By Kris Leonhardt
All roads bring you back – a historical statement in itself – but, something that always rings true for me. I spent my young adulthood with an eagerness to escape rural, central Wisconsin. My first move was to Milwaukee and Marquette University, but it wasn’t long before I was right back in the heart of our state.
While I have always had a great appreciation for our country’s heritage, my desire to learn Clark and Wood County heritage has only continued to deepen since that time.
I grew up knowing little about by father’s side of the family. My grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother was taken when I was way too young to ask any questions; so, when my dad said that he had been visiting Wisconsin Rapids to meet up with some cousins a few years ago, I jumped at the chance to go along.
This is how I met Bert Jagodzinski. Bert is one of the kindest women I have every met and a wealth of knowledge on the Jagodzinski family, which she married into.
From her, and my father, I learned that my great grandparents were instrumental in the development of the Holy Rosary Church in the town of Sigel.
On Nov. 21, 1881, an agreement was drawn up between Joseph & Anna Jagodzinski and the Bishop of La Crosse for the purchase of five acres of land – three for buildings and two for a cemetery –for a total of $25.
Here the first Catholic church was built for parish of mostly polish homesteaders that had come from Milwaukee – like my great grandparents, Anna & Joseph; Chicago; Green Bay; and La Crosse.
Work on a two-story, wood-frame structure was completed in 1882, with a church on the main floor and a school and living quarters on the ground level.
The following year, classes started for those in grades 1-4. After the fourth grade, students would then need to attend a public school. The school grew to accommodate approximately 50-60 students.
Masses were held two Sundays a month, which required the 100 parish families to travel to Wisconsin Rapids on the alternate Sundays to attend a Catholic church.
In 1898, a tornado hit the church building, tilting it 35 degrees. The people of the parish pushed it back in place with several jack-screws.
Social gathering were held in a hall built in the woods on John Jagodzinski land. The building was used until a new church was built and the old church became “Polish Hall.”
The new church, built in 1901, was a brick structure with parishioners doing much of the labor and finishes, as well as donating many of the furnishings. A brick, two-story rectory was built in 1908, just north of the church.
The parish was hit by many challenges – struck by tornado damage twice and lighting the same number of times – but, possibly its worst challenge was in keeping a resident father in the parish.
The lack of a leader to keep the fires burning in the rectory, left the building deteriorating, and in 1930 it was torn down.
In 1978, the old Polish Hall was taken down and in 1981 a new parish center was completed. The brick church remains at 6190 Chapel Rd., Wisconsin Rapids.
I look forward to learning more about the area my grandfather and great-grandparents called home, as I develop further history columns and get to know the community, as I begin work with the Wisconsin Rapids City Times.