Catholic Herald Staff
The Catholic community in Cornucopia started in the late 1800s as a mission church for the Ojibwa under the guidance of Franciscan priests. While St. Ann’s parish demographics have changed during its first century, the spirit of initiative and ownership of its members has carried forward for generations.
Bishop James P. Powers celebrated Mass for the centennial Sunday, July 29, also rededicating the church. The original part of the church was filled with 50 people; to the right of the altar, approximately 50 more were seated in the space added in 1963 to accommodate summer visitors.
Wood paneling on the lower portion of the white walls coordinates with a paneled arch that highlights the crucifix behind the altar. Arched clear-pane windows, through which nothing but sky and trees can be seen, flank the pews of the church just beyond the two-block downtown of Cornucopia.
The bishop began his homily reflecting on the lessons found in John’s Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000.
“Jesus knows what he’s going to do from the beginning,” he said, and noted that “instead of just doing it,” Jesus invites involvement as “we.”
Bishop Powers said, “He never sends us out on our own, not simply left to our own devices, resources, wisdom, power… At the same time though, Jesus tells us that we can’t just sit back and pray, and then blame God when things don’t change; when our God doesn’t snap his finger and make everything all better.”
Referring back to Genesis, the bishop reminded those present “that we’re called to be co-creators, co-cooperators with our God.”
“Jesus holds out his empty hands to receive those gifts and unconditional love of that little child (with the loaves and fishes) who gives all that he has. And Jesus again acknowledges that He is not in this alone as He gives thanks to the Father for what He has.”
He then reflected on Jesus’ stance of trust and action and the abundance that follows, drawing comparisons with the history of St. Ann’s.
Bishop Powers acknowledged the responsiveness of then-Bishop Heiss of La Crosse who, sensing the urgent need to spiritually feed the region’s Ojibwa, solicited help from the Franciscan Fathers of the St. Louis province.
By 1905, when the Diocese of Superior was established, Cornucopia had become a settlement; St. Francis in Red Cliff and the St. Anthony Mission in the Belanger settlement (10 miles west of Bayfield) were the closest churches.
With the donation of land in the village in 1914 and financial aid from the Catholic Extension Society, St. Ann’s Church was built in 1914 and dedicated in 1918.
The bishop expressed gratitude for the 100 years during which the church “has so fulfilled the needs of the people.”
“The founders cooperated with God, rolled up their sleeves and they got to work,” he said. “Today we gather and give thanks and we honor those whose vision and personal sacrifices made today possible.”
He considered the stories the church walls could share – of sacraments, celebrations and services “so important in planting the seeds of faith and hope…to feed the people physically and spiritually.”
Before ending, Bishop Powers invited the congregation to “join our spirits and learn from the examples of those who have gone before us; offer to Jesus all he wants from us, not fishes and bread, but that loving, repentant heart; that heart that might truly rejoice in the miracles and the abundance of our God.”
After the Mass, a catered luncheon and reception took place at Bell Town Hall, the renovated school building near the church.
Fred Schlichting emceed a presentation giving thanks to both year-round and summer residents. He said that without their dedication and financial support, it would be “tough keeping this little place going.”
He noted some unique characteristics of St. Ann’s – the northernmost Catholic church in Wisconsin – including that every one of the year-round residents, mostly retirees and almost all transplants, does something at the church. Even the church cleaning is handled by a volunteer sign-up near the entrance of the church.
Loretta Bagby read a tribute to long-time parishioner Leona Daubner, who for health reasons was unable to attend the celebration. Bagby described the “designated church lady” as “a friend to all, listening with a loving heart, a woman of action, reliable and dependable… offering smiles, always present and cheerful.”
A centennial booklet prepared for the anniversary mentions the involvement of Daubner, who with her husband, Reuben, cared for the church grounds, washed altar cloths and arranged altar flowers. Various other names are included in these tasks and others, such as planning social gatherings and fundraisers and serving the assisting priests with Sunday meals after Mass.
Fr. Kevin Gordon, pastor of St. Ann’s and the Catholic Communities of the Bayfield Peninsula cluster, remembered those Sunday meals. Attending grade school with the Franciscan sisters at St. Francis in Red Cliff, Fr. Gordon often accompanied the priests to Cornucopia as an altar server.
Deacon Roger Cadotte, the cluster’s director of pastoral services, also remembered coming from the Belanger settlement to serve Mass.
Both Fr. Gordon and Dcn. Cadotte have tribal family connections.
The Franciscan heritage of the parish remains as well. In 2015, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate celebrated 135 years of serving the Bayfield Peninsula. Sr. Kathy Salewski, OSF, serves as the director of evangelization and outreach for the cluster; she was unable to be at the centennial celebration. Providing a Franciscan presence was Fr. Nick Baxter, former parochial vicar of the parish from 2004-2008, who was visiting for the summer.