History of St. Bridget's Parish
A Brief History of St. Bridget Parish
River Falls, Wl
St. Bridget Church of River Falls traces its roots back to the year 1854, when the first permanent Catholics settled here. That was just six years after Joel Foster, founder of the town arrived. The first Catholic settlers acquired government land just south of the present city of River Falls.
There was no Catholic church for the early settlers. Instead they attended Masses at Prescott or Hudson and later at Big River, where a Bohemian settlement had built a church in 1862. The River Falls Catholics gathered in homes when they weren't able to make the long trip by buggy, wagon or bobsled to neighboring towns.
The first Catholic church was built about seven miles east of River Falls in 1870. Masses were held on an irregular basis, whenever a missionary priest or one from Hudson could come. Soon the Catholics saw a need for a larger church. A two-year fund drive brought in $2,000 and construction of the 36 by 70-foot white frame church began on the site of the present church building. The first church was dedicated to St. Brighid, the patron saint of Ireland. The new church was paid for by the day it was dedicated.
The first resident pastor arrived in 1887. He lived in a rented house on Fourth Street until a new rectory was built just east of the church. The small parish was hard pressed to pay off the $2,700 debt on the new rectory. That rectory served the pastors here until the current church was built and the rectory was moved in 1983 to Union Street. Later the rectory was sold and a smaller house on Union Street was purchased for the pastor's residence.
By 1889, the growing parish saw the need for a larger church building. The 40 families of the parish approved plans for a 42 by 90 foot structure that would serve the parish until it was demolished in June, 1984 to make way for the present church building. The old white frame church was sold to the Lutheran congregation here for $385 and was moved to a site on Second Street where it served as a Lutheran church.
In 1892, St. Bridget's Cemetery plot was purchased on the south side of River Falls.
The spelling of the church name was changed during the 1890's to BRIDGET, still honoring the patron saint of Ireland.
The non-Catholics of River Falls donated the money to buy a 1,000-pound bell for the new St. Bridget Church in 1897. Today that bell hangs in the bell tower of the new St. Bridget's Church, carrying over the fine ecumenical spirit of the community of River Falls dating back over 100 years.
Plans began in the 1940's to add a Catholic elementary school. The building was completed in 1951 at a cost of $150,000 and opened that fall with four Sisters of St. Joseph Order of Superior teaching grades 3, 4, 5 and 6. There were 79 students enrolled. The following year there were 130 students. Enrollment in the eight grades peaked in the 1960's with over 300 students in each of the next six years, with the top enrollment being 323 in 1961-62. In 1957, the first lay teacher was hired. More lay teachers were added in the following years as the number of nuns available declined. Kindergarten in 1975, with Pre-School added in 1992. The current school enrollment is approximately 204 students.
A $135,000 gym and classroom addition was added onto St. Bridget's School and a $90,00 convent (now used as a Parish Education Center) was added in the 1950's. The church was remodeled in 1959 and again in 1969.
In July, 1971, Fr. Dennis Meulemans was appointed pastor of St. Bridget's. He was told by the bishop of Superior to get the parish thinking about building a new church because of structural weakness in the church, which was built in 1893. That meant paying off a good-sized parish debt from the gym and convent and starting a building fund. With the same spirit the pioneers had exhibited here, the parishioners dug into their purses. The old debt was paid in December, 1978. The new church fund drive went so well that by June 26, 1983, ground was broken for the new church, which was completed and used for the first services on August 11, 1984.
At that time, the church seated about 700 people in the centrum; with the overflow space, the church could accommodate about 1,000. The new $1.8 million church was dedicated by Bishop Raphael Fliss of Superior on September 23, 1984. With the enlarged capacity of the church the parish went from five weekend Masses down to three. The last full-time associate was transferred in the summer of 1984, leaving the parish with only one priest.
During the summer of 1984, the first St. Bridget's Parish Council was named. Through the direction of the Diocese of Superior, the parish had a Parish Council with the following committees: Liturgy, Faith Formation (Education), Evangelization and a Finance Council established to manage the finances, budget, property and buildings.
The parish was operating on a budget of over half a million dollars. The debt of $750,000 incurred in 1984 when the church was built, was paid off in October, 1998. A parish mortgage burning celebration was held October 25, 1998 to thank the parishioners for their generous support in arriving at this accomplishment.
Membership consisted of approximately 3,600 people. The parish established a Stewardship program that involved our commitment of Time, Talent and Treasure to God and to others. There are more than one hundred ministries of service in our parish from altar servers to ushers. Without the involvement of all these volunteers, the work of the parish would not happen.
In 1998, the parish staff included a full-time Principal, a full-time coordinator and two part-time coordinators of youth and family ministry, a parish worker to minister to the sick and shut-ins, a part-time liturgical coordinator of music, a parish office manager and a part-time secretary/receptionist. The school employed 14 teachers, a secretary, and a maintenance person.
Like the St. Bridget Cross symbolizes: our lives are intertwined, Christ is the One polishing us (the gem-stones) to be His instruments of Good News to all the World. St. Bridget, pray for us.
Adapted from the
St. Bridget History
By George M. Kremer