Catholic Herald staff
As St. Anthony’s Parish in Lake Nebagamon broke ground for a new church building, the longstanding and firm faith foundation of its parishioners was tangible.
One of the guiding objectives for the project design – which will include an energy efficient and economical structure to seat 150 persons, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and handicapped-accessible – was to incorporate the character and appearance of the existing church in the new design.
The existing church dates back more than a century. Starting in 1899, Catholics in the area – mostly families of men employed at the local sawmill – attended Mass celebrated in local homes and the town school.
With a site selected in early summer, construction began and the first Mass was celebrated on Dec. 2, 1900. Finishing projects took time based on when monies were available.
The local newspaper, the Lake Nebagamon Enterprise, reported that week, “The church is very well built and will be plenty warm, but the plastering and painting will be done later.”
The church bell – which will be incorporated into the new building – was purchased in 1903. Although not in use for a number of years, once moved the bell will be rung by hand using a cord rigged to the bell’s pulley system.
In 1910, the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company ceased operation, leaving 600 men without jobs and consequently leaving St. Anthony’s parish with a huge decline in parishioners.
For 30 years, Mass was only celebrated at the country church a few times a year. It wasn’t until 1940, as the area grew as a tourist center, that weekly Masses returned. Catechism classes began in 1953.
In 1969, St. Anne’s Church of Blueberry (east of Maple) merged with St. Anthony’s, and parish membership expanded to include other rural communities in the area as well as the summer residents who hailed from other states.
Starting in 1996, the parish was clustered with St. Anthony in Allouez on Superior’s south side.
Current parish membership is comprised of longstanding local and Superior-area families as well as transplants from around the country who make the lake community their summer residence.
Susan McGrath Enright, secretary for the parish, is proud that her grandchild is now the fourth generation of family members to belong to St. Anthony’s. Her brother, Tom McGrath, was also present for the groundbreaking.
Their mother, Imogene, was a cornerstone of both the town and parish in Lake Nebagamon – the local public library is named after her family, the C. J. and Elizabeth Morissett family, who were among the first settlers in Superior in the 1850s.
Enright’s brother, Fr. Richard McGrath, is the parish’s only native son to become a priest. He is a parish priest in England, where he has lived for 30 years.
Parishioners and trustees Jay Gallagher and Greg Amys also both have deep roots in the region.
Amys’ family was raised in the Allouez area of Superior and attended Cathedral School. He graduated in 1969 as part of the last class of graduating seniors from the Cathedral’s high school. A businessman who has worked out of state, he still has family in the region and now makes Lake Nebagamon his summer residence.
Gallagher also attended Cathedral grade school but the high school closed before he reached the ninth grade. His career was spent with the DNR in Douglas County and he moved to the town in 1984.
Both men were on the planning committee for the parish center, which was built in 2004. When that project was undertaken, plans approved by the diocese made it part of a phased plan.
The new church building will be attached to the current parish center, which provides for overflow on the same level and already contains bathroom facilities and classroom spaces.
However, the church will stand higher than the current structure to distinguish it as a separate space dedicated to worship. Considerations are being made for keeping the unique identities of the two connected spaces intact – one for prayer and sacramental celebrations, the other for gathering and faith formation.
Carrying over elements of the original parish church, the bell tower will be replicated and the statues of Jesus and Mary will find new homes with similar placement in the new church as well as the crucifix behind the altar.
Another historically significant element will be the altar, tabernacle and baptismal font, which will move the short distance to the new worship space. All were handmade by Tony Ronchi, whose brother, Bob Ronchi, is one of the oldest members of St. Anthony’s. He was asked by Gallagher and Amys to sit on the new church’s building committee.
“For over 120 years, the Catholic community at Lake Nebagamon has been gathering to pray, celebrate sacraments and foster the faith,” Fr. Andrew Ricci, pastor of the cluster, commented on the project. “This new building will continue that tradition as they work from the existing parish hall – this is the natural step to add something that is safe and practical that will continue to meet the needs of Catholics in Lake Nebagamon for years to come. It is a sign of their hard work, their dedication and their commitment to living their faith and sharing it with the next generation.”