Catholic Herald staff
The unincorporated community of Ino is located in Bayfield county. Driving the country roads, St. Florian’s Catholic Church appears out of nowhere in the middle of farm fields. Everything about the church seems to step out of times past.
Church bells rang to begin the church’s Aug. 5 centennial celebration with a welcome by Deacon John Grek. Bishop James P. Powers blessed the entrance, asking for God’s blessing on all who enter through the doors and expressing gratitude for the gift of faith of the church’s founders.
The liturgy for the celebration coincided with the Feast of the Transfiguration as well as the memorial of the dedication of Saint Mary Major in Rome. In his homily, Bishop Powers mentioned the church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and St. Mary Major because of their importance as structures with longstanding significance in the faith and in the life of the Church.
“But as beautiful and important and well known as those two churches are – in all honesty, they are no more holy or sacred than this church of St. Florian. And Our Lord is no more present in the tabernacle of those churches than he is in the tabernacle here in St. Florian.”
The bishop acknowledged that God the Father speaks the same words today, as he spoke to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor – “This is my beloved son, listen to Him.”
“I wonder how many of us here consider our gathering together in St. Florian or in any other parish church in our diocese or around the world – regardless of how big or how small, regardless of how ornate or how humble – as a mountaintop experience? Because if we believe even half of what we say and do here, how can it be anything but a mountaintop transforming experience?”
Then he referenced some of the stories and experiences recorded in the booklet prepared for the centennial.
“Although they did not use the words ‘mountaintop experiences’… that’s what they were,” he said. “Lives transformed through immigration to the United States in search of a new life and new hope. The faith being handed on from generation to generation by parents teaching the catechism in their homes, even though Mass was only celebrated monthly. The devotions, missions, parish dinners and bazaars, summer catechism classes with the sisters and the beautiful holy cards they handed out.”
The bishop’s favorite story was that of Mrs. Jacob Gazdik, who had the courage to sit by her husband when the custom was for men to sit on one side of the church and women on the other.
He continued, “If these walls could talk! And share stories of sacraments celebrated here, holiday feasts and funerals. The countless number of people who have come into the peace and security of these walls to pray for the health and needs of loved ones. The seeds of faith that have been planted and nourished and nurtured here over the years. The number of confessions that have been heard and sin forgiven; people reconciled with God and one another.”
Concluding the homily, Bishop Powers rededicated the church building.
St. Florian’s is part of the Catholic Communities of Ashland cluster. Pastor Fr. Paul Pare thanked members of the parish after Communion, including celebration organizers Loretta Skaj and Glory (Brandis) Bizub. Bizub moved to the Ino area from Mason in 1960. She started singing in the church choir at 12 years old. She is still singing, along with her sister Angela Jarecki, who also plays the organ in the narrow choir loft.
St. Florian parish was founded in 1913 by Fr. Florian Gerhardt, who was the pastor at Washburn. The church was named St. Florian by the parishioners in gratitude.
In June 1916, the church was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. The altar stone and original statue of St. Florian were saved. Ironically, St. Florian is patron of firefighters.
Prayer services were then held in the Visocky and Lavota families’ homes, until the Jednota School was built right next to the church site. The parish church was rebuilt and dedicated by Bishop Joseph Koudelka in 1917.
Ted Viskoe, at 89, is the oldest living parishioner and youngest of nine children. His parents immigrated from Czechoslovakia with their oldest two children. The family lived on a subsistence farm, while Viskoe’s father boarded in Superior during the week working as a section boss for the railroad. He and his siblings attended the Jednota School. He remembers skiing to school in the winter, as the roads were not plowed.
A booklet prepared for the celebration included interviews with former parishioners. Veronica Gazdik, who immigrated from Slovakia in 1910, shared in a 1974 interview how religious the people were and how they dedicated everything they did to God, blessing all their chores with the sign of the cross.
“I think that every one of us that lived in Ino dedicated our lives to God,” the late Barbara Brandis (1922-2014) said. “The church was our social meeting place. All the people would gather in front of the church to tell the happenings from the last time we met. We never thought we couldn’t go to church because of the weather. Rain or shine, winter or summer; yes, we walked all the way.”
Another parishioner the Catholic Herald spoke with was Ken Visocky, one of eight children of Joseph and Betty Visocky, married at St. Florian’s in 1949. He remembers Fr. Florian Herides, pastor from 1948-1971, calling all the children his “little angels.”
Another memory was of Fr. Clement Sobr, pastor from 1971-1978, who never minded the noise of children in the pews. Visocky quoted his favorite saying, “if the kids are there, the parents are there.”