new lighting was installed.
Through all the complexities of being a forward-looking and supportive administrator of the church and school, Father Birdsall has maintained excellent communications with the parish; he is quite successful at securing volunteers for almost any project and has endowed the community with a greater sense of ownership. Today Corpus Christi Parish numbers 620 registered families, an increase of 100 families since Father Birdsall arrived in 1987.
In these past 100 years there have been three priest sons of the parish: Rev. Arnold Schinkten, O. Pream, and Rev. Arnold Schmidt, who are deceased, and Rev. Ron Columbo, who presently is pastor of three parishes: All Saints Parish, Denmark; Holy Trinity Parish, New Denmark; and St. James Parish, Cooperstown.