Superior Wisc

Research History Superior Wisc

History & Culture

The Poles in the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin

Fr. Ladislaus J. Siekaniec, O.F.M.

This is revised and annotated edition of the article which was originally written for the diocesan paper of the Diocese of Superior on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of that diocese (Catholic Herald Citizen (Diocese of Superior Edition), 13 August 1955, p. 40-41).

At this time, too, I take the occasion to correct a misconception which occurred in my previous article in these Studies, XIV (1957) p. 12. I had presumed that Michael Skupniewicz, who arrived at Milwaukee in 1846, was perhaps the first Pole in the state of Wisconsin. I have learned from Fr. Constantine Klukowski, O.F.M., (Letter dated 4 March, 1958) that Vincent Dziewanowski apparently was the first Pole in this state, for he came to Muscoda, Wis., (west of Madison), in 1836.

The Catholic Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin was erected in 1905. Therefore many of the parishes and places discussed in this article were founded prior to that. We are considering here only those Polish communities which are actually now within the limits of said diocese.1

The Poles came into this territory within the present boundaries of the Superior diocese in the 1880's. There are indications for an earlier arrival, but we lack exact dates. According to the best information on hand, there was an Anton Ziolkowski and a John Komasa at Ashland probably in 1882.2 From this year on, Poles are appearing steadily in Ashland and Superior. From 1886-89, the Bobrowski name appears a few times in the registers of the Catholic Mission at Butternut, Wis., and the name Bardinski once.3 However, by 1888, Ashland has already 40 Poles.4

I judge the same for Superior since its Polish influx seemed to run similarly.

Now Poles are scattered practically in every nook and cranny of this Diocese. To cover all these locales adequately is impossible in a short article of this nature, nor do we possess complete historical data. In Ashland, Rhinelander and Superior, the Polish citizenry became so numerous that Church authorities granted them parishes for their nationality.5

Most of the Poles who immigrated into this diocesan territory came to earn a living the "hard way;" through manual labor in the saw mills and lumber camps, in the construction of the railroads, and on the ore and coal docks. Thus, for example, John Komasa worked at sharpening saws at Ashland in the saw mills in the 1880's.6 Jacob Konkol of Ashland, now 85 years old, was a waterboy to the railroad workers at Hurley some 70 years ago.7

The soil of northern Wisconsin did not provide the farming ease which the Poles enjoyed and developed in the southern part of the state. Comparatively few in the north farmed; most of them either stayed generally with their original jobs with some advancement, or became owners of small shops, stores, or sometimes went into the saloon business.

Shortly after their people came here, we find Polish priests ministering to them. At first, the priests came only once or a few times a year, i.e., to hear the Easter confessions, to prepare the confirmands, or for some unusual occasion.

Some of these priests traveled great distances not only in the state, but some came from beyond Wisconsin borders. I have in mind as an example Fathers Anastasius Czech, O.F.M., and Ladislas Czech, O.F.M., who traveled from Columbus, Neb., some 600 miles, and Fr. Damian Koziolek, O.F.M., from Joliet, Ill.8 All these were Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province in the United States.9 In the last century traveling such distances meant a hardship. Besides these, the diocesan clergy from the state's southern regions came north occasionally for similar reasons, as Rev. Andrew Gara from Poniatowski. Then, too, Father Kunes, a Lithuanian, came from Bessemer, Mich.10

The oldest Polish parish in the diocese is that of Holy Family, Ashland.11 It was officially established in the autumn of 1899. For a number of years prior to that, the local Poles had been requesting their own parish, while they were still members of the only Catholic parish in town, St. Agnes.

The impetus for the separate Polish parish finally came unusually. Fr. Fabian Rechtiene, O.F.M., pastor of St. Agnes, requested of Bishop Schwebach permission to build an addition to that parish school since the quarters were too crowded for the increasing children. The Bishop advised instead of an addition the separation of the Polish element into their own parish. Almost immediately the Holy Family Parish was established. They built their own school to open in January, 1901. The church cornerstone was blessed in September. The first Sunday services were held in the church basement on the Feast of the Holy Family, 1902.

The names of Ashland's Polish pioneers12 and more details about the parish I have given in other articles.13

After reaching a peak in membership in the 1920's and 30's the parish has somewhat declined, but is still about a third larger than in the beginning. In 1955 it counted some 735 souls. The number of children in the parochial school in 1957 was placed at 99.14 Fr. Casimir Wisniewski, O.F.M., is pastor here for the second time.

The largest colony of Poles in the diocese is in the See city of Superior, with two Polish parishes. Already in the 1890's the Poles were seeking their own parish, which was realized in 1901. With proper episcopal approval, they bought the old Congregational Church and moved it. On November 14, 1901, the latter was blessed for the use of the new congregation of St. Stanislaus.15

In 1903, the first floor of the same structure was converted into a school. In 1906, a separate convent was built for the teaching Sisters. And, in May, 1916, the present church-school combination was dedicated. Its present pastor is Rt. Rev. Msgr. Ladislas Nowacki, the local Dean, and the first Polish priest of the diocese to become a Domestic Prelate.

Meanwhile, almost simultaneously, in the eastern part of Superior and the Allouez section another Polish settlement was growing. In 1902, it had some 50 families. In 1909, the old St. Francis church (no longer used for worship for 14 years) was bought by these Poles. This became the church for the 60-family congregation of the new St. Adalbert's parish.16

By 1918, they put up a new brick structure which still serves as a school and residence for the teaching Sisters. Presently the Parish has about 150 families. Since 1919 its pastor is Rev, Francis H. Nowak.

The beginning of this parish also dates back to the early logging days. As a parish it was officially approved about the same time as St. Adalbert's, Superior, and likewise became a Polish-nationality parish. Here, too, the Poles bought another denomination's building: this time a former Methodist church. It was dedicated as St. Joseph's church by Bishop Schinner in October, 1909.17 Curiously, the size of this parish was also the same as St. Adalbert's at the latter's inception: about 60 families.

In the early records we find such names as Wozniak, Walkowski, Lewandowski, Kuper, Czerwinski, and Halminiak. Recently, its reason for a nationality-parish has ceased. Consequently, Bishop Annabring, with the approval of the Holy See, made it a territorial parish effective July 1, 1955.18 Prior to this change the parish had 246 families. The pastor is Rev. Thaddeus Lesniak.

Though the Poles have had four "national" parishes in this Diocese, they were also often pioneers of many territorial parishes. In the latter, too, they are often the predominant element.

In Ashland, in the parish of St. Agnes already from 1885, or 14 years before they had their own parish, Polish names are numerous. It is while they were yet members of St. Agnes that the Poles here already had two fraternal societies, the Kosciuszko Society under the patronage of St. Thaddeus,19 and St. Michael's Lodge, and a third, a Rosary Society for the ladies. The present records of St. Agnes contain many Polish names, some clearly Polish families, and many half-Polish through intermarriages with other nationalities. In fact, a study of these intermarriages leads one to the conclusion that about one-third of Ashland's more than 10,000 persons have some Polish blood in their veins. It is quite common now in Ashland to find a part of the family belonging to the national Polish parish of Holy Family and another part of the same family members of the territorial St. Agnes church, and even a few Polish names on the roster of the Protestant churches. This situation, I think, is verified in other cities of the diocese, as well as the United States.

Though at Butternut's Catholic Mission we find a Polish name as far back as 1886, the Poles did not arrive there in great number until World War I. At first they belonged to the Immaculate Conception Parish there. According to verbal information supplied to the writer, they were allowed to form a Polish Mission nearby about 1914.20 The permission was supposedly given verbally by Bishop Koudelka. Rev. John Nawa, then of Montreal, Wis., tended this little church which was torn down only a few years ago. The Mission was under the patronage of St. Alphonsus. However, we are informed that a search of the Diocesan records produced no formal record of it. In 1916, the Poles again rejoined the Immaculate Conception Parish there. The writer still traveled thither from Ashland thrice a year to hear some 30 Polish confessions (1949-55).

To Cable the Poles came in the early 1900's to do construction work on the Chicago & Northwestern railroad.21 Some of them settled on the farms, others kept their jobs on the railroad. In the beginning the Catholic contingent there was mainly Irish and Polish, so a church was expected.

The two groups compromised. The Irish donated the materials for the new church. The Poles gave the labor on the condition that the church would be named after the Polish St. Casimir. Thus tradition tells us. The bell, bought in 1909, was christened after St. Casimir. But the church was dedicated in 1910 with the title of St. Ann. There are now not many clearly Polish families left. About 2 years ago, St. Ann's was raised from the status of a mission of Hayward to a territorial parish, with Fr. Robert Szyma, a priest originally from Poland, as its administrator.

A town with a name like Lublin speaks clearly for its early founders. Known pioneering families carry names of Wasielewicz, Albaniak, Cieciora, Skrzypczak, Barca and Orzechowski. The state Land Company granted land to the people. These immigrants came to work in the sawmills and logging camps. As they cleared the land they begun farming and organized into a community. The same community, according to the "old-timers" erected a Catholic church in 1908 with the Bishop's approval. Rev. T. F. Malecki was appointed resident pastor. Up till that time if no priest came from Thorp these people traveled 12 miles through wooded land to church. The church at Lublin was first named All Saints and was later changed to St. Stanislaus, B. M. In the Official Catholic Directory for 1956 this parish is marked as a "national" parish.22 However, according to information I have received from the Chancery of the Diocese of Superior there is no official record that it was ever established as a strictly "national" congregation. Hence, it must be considered territorial.23 Rev. Eugene C. Konopka is administrator of the Parish.

We have another Polish-titled church, Our Lady of Czestochowa at Hawkins. The cornerstone is dated 1915. Predominant residents of South Forks here are Polish. Not too far away is the village of Conrath, the majority of whose settlers were Polish. This church is called Holy Trinity. Hawkins (South Forks) is a mission of St. Anthony's Church, Tony, whose pastor is Rev. Henry Gozanski.24 At the latter place the Poles were one of five nationalities comprising the "first-comers". Conrath, in turn, is a mission of St. Maria Goretti Church, Sheldon, where the pastor is the Rev, Edward Bujalski.25

At Chetek, in 1899, St. Boniface Parish consisted of 20 families, all Polish.26 In a recent history of the Parish six nationalities are mentioned as having belonged to it. Michael Czerwonka, who had come there in 1890, was the oldest living parishioner in 1954.27

In Hayward records show that Polish sermons were still preached in 1953 at St. Joseph's church.28 Its pastor, when I first drafted this article, was the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Walter Kalandyk. He was born in Poland and made his pre-theological studies there. A diocesan consultor, he was also the second Polish clergyman of the diocese to be named Domestic Prelate.29 Since then he had been appointed dean of the new Hayward deanery, and died 16 Nov. 1957.

In Hurley the Poles belonged to St. Mary's church.30 Already in the late 1890's they had their own society, St. Michael's.

Italians and Poles formed the main population influx into the ore mining town of Montreal.31 As a mission of Iron Belt, Wis., Montreal's Sacred Heart of Jesus church dates back to 1904. In 1913, Rev. John Nawa became the first resident pastor. Presently the pastor is Rev. Wenceslaus Kolman who is also a parish priest consultor of the diocese.

We find Polish families in St. Patrick's church at Phillips in 1896.32

In the 1880's, Brown Bros. Lumber Co. carried on logging operations in the region known as Town of Sugar Camp. The post office was called Robbins. The company sold the cleared land to the early settlers, the majority of whom were Polish. To keep these and to induce others the company erected a Catholic church in the early 1890's. With St. Cunegunda as its patron, the church was dedicated Aug. 15, 1900.33 It is still in use after modernization in 1947. It is now a mission of St. Theresa's Church, Three Lakes.

Around the bend of the Chequamegon Bay from Ashland is Washburn.34 The Poles were there in the early 1890's; some of them belonged to the Polish societies of Ashland. About 1892, the Poles of Washburn, being part of St. Louis church there, donated the new main altar for that church (the structure which preceded the present one). There are still some 20 Polish families in this parish.

Closer to Superior is the village of Dedham.


Not much of its early days remain, but the generally Polish community has grown and preserved the Faith. Their St. Aloysius church was built in 1910. Property for it was given by Stanley Wysocki* and Adam Olow. Mesdames Andrew Herubin and Adam Olow campaigned farm-to-farm for the building funds. This church, repaired since, is still in use. The mission has become a parish in its own right since Aug. 12, 1954.

Besides the above-mentioned the following priests of Polish descent are working in the Diocese of Superior.36 Rev. Louis Nowak is pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church, Spooner. Rev. Peter Sleszinski is an assistant at St. Joseph Church, Rise Lake, while Fr. Clyde Zarski, is assistant at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Ladysmith. St. Albert's Church, Land-O-Lakes, has Rev. Vincent Walkowski for pastor, with St. Mary's Mission at Phleps. Pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Shell Lake, and St. Catherine's Mission, Sarona, is Rev. Thaddeus Augustyn. The Rev. William J. Olszewski is pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Ch., Weyerhauser, and of the Assumption B. V. Mission, Strickland. St. Peter's Parish at Winter, and the Missions of St. Mary Magdalen, Couderay, and Sacred Heart, Raddison, are under the pastorate of Rev. Leonard Lewandowski. Rev. Leo Krynski was appointed pastor of the newly founded parish of St. Robert of Merrill. Chaplain of St. Joseph Hospital, Ashland, is Fr. Fridolin Pietrusiewicz, O.F.M.

From this brief and incomplete sketch we see that Poles form a strong contingent of the Catholics of the Diocese of Superior. For the pioneers it had been a hard lot with little or no knowledge of English. Economically it was very difficult to maintain their churches and schools since they belonged mainly to the non-moneyed class. But their hardships have been well repaid by the present results. Unfortunately the recent generation often does not fully realize that what they enjoy was built at the cost of much sweat, toil and tears.

1. Prior to 1905 the Diocese of Superior was part of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis. The Diocese of Superior comprises the following counties of Wisconsin: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Taylor, Vilas and Washburn.

2. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec, O.F.M., "More About Early Polish Pioneers in Ashland," Ashland Daily Press (Ashland, Wis.), 16 August 1950, pp. 1 & 5.

3. From private notes taken from the records of Immaculate Conception Parish, Butternut, Wis. I take this occasion to thank Fr. George Niekamp, C.PP.S., pastor of the parish at the time, for his cooperation. Fr. Niekamp's history of the parish appears in the Catholic Herald Citizen (Diocese of Superior Edition), 6 November 1954, p. 6.

4. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec, O.F.M., "The Poles of Ashland, Wisconsin, 1884-1888," Polish American Studies (Orchard Lake, Mich.), Jan.-June, 1949, pp. 14-17.

5. A more detailed account of the Poles in Ashland and Superior will be found in the author's "The Poles of Upper North Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring, 1956, pp. 195-8.

6. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec, O.F.M., "More about Early Polish Pioneers in Ashland'', loc. cit.

7. From personal interview with Mr. Konkol in the summer of 1955.

8. Fr. L. J. Sielianiec, O.P.M„ "The Poles of Ashland, Wisconsin, 1884-1888", loc. cit.

9. The Sacred Heart Province of the Order of Friars Minor in the U. S, has its headquarters at St. Louis, Mo.

10. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec, O.F.M., "The Poles of Ashland Wisconsin," loc. cit., p. 17. 

11. For more detailed account see the writer's "Holy Family Parish, Ashland," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 18 September 1954, p. 6.

12. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec, O.F.M., "The Poles of Ashland, Wisconsin, 1884-1888," loc. cit.

13. Fr. L. J. Siekaniec:, O.F.M., "The Poles of Upper North Wisconsin," loc. cit. 

14. The Official Catholic Directory 1958, p. 687.

15. Very Rev. Ladislaus S. Nowacki, "St. Stanislaus Congregation, Superior," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 5 September 1953, p. 4.

16. Rev. Francis H. Nowak, "St. Adalbert Parish, Superior, Wisconsin," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut sepra), 7 August 1954, p. 8.

17. Fr. Thaddeus Lesniak, "St. Joseph's Congregation, Rhinelander," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 8 May 1954, p. 6.

18. The text of this decree is in The Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 9 July 1955, p. 1.

19. For a detailed account of this society see my series of articles in the Ashland Daily Press (Ashland, Wis.), April 3, July 17, 19, 26, August 30, October 4, 8, 20, November 20, 28, December 1, in 1951, and January 24, April 17, August 7, September 11, 1952.

20. Fr. George Niekamp, "Immaculate Conception Parish, Butternut, Wis.,'' Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 6 November 1954, p. 6.

21. Rev. Ladislaus Kalandyk, The History of St. Anne Church of Cable, Wis., (manuscript in the files of the Chancery of the Diocese of Superior, Wis.). The manuscript is dated 6 January 1953, and the title is corrected to St. Anne from St. Casimir's.

22. P. 653.

23. Letter from the Chancellor, Rev. Cyril Sirek, 19 July 1956.

24. Rev. Henry Gozanski, "St. Anthony de Padua, Tony," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 9 January 1955, p. 7.

25. Ibid., p. 6.

26. History of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin (Catholic Historical Publishing Co., T. J. Sullivan, Milwaukee, Wis: 1895-8), p. 836a.

27. Rev. Wenceslaus Michaliscka, OSB, "St. Boniface Parish, Chetek; St. Peter's Mission, Cameron," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 30 October 1954, p. 6. 

28. Rev. Walter Kalandyk, "St. Joseph Parish, Hayward," ibid., 19 December 1953, p. 6.

29. Ibid., 8 Jan. 1955, p. 1.

30. History of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin (ut supra), p. 821c.

31. Rev. Wenceslaus Kolman, "Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Montreal," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 2 January 1954, p. 6.

32. History of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin (ut supra), p. 843b.

33. Polish American Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, (in manuscript).

34. Fr. Paul Boshold, "St. Louis Parish, Washburn," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 5 December 1953, p. 6 .

35. "Missions of Douglas County," Catholic Herald Citizen (ut supra), 5 February 1955, p. 6.

36. The Official Catholic Directory, 1958, pp. 687 -9.

* Recent comments received from Pat Olow claim that the correct name is Stanley MALINOSKI,  not  WYSNOSKI [PR has added this note 6/2003].

This article is reprinted from Polish American Studies, Vol. XV. No. 1-2, January-June 1958, with permission from the Polish-American Historical Association.