The little white church binds generations of family

A sense of history and place.

Much moved by the funeral ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II this morning. The Queen was piped into Westminster Abbey by a phalanx of bagpipers. Watching at home, we could say that, a few years back, the Blaskas set foot in that glorious church. The Church of England plays like the Catholic Church except for a Pope.

The Lovely Lisa and I were married in a different kind of church — almost Shaker in its simplicity but Roman Catholic, nonetheless. Do read Barry Adams’ wonderful account in the Wisconsin State Journal of St. Wenceslaus Church in the Town of Waterloo, Jefferson County. Built of tamarack logs in 1863 by the German-speakers who began emigrating in the mid 1840s from the Sudetenland of Bohemia to what is called “The Island.” It is called so because it sits on a hill overlooking the marshland to the east that slopes to the oft-flooding Crawfish River.

It truly is a lovely, peaceful sight, this little white church up on its hill, surrounded by green fields — its crooked little steeple pointing imperfectly to the blue sky and heaven beyond.

That church resonates in our family because the blogger’s great-grandparents, John Peregrine Blaska and Anna Fiedler were married there in 1884 — 90 years before our own wedding. 

Like those ancestors, we had to part as we left the church, newly married, around the cast-iron wood-burning stove sitting in the middle of the narrow aisle. Yes, there’s a choir loft, up two steps; it can hold maybe five people. Remember the well wishers looking through the four windows from outside; the 32’ by 34-foot church was too small to hold everyone.

Great-great grandfather Johan Fiedler constructed the pews of pine using wooden pegs instead of nails. At our wedding, youngest brother Rich, then 15, pulled the rope through the ceiling that rang the bell. Bride and groom made their exit via a Model T car supplied by the late (and great) Lloyd Yelk, also a descendant of the original settlers. Much of old Sun Prairie through Marshall and Waterloo is German Bohemian. Names like Bedner, Betlach, Benisch, Blaschka, Deppe, Fiedler, Fischer, Friedl, Haberman, Hebl, Peschel, Schuch, Skalitzky, Schuster, Suchomel, Stangler, Veith, Weisensel, Yelk, and Zimbrick. Many of those names leaf out our genealogical tree.

My own great-great grandparents (she was a Skalitzky) arrived on the Island from the town of Hertersdorf (now Horni Houzevec in the Czech Republic) in the spring of 1854. The Old Country was hill country more resembling Richland County than the rich land of eastern Dane County and Jefferson, as we discovered touring the so-called Lanskron area at the juncture with Poland to the north and Moravia eastward. The immigrants purchased their 40 acres for $50 from the federal government — President Franklin Pierce signed the deed — having first alighted in New York via the Bremen-based ship Jason in 1852. Spent their first year-plus in Chicago. They farmsteaded their new land on Island Road, its first European owners, until 1859 when they moved to the Town of Amherst in Portage County, presumably to participate in the great timber harvest. We think he was a blacksmith. That was well before the little church was built. 

My father, Jerome, was one of the good folks (that history here) who wanted the church sitting on the hill it has always known rather than be moved to Old World Wisconsin, the outdoor historical site in the southwest corner of Waukesha County, in the Kettle Moraine. In the years since 1972,  the Island Church Foundation put in a new floor and put the structure on a firm foundation — literally. For its first 140 years the floor had ridden out all the frost and heaving of Wisconsin winters, floating on flattened tamarack logs laid flat. I have one of them as a keepsake. 

Behind former Sacred Hearts Msgr Duane Moellenberndt is the tiny confessional

We discovered that the logs had been draped in exterior board and batten right away because the logs were still a honey brown instead of greying out, as they would if exposed to the elements. Lyle Lidholm, a consultant at Old World Wisconsin, guided us in our work that year, in 2002. The interior is a whitewashed plaster. As Barry Adams reports, the church ceased its daily mission in about 1891. 

Several years ago the Foundation, under the able leadership of Chantel and Brian Blaschka (their grandmother was a Blaska), secured the steeple, which remains charmingly askew. Ed Langer, another descendant, wrote some of the history featured on the Island Church Foundation website (which I mismanage). He’s conducting a seminar on this history Saturday 09-24-22 at the Waterloo library. Do consider participating. More here.  

Blaska’s Bottom Line: St. Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia, is our tie to the people who gave us life.

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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4 Responses to The little white church binds generations of family

  1. Cornelius_Gotchberg says:

    Jeepers Blaska, you remember all this yet forget your anniversary? Oy gevalt!

    FWIW, The Gotch’s paternal Great Great Grandparents made a purchase from that very same POTUS in Akan TWSP/Richland County (on an east-facing hill abutting Crawford County) and made their way up in a covered wagon from Sullivan County, IN in the early 1850’s.

    The original house is still there; he-n-sibs have visited it a number of times.

    The Gotch

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gary L. Kriewald says:

    It used to be that the skyline of every city and town in the country was dominated by the steeples (and sometimes domes) of churches, including Madison hard as that is to believe. Now (except for the dome of the State Capitol, which is getting swiftly shouldered aside) the skyline is dominated by luxury high-rises. A perfect example of the values of a community expressing themselves concretely (in this case, literally in concrete).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynn stock says:

    Beautiful church. Great history lesson On our next visit need to tour that area!!!

    Like

  4. Bill Cleary says:

    David,

    Wow, what a trip down memory lane. I grew up in the Catholic faith. I went to St. Michaels in Dane for my first confession, holy communion and confirmation. Father Kunz was the pastor at the time I went there. (Don’t ask me why he was killed, I don’t know.)

    Religion runs deep in my family. I have one uncle who built a Traditionalist Roman Catholic Church complete with a Latin Mass out of a machine shed. I also have another uncle who became a Protestant Minister who would visit the prisoners on Rikers Island to minister to them.

    Both my Grandfather on my mothers side of the family and my Grandmother on my fathers side of the family were daily users of the Rosary. I still have my Grandfathers Rosary in the drawer next to my side of the bed.

    After 60+ years on this mortal coil I have come to the conclusion that religion can be used in both a positive way and in a negative way, to build up or to tear down a person or society.

    My favorite prayer still is the “Oh My Jesus”, or the Fatima prayer. It goes like this:

    “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins,
    save us from the fires of hell;
    lead all souls to heaven especially those who are in most need of
    Your mercy.

    Amen.”

    Simple prayer for simple minds like mine.

    Liked by 2 people

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