On Aug. 11, following a rededication service, parishioners of Sacred Heart, Radisson, gathered in front of the church to restage the 1947 dedication photo. Between 50 and 60 families make up the parish community, including snowbirds who flee in winter and tourists and second home owners who arrive in summer. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

On Aug. 11, the rural Sawyer County parish of Sacred Heart, Radisson, celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding.

Formed by a priest and a handful of Polish families in a former school in 1919, the parish remains small but strong in faith and fellowship. Planning for the centennial celebration, which included a rededication of the church, a polka Mass with Bishop James P. Powers and a Polish-themed dinner, brought the community closer together, said organizer Mary Joslin.

Around 75 people filled the tiny brick church for the 9:30 a.m. rededication service. Following a welcome from Bishop Powers, a blessing and sprinkling rite, parishioners went out in the rain to recreate the church dedication photo taken in 1947.

The 10:30 a.m. Centennial Mass had a more jubilant flavor. Parked on picnic-table benches, more than 150 people packed into a pavilion at the local Radisson Recreational Park for a polka Mass celebrated on a makeshift altar.

Bishop Powers, former parochial administrator Fr. Jerome D’Souza, CMF, and newly assigned parochial administrator Fr. Sunil Kumar Thumma concelebrated the Mass, assisted by Dcn. Jim Frederick and Dcn. Michael Ryan.

Dcn. Frederick, who has served the parish for more than a decade, will be moving, and the event afforded the bishop and others an opportunity to thank him for his dedication.

“What a nice day God has given us,” the bishop said in his opening remarks, and paused to look out at the rainy, 65-degree morning.
“It could be 110,” he joked.

Bishop Powers began his homily by reflecting on the common theme in the readings from the books of Wisdom and Hebrews, and the Gospel of Luke: faith.

“The word ‘faith’ is defined in the dictionary as the belief and trust in, and loyalty to, God,” he said. “The word ‘belief’ in the context of faith means that we believe in the traditional doctrine of our Catholic religion.”

However, confidence in church doctrine and allegiance to God should not prevent Catholics from questioning.

“One thing faith is not. It is not a substitute for thinking,” he said. “Blind faith or an unexamined or unquestioned faith is not what our God calls us to as a people.

“One thing that faith is,” he continued. “It’s a trust which overcomes fear.”

Bishop Powers then examined the role of trust in the readings. In the book of Hebrews, Abraham and Sarah overcame their fears and trusted God. Abraham became the father of many descendents, and Sarah, despite that she was barren and beyond childbearing age, conceived and bore a child.

“Faith is more than an intellectual exercise in saying ‘I believe,’” he said. “It truly is to be our total way of life.”

Jesus never asks people to simply believe something about him, he added. Jesus challenges people, both then and now, to come and follow him with “hearts and our minds focused on a future beyond this life.”

A faith life isn’t something that just happens, he said. Jesus helps us to see that we need to be prepared for the final judgment. Faith helps us focus on heavenly treasures over earthly ones, and helps us to overcome our fears, in spite of whatever is going on in the world around us.

“Faith tells us that our God is still in control,” the bishop added. “We need to believe that. We need to hang onto it. And we need to live it.”

The world needs our witness of faith, he emphasized, transitioning into parish history.

One hundred years ago, back when the diocese was only 14 years old, a group of faith-filled Polish families came together to buy a church and form Sacred Heart, the bishop said. Then, in the 1940s – not the best economic years, he noted – parishioners’ ancestors sacrificed to build the current church.

In gathering to celebrate the centennial, we also celebrate the past, and those who sacrifices have made this day possible, he added. In ending his homily, the bishop hoped “that we may be able to loosen our grip on the false security of this world,” and God willing, 100 years from now, thanks to our sacrifices, parishioners will gather to celebrate the parish’s 200th anniversary.

A catered, Polish-themed dinner was served following the Mass.

The history of Sacred Heart

By Mary Joslin

Sacred Heart was formed in 1919 by Fr. Henry Tewissee and the Polish families who lived along Polish Road in Radisson. Fr. Tewissee purchased the George Washington School located on the property of Vincent Zawadzski and turned it into a church. Church services were conducted in Latin, but the songs were in Polish. During services, the women and children sat on the left side of the church, and the men on the right. A potbellied stove kept worshippers warm in the winter. The choir loft was called St. Cecelia’s Choir (no one is sure why), and John Startz or Bertha Golly pumped the organ.

The story of Sacred Heart Parish after the founding was one of growth. In 1944, the church celebrated a Silver Jubilee. Our unofficial historian, Irene Sajdera, still has the program from that day.

It was through Fr. Thaddeus Lesniak’s endeavors and the encouragement and help of Bishop William Patrick O’Connor and the cooperation and sacrifices of parishioners that the new church was built in 1945. The church was dedicated July 21, 1947, with a full day of celebration, including Mass, a meal and many talented parishioners sharing their musical skills.

Fr. Hugh Rochkes served Sacred Heart from 1969 to 1972. During his tenure, the kitchen, bathrooms and fellowship room were added to the building. Funds were borrowed at the time and a mortgage-burning potluck celebration was held in 1981 when the loan was paid. Fr. Francis Prokosta was at Sacred Heart at the time of the mortgage burning.

In 1991, St. Mary Magdalene in Couderay and St. Mary’s in Exeland were closed, and many members from these parishes joined Sacred Heart. In August 1994, Sacred Heart celebrated 75 years as a parish.