About Our Parish Cluster
The Northwoods Catholic Community comprises three parishes in north-central Wisconsin: St. Mary Church in Sayner; St. Rita Church in Presque Isle; and St. Anne Church in Boulder Junction. Here is some historical background on each of these parishes...
St. Anne Church
Boulder Junction, Wisconsin
A growing population and increasing tourism led to the start of St. Anne Parish. Monsignor Peter Meyer, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Hurley, began to offer Mass in Boulder Junction monthly during the winter and weekly in summer. Those Masses were said in the old town hall, which was located west of town on Highway K.
Construction of a church in Boulder Junction began in 1941, but the project was stopped during the war years. A wooden frame building was completed in 1948, and Father Joseph Higgins was appointed the first pastor. This little wooden church stood at the exact site of the present church.
From 1948 through 1958, St. Anne was a mission church, associated with St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Mercer. Continued population growth in Boulder Junction led to the planning of a larger church building and rectory. St. Anne was raised to the status of an independent parish in April 1958, and the cornerstone for its present church building was blessed June 28, 1959. The wooden frame structure was moved to Lake Tomahawk, where it served as that community’s first parish church.
St. Mary Church
The beginning of St. Mary Parish can be traced to 1912, when Monsignor John Owens of Minocqua celebrated Mass in the home of Joseph Denk, in Sayner. That year, a parcel of land was donated by Michael and Frances Froelich, and St. Mary Church was built. Masses were offered in this new church by Father Owens, and later, Fathers, Peter Rice and Francis Bertram.
In the early 1920s, St. Mary Church was placed under care of the priests who served St. Peter Church in Eagle River. From the 1920s into the 1930s, Fr. Arthur Shank served as pastor, enlisting help from priests of the Norbertine Order in DePere, Wisconsin, to serve during the busy summer months.
On June 14, 1946, St. Mary Church was made a mission of St. Albert Parish in Land O’Lakes, with Fr. Austin Corrigan as Pastor. In 1952, St. Mary Church was completely renovated with a knotty pine interior.
When St. Anne Church in Boulder Junction was raised to the status of independent Parish in 1958, St. Mary Church was designated as a mission parish of St. Anne. Both churches were assigned to the care of Fr. James Gutzler, first Pastor of St. Anne.
In this year, Fr. Gutzler acquired 30 acres of land in Sayner for the building of a new church for St. Mary Parish. Dedicated in 1963, this is the present stone church as we know it today.
In the year 2000, an addition was constructed on St. Mary Church, doubling its seating capacity to about 550 for worship services.
St. Rita Church
Presque Isle, WI
St. Rita Church was established in August, 1938, when a parcel of land in the village of Winegar, now known as Presque Isle, was donated by Emil and Elsie Nelson of Montreal, Wisconsin. More land was donated and purchased later.
In September 1949, a chapel was built with a donation of $3,500 from the Diocese of Superior. “This little mission is certainly one of my smallest places in the Diocese of Superior, wrote Bishop Albert Meyer. “It will surely be greatly benefited by the generous donation from the Catholic Extension Society.” Rev. Joseph Higgins was Pastor of St. Rita at that time.
In 1966, approximately 18 families were full-time members of the tiny year-round chapel in Presque Isle. By this time summer tourists were crowding into the church and an expansion was proposed.
Studies into the expansion led to the idea that a “summer chapel” would be built to handle the seasonal crowds at St. Rita Church, while leaving the existing chapel for year-round use by the residents. The summer chapel was to be built without lights or heat and would have an unfinished interior.
The slab for the summer church was poured in fall of 1966, after a loan was secured from St. Mary Church in Sayner. The building was patterned after a church in Battle Lake, Minnesota. Pews for 200 people came from St. Anthony de Padua Church in Milwaukee; shipping was free. More pews were made available from a church in New Richmond, increasing seating capacity to 375. Windows were provided by an anonymous donor.
As the resident congregation grew, St. Rita Church moved to this newer, larger building. Electricity, heat and water were later added, and the interior of the building was finished.