We, the Community of St. Francis de Sales Parish, seek to LIVE JESUS through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit by ministering to the needs of our brothers and sisters through Word, Worship, Education and Service.
Please join us as we celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ.
The St. Francis de Sales Congregation was first organized by Fr. Martin Kundig in the year 1842. Fr. Kundig rode on horseback from Milwaukee to the various Catholic settlements in the area. During his monthly visits, Mass was offered in someone’s home with a simple table or wagon bed used as an altar.
The present church site was selected and a rectory was built in 1844. This rectory was first used by Fr. Thomas Morrissey as a way-station for trips between Milwaukee and the Janesville area. The first resident priest in Lake Geneva was Fr. Patrick McKernan who was pastor from 1847 to 1849. In addition to St. Francis de Sales, he cared for the mission churches of Janesville, Whitewater, and Jefferson Prairie. Mass was held on the second floor of the rectory until 1852, when the first church was built.
The new church was a frame structure constructed southeast of the present building. Fr. Pendergast was pastor at the time. Costs were estimated to be $1500, with most of the materials and labor donated by parishioners. This first frame church served the growing parish well, providing a place of worship for nearly 50 years. It continued to be used as a parish hall and for storage until 1927 when it was destroyed during a wind storm.
Construction of the current church began in 1889 while Fr. Eugene Reilly was pastor. The building was completed in 1892 at a cost of about $18,000, and at the time of dedication, very little debt remained. The beautiful stained glass windows and original Stations of the Cross were donated by members of the congregation. The members of St. Francis de Sales continue to be thankful for the kind and generous assistance received throughout the years from the many visitors who come to Lake Geneva. Summer resident P.J. Healy (of Lyon & Healy) was the donor of the beautiful pipe organ which graced many generations of worshippers.
The parish school was constructed and opened in September of 1952 and began with a student body of 80 children, instructed by nuns from the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Although much has changed, the parish school continues to thrive today as an active part of our parish community. Instructed by dedicated lay teachers and staff, it currently serves a student body of over 170 students, from 3K through 8th grade.
The church was remodeled and the new convent was attached in 1959, while Fr. Harold O’Connor was pastor. The St. Francis de Sales window was moved from the front of the church to the choir loft, the old high altar and side altars were removed, and new altars were created from imported marble. This renovation also included the addition of the basement area which made space for the first restrooms and the Bride’s Room.
The Parish Center was built and opened in 1994, creating space for offices for parish staff, meeting rooms, a music room, a new kitchen, and a parish hall. In addition, the new front entrance was completed in 1999, while Fr. Dave Braun was pastor.In 2017, In conjunction with celebrating 175 years as a parish, an extensive church renovation took place. Entitled Project 2017, Lighting the Way to the Future, our historical church building was lovingly restored while brightening the interior. The neo-gothic architecture was recreated where possible and at the same time incorporated other pieces of our parish history. Some features included new gothic style reredos and side shrines, new frames for our existing stations of the cross, new porcelain tile flooring, a new living waters baptismal font, new lighting, a beautiful new organ, a stunning new stained glass window over the altar, a new Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, historical statue restoration, gorgeous paint and stenciling, new custom entry doors, and the refinishing and repair of our original pews. In addition, many maintenance items were completed including structural work, roofing repair, new carpeting, electrical updates, and stained glass window cleaning and reinforcement. Bishop Jim Schuerman, who was pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish during the renovation, guided the way throughout the planning and fundraising process and made this project a reality.
Today, more than 1,000 families belong to St. Francis de Sales Parish. In addition to our Parish School, we are proud to offer Religious Education for students from 4-Year-Old Kindergarten through 12th grade. We offer sacramental preparation for Baptisms, First Reconciliation, First Communion, Confirmation and Marriage. Our Director of Religious Education works closely with our Catechists to care for the needs of the children and teens in our parish. Our Director of Liturgy and Music coordinates and provides for the participation of all gathered at our liturgical celebrations, as well as directing various choirs and working with the school students. We have an active and growing Hispanic community, and offer a Spanish Mass on Sundays at 5 p.m., as well as Hispanic prayer groups throughout the week.
We are proud to have many active organizations within St. Francis de Sales, as well as many committees and ministries who reach out into our community and beyond. Even though each group has its own specific purpose, all are wonderful examples of carrying out our mission statement: We, the Community of St. Francis de Sales Parish, seek to LIVE JESUS through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit by ministering to the needs of our brothers and sisters through Word, Worship, Education and Service.
Growth and change have had their effects on St. Francis de Sales, yet the forces of faith have meant that the parish is still defined as it was in 1842. St. Francis de Sales exists today as a community of faith, with its members striving to be the expression of Christ and His church in Lake Geneva.
Francis was born in Savoy, France in 1567. His wealthy parents wanted Francis to become a lawyer. He obliged their wishes and earned a doctorate in law. In spite of this accomplishment, he still felt called to the priesthood. With the support of the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1593. Francis entered into the priesthood at a time when the Calvinists were extremely active and influential in the Geneva region. Catholic priests had been banned from the area and forced into exile. In 1594, Catholic priests were allowed back in the region to reestablish a Catholic presence. In spite of the danger, Francis accepted the call to preach the faith in the Geneva area.
Rather than simply denouncing Calvinism, Francis chose to preach Catholicism. He proclaimed the positive message of the Gospel that would overcome the negative image of the Catholic faith. Not by force but by love, he sought to encourage people to return to their faith. At least twenty-three hundred families were reconciled with the Catholic faith because of his efforts and in 1602 Francis was named bishop of Geneva. Because Geneva continued to remain a stronghold of Calvinism, Francis cared for his Geneva diocese from the city of Annecy. He achieved wide fame as a preacher and spiritual director.
Francis sought to rejuvenate the Church by preaching the recovery of an intense spiritual devotion. In his effort to accomplish this, he authored the book, An Introduction to the Devout Life. This book was addressed to all Christian people regardless of their position in life. In whatever state of life a person occupied, the call was the same. The person was called to move away from sin and enlarge their capacity for love and the practice of virtue. Francis wrote, “Genuine devotion is simply true love of God.” The true test of one’s progress in this regard was the intensity of a person’s charity toward others. The principle criticism leveled against Francis came from those who claimed he made it too easy to become a saint.
The central call in the spirituality of Francis was “Live Jesus.” It is a challenge that continues to stand before each of us even today. To “Live Jesus” is to radically adjust our lives so that all we say and do reflects the presence of Christ.
We have been blessed with a powerful patron…one who is both strong and humble. Francis is a man who has simplified for us the path of holiness and yet presented us with a most daunting task…to live our lives in the way that Jesus lived his. The wisdom, love and dedication that was the foundation plank for Francis in his spirituality is the model that is given to us as those who belong to the parish dedicated to his memory. May we rely upon Francis as model for our own call to a life of grace and holiness. His words to us are both an invitation and a challenge, LIVE JESUS.