St. Stephen's Parish
Chili, Fremont Twp., Clark Co., WI
St. Stephen's Parish (1902)
Chili started when the Omaha Railroad was built in 1890. Three passenger trains ran daily from Merillan to Marshfield. A priest from Neillsville came to Chili on the eight o'clock train and said Mass in a hall over the general store owned by Mr. Frazier. On Saturday evenings a dance was usually held in the hall, and on Mondays Mrs. Arnold Martens, Mrs. Adrian Ver Hagen and Mr. William Peters would clean and prepare the hall for Tuesday morning Mass.
There are records of baptisms of people from Chili by Father Charles Youngblood as early as 1900, and by Father Joseph L. Hauck in the years 1902 to 1907.
In January of 1902 the first donation for a Catholic church was given by Mr. Frazier, and the land was donated by Mr. Kirchoff. The church was built that same year, with the exception of the steeple, which was completed a few years later. The first altar was a wooden structure, built by men of the parish, the pews were made by Mr. Dreson of Marshfield, and the lumber was furnished by William Croell. In later years, Mr. Kirchoff's son Adolph donated a new altar.
There being no Catholic cemetery at the time, Jacob Peters, father of William Peters and of Mrs. Kirchoff, was buried on his own land, and later moved to the new St. Stephen's Cemetery. The first parishioners of St. Stephen's were the families of William Croell, John Ebbens, Anton Ebbens, Math Jansen, Adolph Kirchoff, Ed Lamers, Arnold Martens., William Peters, and Adrian Ver Hagen. in 1902 St. Stephen"s was established as a mission of Corpus Christi Parish of Bakerville. Pastors at Bakerville who served St. Stephen's were the following: Fathers W. Hackner, 1908-1910; A. J. Miller, 1910-1928; F. F. Hoffmann, 1928-1929; Joseph Willitzer, 1929-1936; Arthur Cramer, 1936-1949; J. J. Sheridan, 1949-1950; Chester Wrzaszczak, 1950; Garlen J. Muller, 1950-1952.
In July of 1952 St. Stephen's became a parish, with Father Carl A. Wohlmuth as the first resident Pastor. Until the house, purchased earlier by the parish, was moved onto the parish grounds, Father Wohlmuth lived at the home of Albert J. Lang. Father stayed with the Langs about two and one-half months, until the rectory was ready for occupancy.
Father Wohlmuth worked hard to get the house ready to live in, and was also instrumental in making many improvements. During his Pastorate the church was painted inside and out,, a new garage was built, and the grounds were improved. He served the parish until 1956, and was Immediately succeeded by Father Donald Berg, who remained for a few months in that year.
Succeeding Pastors were: Father Robert Perkins, 1956-1959; Father Carroll J. Wall- jasper, 1959-1967; Father Richard McKoskey, 1967-1968; Father Eugene Berthlaume, 1968- 1969; Father Bernard Duffy, 1969-1971. Father Robert B. Houston Is the present Pastor of St. Stephen's.
The Women's Altar Society of St. Stephen's was organized around 1920. The first members were Mmes. Adrian Ver Hagen, A. LaBelle, Otto Speigelberg, Vera Putz, and Laura Andrews. Meetings were held in the homes until the church basement was completed. Mrs. Andrews is the only surviving member of this original group.
At the present time all ladies of the parish are members of the Altar Society.