Celebrating 175 years of faith in Shullsburg Print
Around the Diocese
Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 -- 12:00 AM
An interior view of St. Matthew Church in Shullsburg. In addition to its exquisite altar and reredos, the church has impressive stained glass windows and life-sized paintings of scenes from Christ’s life. (Catholic Herald photo/Joe Ptak)

SHULLSBURG -- 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of St. Matthew Parish in Shullsburg. The parish is planning a number of summer events culminating with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert C. Morlino on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 12 noon, immediately followed by dinner in the parish hall. The celebration continues throughout the day with kids games and a raffle drawing at 4 p.m.

Leading up to the celebration is a special Mass on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. at which luminaries will be lit in memory of or in honor of those special people in the lives of the parishioners or anyone who would like to make a donation for a luminary which will be decorated by the parish children. Sr. Mary Paynter, Vice-Postulator for the Cause of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, will speak at the Mass. The parish will also host an ice cream social as part of this special day.

Short history of St. Matthew Parish

Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli founded the parish in August of 1835 and named it after the Apostle Matthew. The property consisting of four acres bounded by Peace, Charity, Truth, and Judgment Sts. was donated by John Ryan and John Roberts to be used for a church, school, and cemetery. Today, after 171 years (the current church 145 years), the site stands as solid as the day it was built.

The original church was built in 1841 as a wood frame structure and was located on the corner of Pious and Wisdom St., just east of the present cemetery. Church records show the cornerstone for the current church was laid on June 19, 1853, by then Bishop Loras of Dubuque. The current church was built from native limestone from the Rennick quarry south of Shullsburg and the slabs for windowsills came from the Emerson mill.

It is recorded that the dedication and first Mass was offered in the new church on St. Patrick’s Day in 1861. The records show that funds were not plentiful and it took several years to finish the church. Meanwhile the first church served the congregation during the construction, and thereafter it was used as a school until it was dismantled in later years. The school was the first public school in Shullsburg and records show that William Ahern was the first teacher, a graduate of Maynooth College in Ireland, a real educator of early Shullsburg.

Continuing the faith

Father Mazzuchelli served as pastor from 1835 through 1841 and assisted in the design of the current church. The interior of the new church remained more or less unfinished for some years and records show the church was not entirely decorated until 1883. The current altar was not added until December 1896 at the cost of $1,262.75 and the Stations of the Cross were not added until 1898. The life size oil paintings, aside from their religious significance, are beautiful and valuable works of art. They were done by an impoverished artist who boarded with pastor Fr. James Kinsella and was paid $670 by donations of various organizations and individuals of the parish. The stained glass memorial windows were installed in 1907.

On October 12, 1866, three Dominican nuns from Sinsinawa came to Shullsburg and started St. Rose Parochial school. In 1895, many of the lead mines were closed and the congregation reduced from 300 to 65 families; the school had to be discontinued. The school building now used by the St. Vincent de Paul Society was dedicated in the fall of 1919 with the Sisters of Mercy of Janesville furnishing four teachers.

Father Mazzuchelli, founder of this parish and the founder of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Mound in 1847, played an important role in the settlement of the Shullsburg area. Many of the churches he built still stand as a tribute to his architectural talents. St. Augustine Church in New Diggings is an example of the wood frame style commonly used in that era. Father Mazzuchelli named all the streets in the northeast section of Shullsburg, named after all the virtues we should live by.


History information provided by George Burns.

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