History of St. Wilfrid

St. Wilfrid's Parish dates back to the year of 1884, the year that the town of Woonsocket was founded. 

At the nineteen fiftieth year, Father Edward Caraher wrote a history commemorating the Golden Jubliee of the parish and edicated it to those pioneer members of St. Wilfrid's Parish who lives of sacrifice and loyalty are an inspirtation to preswent and future generations. "At the hundred-twentyfifth year, his story and dedication vividly and appropriately express the sentiment and feeling of the people. 

Father Edward Caraher's story follows:

"The history of St. Wilfrid's Parish of Woonsocket begins with the offering offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the first time inJanuary 1884 by Father J. C. Ahern Cornelius Carr's residence over a store on Main Street.  But previous to this, there were Catholics who homesteaded inthe surrounding territory. Among these early pioneers we find the following names: Steichen, Wolf, Roache, McCormick, Regynski, Hinker, Thill, Fee, Sauter, Kogel, Burg, Cahill, FitzGibbon, Schmidt, Wecker, Kobriger, Hesstoffer, Gerken, Goergen,McDonald, Woods, McEnany and Madden.

Mitchell at that time was the terminus of the Milwaukee Road to the north. Here the Prospective settlers transferred from the day coach and the "Iron Horse" to a spring wagon and a team of bronchos to be driven thrity or forty miles by a land locator to look for a suitable homestead. Some of them brought all their belongings the first trip, others returned to Mitchell or to their respective homes to gather together a little capital, enough to buy a team of oxen, a plow, some lumber to build a shack, a few of the absolute necessities of life and returned to make their home on the fertile prairies of Sanborn and Jerauld counties. Most of these early prostpectors came from Iowa, but Wisconsin, Ohio, illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and even Massachusetts sent their representatives.\

Neighbors were few and far between, but they were true neighbors in every sense of the word. No one asked your nationality as it made no difference whether you were Irish, German, French, Polish, or Luxemburger, neither did they question your religion. All that mattered was whether or not you proved yourself to be a man. 

The Catholics during those early years were unable to attend Mass or receive the Sacraments regularly as Mitchell was their nearest place of woship. But these early pioneers kept alive the spark of faith, and judging fromthe names of those who are today staunch Catholics, we can without stretching our imagination, picture those early pioneers kneeling before their crucifix on Sunday morning and teaching their children the rudiments so ftheir religion.

Many Catholic families came as some of of our first residents of Woonsocket when the town was laid out in the fall of 1883. In fact, the distinction of having purchased the second lot is given to Cornelius Carr. That same year the Milwaukee Road extended its line from Letcher to Woonsocket and on to Aberdeen, and also extended the eastern branch from Howard and made Woonsocket the terminus for several years until it was extended to Wessington Springs, which remains the terminus. Father Ahern at the time was living on a claim northeast of Diana, now known as Artesian. He visited Woonsocket regularly once a month, making the trip by teamand buggy. He usually came Saturday afternoon and stopped at the home of Cornelius Carr. Sometimes he would be obliged to hurry away immediately after Mass on Sunday, but often he remained until Monday. The news soon spread among the scattered settlers that Mass was being said regularly in Woonsocket, and they came from near and far on horseback, inlumber wagons and on foot, some traveling a distance of twenty miles. It is known that on one occasion at least, R.J. Tracy walked from his home west of Alpena, fasting in order to make Easter duty.

Soon the Carr residence became too small to accommodate the growing congregation. Larger quarters were needed, so permission was obtained to hold Divine services in the Weir school house, about on and three-quarters miles southwest of town. The following names together with those mentioned before are recalled as comprising the Catholic group that made up the congregation: Carr, O'Brien, Strub, Grissel, Connery, Shanley, Offerman, Poncin, Chute, O'Connell, Hopkins, Moran, Maloy, Cooney, Tracy, Sinkler, Salesburg, Confrey, Dalton, Brosnan, MNackin, Kipp, Callaghan, Collins, Gillis and Parquet. 


To a group such as this, all of whom were devout Catholics, one thing especially was necessary -- a church must be built. So in the fall of 1884, they secured four lots at half price from the Townsite Company for the purpose of building a church on them. A frame structure, 40 X 36, was erected the same fall, but not lathed or plastereduntil 1889. Father Ahern left no records, but from the sourcesof information we have, we are led to believe that C. Carr, James o'Brien and Albert Strub formed a committee to buy the lots and arrange for the building of the first Catholic Church in Woonsocket. Most of the labor was donated, and we were told that even oxen were used to haul stone for the foundation and lumber used in the building. The result was a neat little building these early pioneers could well feel proud of. It was their first temple dedicated to the worshop of God in Woonsocket. Father Ahern continued to visit Woonsocket once a month until September 1988 when Father Edward Murphy succeeded him and became the first resident pastor. As there was no priest's house yet, a building was secured by the congregation, and form this time on, Woonsocket had Mass twice a month on Sundays. As there were some ten missions connected with Woonsocket, Father Jame E. Collins, a newly ordained priest, was given to Father Murphy as his assistant. Father Murphy was pastor for one year only, form September 1888 to the end of September 1889. Father Murphy had the church lathed and plastered and also built a gallery, secured an organ (Harmonicum) and organized the first choir, the members of which were: Kate Bagley, organist, Theresa, Margaret, Jennie carr and Conor Cooney. They sang hymns during Mass and also sang for benediction. 

October 4, 1889, Father Claude Ebner, a member of the Benedictine Order, was sent as pastor by Bishop Marty to take charge of St. Wilfrid's at Woonsocket. As a parish house was not yet built, Father Claude lived in the rented house that his predecessor had occupied. When Father Claude arrived, the ladies of the parish took it upon themselves to collect small sums to buy a desk and a few more necessary things for the house. There was a mortgage of $400 onthe church and a floating debt of $303.08. A meeting of the members of the congregation was held at the residence of R.J. Grissel on October 24, 1889, and the following was discussed and agreed upon: (1) That no salary can be fixed for the pastor, but that he should content for the present and for some time to come with what he can get by voluntary contributions and the plate colleciton, until the congregation will be stronger an dbetter off. (2) That the Pastor will take up a collection from house to house to meet the floating debts. (3) A committe of five was agreed upon, viz: R.J. Grissel, Albert Strub, Connor Cooney, Hugh Confry and John Steichen. Father Claude immediately started from house to house to collect, and the records show that the floating debt of $303.08 was paid. The records also show that through Connor Cooney, from an entertainment in the fall of 1889, a sum of $12.10 was raised and in June of the following year, a strawberry festival was held at Carr's which netted $12.85.

In the Fall of 1890the new priest's house was built, and the lower part was ready so that the pastor moved in on November 17, of the same year. The plan of the house ws drawn by Father Claud and Mr. Cook ws the carpenter. The same Fall a well, twenty-four feet deep, ws dug and the pump put in. In the following year, 1891, the wash house and the coal bin were added, cistern dug and walks about the house were laid., four hitching posts, two in front of the house and two in front of the church were put in, also eight along the north side of the church and house. It was not until the Summer of 1884, that the upper story of the priest's house was partitioned off, lathed, plastered and painted. At the same time, the rooms inthe lower part were all papered, the names of those who donated eith labor or cash, or both for the new priest's house: Pat Shanley, John Kogel, Theo. Offerman, Geo. Hestoffer, Frank Jonich, Andrew Hestoffer, Henry Sunkeler, Richard McCormick, John McCormick, Lawrence Hestoffer,Andrew Burg, M. Schures, J. Herzog, H. Kipp, L. Kobriger, Geo. Hinker, H. Hinker, Ed. Dougher, John Sauter, Thos. FitzGibbon, J. Makin, John Thill, Wm. Glover, H. Fee, Chas. Chas. Woods, R.J. Tracy, Henry Kempnan, Frank Sauter, J. Forst, Joe Kogel, Dan McDonald, Jas. O'Brien, C. Carr, John Gerken, Conor Cooney, R.J. Grissel, Ed.Connery, Albert Strub, Frank Srub, J. Salisbury, John Wecker, Sr., Hugh Confry, John Steichen and Andrew Doran. 

The story will continue as updated....






 In 1904, land was purchased for a school and cemetery. A parochial school was started in a house until the school could be built, and in 1910, they moved into the new St. Joseph School. The need for more room in the church became apparent and a committee consisting of Pastor Nio, J.R. Dalton, Carl Busch, Joe Steichen, Jacob Kemptner, Joe Kogel, Phil Tremblay, George Trudeau, Sr., John Sauter, T. J. Hendrick, John Privet, J.M. Ruhe, Henry Fee, and T.J. Carlton began making plans for a new church. The contract was granted to L.G. Turgeon, a member of the parish, and work began on May 14, 1914. There were delays due to WWI, but the great structure was finally completed and dedicated by Bishop O’Gorman on June 13, 1920. The basement of the church was completed by donated labor under the direction of Al Van Leur. The now popular Turkey Shoot was begun in the Parish Hall in 1924, and has been held almost annually. The parish reached its fiftieth anniversary in 1934 with Father Edward as pastor, and it was appropriately celebrated.

While Father Edward was pastor in 1952 (back for the 3rd time), they decided to redecorate the church. In 1954, Father Laurence Janus became pastor and in 1965, the parish celebrated the 25th anniversary of the priesthood of Father Janus.

Work began on the remodeling of the Parish Hall in 1966. The remodeling done was quite  extensive. The specifications and plans were under the direction of Robert Mead, with the assistance of the following committee members: Elmer Steichen, Alex Vetter, Berthan Moran, Lloyd Hinker, Mrs. Duaine Hjelm, Mary Dankey, Leroy Burnison, florence Tiede, Pat Cahill, George Thill, Gayland Trudeau, Mrs. Ralph Rogers, Mrs. Fred Hagman, Victor Hinker, Mrs. Louis Kub, and John Merriman. Donated labor was used to remove the wooden floor and ready the basement for construction. Contracts were let to cement the floor, lay linoleum blocks, panel the walls, lower the ceiling, install fluorescent lighting, install a sound system, and remodel the kitchen. Due to the construction, the Turkey Shoot was
cancelled that year.

St. Joseph’s School closed in 1968 because the Presentation Order could no longer supply the sisters to staff a faculty. The building was purchased by the Woonsocket School District.

Father David Melmer was appointed pastor in 1972 and served the parish for eight years. During that time, many improvements were made. The church was carpeted, the old rectory was moved and a new one built, an electronic bell system was installed, and extensive repairs were made on the church. Father Melmer celebrated his 25th anniversary of Priesthood in 1980.

Father James M Joyce came to St. Wilfrid’s in August of 1980. During his time at St. Wilfrid’s, they carpeted the basement of the rectory, purchased a new electronic organ and improved the grounds with new trees and shrubs. Father Joyce celebrated the 35th anniversary of his Priesthood on March 13, 1983.

On June 5, 1982, the parish was privileged to have one of its members, Bernard Dale Ashfeld, ordained to priesthood. The ordination took place in the parish church, with the Most Reverend Bishop Paul Dudley officiating.

Father Richard Schmidt arrived at St. Wilfrid’s on May 23, 1984. During his time here, St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church celebrated its 100th anniversary on July 8, 1984. Fr. Schmidt will be remembered for his lovely Christmas decorations.

Father Arnold Petrosky served St. Wilfrid’s from May of 1990 through the fall of 1991, and then Father Edward Larkin served as temporary pastor in the fall of 1991.

Father Gerald Thury arrived at St. Wilfrid’s in January of 1992. During his time at St. Wilfrid’s, the church and recotry was reshingled 1992; an elevette was installed and a ramp added to the northside of the building in 1993; the church was redecorated the church in 1994; a new sound system was installed in 1994; the basement floor was refurbished in 1997; and a new heating & air conditioning system was installed in 1999. The kitchen in the rectory was redone in 2002.

Father John Maliyekal of India arrived at St. Wilfrid’s in July 2003. He celebrated his 45th anniversary to the priesthood on March 6, 2005. Fr. John returned to India for retirement in July 2006.

Father Jim Friedrich served as pastor of St. Wilfrid's from July 2006 to July 2019. During this time, the church basement foundation was found to be structurally compromised. With permission of Bishop Swain, the $500,000 project to rennovate the basement took place. It was a five year project before the construction was finished. Many volunteer hands and fundrasing events to help complete the project. 

August of 2019, Fr. Kevin Doyle became pastor of St. Wilfrid. It was the following March 2020 when COVID 19 Pandemic hit the nation. Public Mass was suspended through the Easter season. Retired assistant pastor Fr. Paul Nereparampil had been residing in Wessington Springs from 2017 until he returned to his native land of India in October of 2020. 

Fr. Kevin Doyle started the project of livestreaming Masses during the COVID pandemic. An updated sound system was installed in 2021 as well as a new digital organ keyboard with speakers. 

The 100th Dedication Anniversary of St. Wilfrid was June 23, 2020. Due to COVID, the celebration was postponed to June 20, 2021. Bishop Donald DeGrood celebrated Mass on June 23, 2021. There was a meal in basement hall following Mass. Many pictures were taken of Bishop DeGrood and parishioners. An organ concert was held on June 23, 2021 for the anniversary celebration. The newly aquired organ was play by a young man, Porter Jacob Walz (17 years old).

We have had the privilege of two more of our native sons being ordained to the priesthood in recent years: Father Chester Murtha in 1993 and Father Larry Regynski in 1995.

We are thankful for the many blessings God has bestowed on St. Wilfrid’s in the past and pray for His continued blessings in the years ahead.

Time Line of Priests who served St. Wilfrid Parish

2019-Present -  Rev. Kevin Doyle
2014-2020 - Rev. Paul Nereparampil
2006-2019 - Rev. Jim Friedrich
2003-2006 - Rev. John Maliyekal
Aug 31 - Dec. 16, 1996 - Rev. Joseph Eappen
1992-2003 - Rev. Gerald Thury
1991-1992 - Rev, Edward Larkin
1990-1991 - Rev. Arnold Petrosky
1984-1990 - Rev. Richard Schmidt
1980-1984 - Rev, James Joyce
1972-1980 - Rev. David Melmer
1954-1972 - Rev. Laurence Janus
1948-1951 - Rev. Gabriel Stephens
1951-1954 - Rev. Edward Caraher
1940-1947 - Rev. Edward Caraher
1930-1937 - Rev. Edward Caraher
1912 - Rev. Joseph Turgeon
1911-1919 - Rev. Joseph Nio
1909 - Rev. E.M. Bouter
1903-1914 - Rev. Lewis Schreiber