St. John the Evangelist Church – History
Birchwood’s St. John’s parish turned 100 years old in 2008. Back in 1908 Father Walter Beaudette, newly ordained, came out from Rice Lake, to look after the ten Catholic families which had rooted themselves in the cut-over acres that had become a village.
Other priests had been conducting occasional week day services in private homes or usually in the village schoolhouse as early as in 1905. They were Fathers Bourbon, Hopdegard, Berube, Schmidt, Van Helden, and Father Reuter. But it was Father Beaudette who, in 1908, organized the parish and started construction on its first church.
The three stumpy lots were donated to the congregation by a local land company. Father Beaudette still recalls one large stump, six feet in diameter, which required 14 sticks of 45 per cent dynamite to jar it loose.
The building of the new church was financed largely by a loan from the newly-formed Catholic Extension Society. Then there were donations from a few concerns such as the Arpin Lumber Co. and some funds were collected in the nearby lumber camps.
The church was completed in 1909 at a cost of about $1,100 and its first trustees were John Martin and Engelbert Kirch. Mr. Kirch, who died in Superior in 1956 at the age of 100, was credited with naming the new church, St. John’s. Father Beaudette scheduled a Sunday Mass once a month, and the nucleus of the parish was now knit together.
There were no open farms in the Birchwood area at the time, but about six miles to the east and to the south there were several lumber camps where hardwoods were being logged. The local sawmill gave employment to the men of the village.
In 1910, Father Beaudette was succeeded by the Rev. Father Pilon who remained with the struggling parish until 1912. Father Duenn took over in 1912 and was succeeded by Father Stromberg in 1914 who remained at St. John’s until 1917. Then for about 6 months, the church was attended by Father L. Mortiner.
During these trying times the parish continued to grow. In 1918, Father H. Teuwisse came to establish a residence here and during his pastorate the church was enlarged.
The present rectory home was built in 1919, the old church was extended from the back and new stations of the cross obtained all at a cost of $2,500.
Father John Balcer came to assist Father Teuqisse in the missions between Birchwood and Draper in 1920. He remained in charge of Birchwood until 1923 when Father J.W. Tabencki was assigned to St. John’s and its missions, which included Couderay, Radisson, and eventually Pribram, the settlement south of Birchwood. The Pribram church was shortly abandoned and the parishioners joined the congregation at Birchwood. The huge bell that stood next to the first St. John’s church for so long was taken from the Pribram church and was a memorial to the settlement and its parishioners.
Father Tabencki had been relieved of his charge because of illness, and for about two years, St. John’s had no resident pastor, although Fathers Boshold and Lesniak provided Mass every Sunday for the growing congregation.
It was Father Boshold who was confronted with the problem of the increased number of parishoners and a church much too small to accommodate them. In his concern over the situation the problem was discussed by the congregation at various meetings. It was generally agreed it was unfeasible to expand and repair the old wooden structure. A new church had to be built and the first drive for funds was put into effect.
In September 1944 the parish was taken over by Father Gerald Mahon. Drives for the erection of the new church were intensified and in 1949 the new structure was under way. The additional lots were purchased to complete the half-block church site, and the new St. John’s church was completed in 1950, and dedicated the same year in August by Bishop Meyer of Superior.
In 1953 Father Mahon was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Congregation at Merrill and was succeeded by Father Clarence Ludwig. Father Ludwig designed the altar and canopy, a masterpiece in wood carving which presently adorns the St. John’s church in Birchwood. He did this in time for the Christmas season. The beautiful structure of solid birch carvings against a background of birch paneling was done in his spare moments. Father Ludwig estimated that it took him about 2,000 hours of work, much of it during the late evenings in order to complete the unique project. Each niche is made of many parts glued together to form the completed unit. Statues on the sides are: on the left, St. John The Evangelist and St. Maria Goretti and on the right are: St. Isidore and Therese, “The Little Flower”. St. Michael The Archangel is centered above the Risen Christ in front of the Cross.
Thus, from 1908, with ten families in its congregation, the parish had grown into 85 families. With the new St. John’s church built in 1950 we now have about 180 members. Along with other changes here at St. John’s, there was the bell that was mentioned earlier. The bell sat dormant for nearly 50 years in the backyard bushes of St. John Church. The bell was resurrected just in time for the holidays. The bell tower was constructed in the fall of 1999 and tolled before the start of Christmas Eve Mass.
Here it is over 100 years later and we find ourselves in the same situation today at St. John’s parish to be a growing community as in the past years. Our need for up-dating our church building for handicap accessible washrooms, an elevator and a new entrance for gathering is needed for the future and has been discussed at several meetings. It has been agreed and accepted that an expansion to our church is needed for the future. Plans are in the making for this entrance design.
Former Parish Priests from 1953 are as follows: Father Ludwig-1953, Father John Usas-1962, Father William Carey-1967, Father Joseph Trinka-1968, Father Allan Bradley-1979, Father Edd Senn-1981, Father Gerald Harris-1986, Father James Brinkman-1989, Father Vince Bromley-1990, Father Allan Bradley-1991, Father James Imse-1996 and Father David Oberts-1997 to the present-2010. Father George Votruba-occasional “sub”.
Father David Oberts, our present Parish Priest, has just celebrated his 40 years of Ordination. We are enriched with his loving shepherding as we grow together as a loving community.
St. John’s parish has grown and flourished and we are all very proud of our wonderful priest, parish and its accomplishments.
We also acknowledge our beautiful choir and all parishioners who are active in the great number of ministries that are available here at St. John’s.
Some family names of the parishioners from 1937 are as follows: Amans, Beffa, Blaha, Burke, Buscher, Cyr, DeKeyser, Denison, Deraitus, Drnek, Dupree, Fuka, Gillis, Gould, Guggemos, Haas, Hartl, Hayes, Janosik, Jilek, Keating, Kieiman, Kirch, Knapmiller, La Brande, La Pointe, Leary, Manecka, Marcon, Mathews, Mattis, McLeod, Mikeska, Nelson, Parkos, Paulus, Petersen, Pojeta, Rich, Rink, Robotka, Rohlik, Ruprich, Sabol, Schmidt, Shimanek, Walrack, and White.
In July 2014, St. John the Evangelist 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.