Our Lady of Lourdes Church – History

The great migration of the 1800’s fueled the movement of immigrants from many nations to the new world and into what is known as the Dobie area, where a strong Catholic Community became rooted. This parish is the result of their strong desire to have a place of worship.

The first two immigrant groups were French (from Quebec) and Irish (from eastern Ontario). The French settled south and the Irish settled north of the Church. While culture, language, and background could have divided them (and sometimes did), they shared the hardships of settling new land. A love and reverence of their common Catholic faith kept them in an enduring community. Later they were joined by German, Swiss and Czech immigrants.

Our Lady of Lourdes is the site of the first Roman Catholic Church in Barron County. The first Mass was celebrated in George Robarge’s cabin by Fr. Nacli in 1869. The same year Fr. George Keller, a missionary, marked out the location of the first church; a 40’x70’ log building located just north and east of the present church.

Fr. Joseph Dole became the first pastor (1876) and built the altars in the first church. During his pastorate, the first rectory was built (1878), $851.72, land across the road purchased for a school and a convent (1879), which were built in 1880-81. The school opened September 28, 1881, staffed by School Sisters of Notre Dame until 1968. Some of the school and non-Catholic students boarded with the sisters. In 1923-1924 a new school was built and the convent extensively remodeled. The school closed in the spring of 1970.

In 1883 the congregation was incorporated under the name The Roman Catholic Congregation of St. Mary of Lourdes, Stanfold. The name was officially changed to “Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Congregation, Dobie, Barron County, Wisconsin in 1955 under Fr. John Kauer.

The cemetery was located next to the church. The first marked grave is that of Thomas McGeough, December 3, 1875. Around 1900 pine trees were planted there. Their presence dominates the old section of the cemetery. On May 1, 1942, additional land for the cemetery was deeded to the parish by Anton and Albina Frolik. In 1993, additional land for the cemetery was obtained by trading land south of the parish for land adjoining the cemetery.

On March 19, 1895, the first church burned. Fr. Dole, after trying to save the Blessed Sacrament from the fire, died of smoke inhalation on April 3, 1895; his grave is marked by a large cross. A temporary church was built in the meantime.

In 1902, by a vote of 56 ayes, 1 nay, the parishioners voted to build a new stone church. The stone came from the “Blue Hills” area, about six miles east from the church. Parishioners brought 2,613 tons of the red quartzite stone on sleighs in the winter of 1902-1903. Nap Forrest hauled the biggest load – six tons. Under the foremanship of Joseph Brunette and mason work of Ed Komas, the stones were shaped by hand, and raised to the wall by a jinny powered by Shimon horses. The finished church is 105’x41’.

The interior of the church was finished, and a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was placed on top of the steeple. The statue was later moved inside the tower, and replaced with a cross.

The existing church was dedicated on November 17, 1904 by Bishop James Schwebach of LaCrosse. The relics of the altar are Saints Bonora, Clarus and Athanasius.

In the 1920’s Fr. Edmund Savegeau organized the Dobie band. He was also the first pastor to use a car in his duties. Between 1919 and 1920 the parish was free of debt for the first time. In 1920, electricity replaced the gas lights. In 1923 a hot water system with radiators was installed. In 1926 the church basement was dug out and finished. There is little else recorded during this period.

In May 1962, after the convening of the Second Vatican there were more changes and updates to Our Lady of Lourdes. People received Holy Communion standing and the communion rails were removed. The choir began to lead the congregational singing from the main floor.

In 1976, Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated its centennial from June to December under the guidance of their pastor, Fr. James Kraker.

In 1979, a major renovation of the parish facilities began. A foyer connecting the rectory and church was built. The confessional on the north side of the church was removed and made into a shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. The sacristy was made into the Eucharistic chapel. The original pews were sent to Manitowoc for repair, stripping and varnishing; the stained glass windows were repaired and re-leaded, and a new altar and baptismal font were built of stone from the Joseph Willger farm. Total cost was $130,000. In 1981, a new addition and renovation were dedicated by a son of the parish, Abbot Sylvester Michael Killeen, O. Praem. The youth group constructed the grotto east of the new entry in 1981 under the direction of Jim and Marybell Lenz. In 1999, the parishioners built a new garage. In 2000 a renovation of the basement was completed, and an elevator in the foyer was installed.

In 2001 this church was added to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s register of historic places.

In July 2014, Our Lady of Lourdes was clustered into a new cluster. This cluster consists of Holy Trinity, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph in Rice Lake. The cluster office is located at 111 West Marshall Street in Rice Lake.