CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
On the morning of Jan. 4, 1971, Reiny Follmann was startled from his sleep at 2:40 a.m. when a freak lightning storm happened during a snowstorm.
He lived 2 miles southeast of St. Michael Parish, where he is now a trustee, but didn’t look up at the church.
“I heard what I thought was an explosion,” Follmann said.
The next morning, he heard on the radio that the church steeple had been struck by lightning and the whole building, erected in 1884, went up in flames. The only thing that was salvaged was the Blessed Sacrament.
Because of the snowstorm, fire trucks had a difficult time getting to the blaze and actually had to wait for a county truck to plow the snow and clear a way.
The new, current building was dedicated in the summer of 1972 and the $270,000 cost was paid off within two years.
“You attribute it to the dedication of the parishioners,” said Fr. Jacob Strand, who has been the shared parish administrator with Holy Trinity Parish, 3 miles away in Kewaskum for about a year. “Of those 300 families, I would say you have a much higher percentage that are very dedicated to the parish and thus dedicated to God than at a lot of other parishes that are only 300 families. People that are here are quite committed. I’ve seen a lot of parishes where people have more of the consumer mentality: you just kind of check in and then you leave. Here, people really make this community a part of their lives, which was very common a long time ago but a lot of places have lost that. I don’t think St. Michael has lost that.”
It seems that nothing can knock St. Michael off its stride, having started in 1846 in the home of Michael Rodenkirk after a group of German settlers came to the rural, farming community.
“You’ll still find the same names that were part of the founding group,” said business manager Fred Middendorf. “But with the mobility today, there is also a lot of new people.”
“There is a lot fewer new people than at city parishes or urban parishes, which tend to be more transient,” said Fr. Strand. “You look at most of the people there on Sunday, they have a family name that’s been part of this parish for several generations. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say most parishioners have deep roots in this place.”
On Nov. 7, 2021, the parish will celebrate its 175th anniversary with a Mass that will be celebrated by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. Planning for the year of anniversary celebrations will begin this fall after the parish’s Fall Festival, which is always the last Sunday in September.
The Fall Festival, which serves as a larger community gathering, features a Polka Mass and Polka music throughout the day, along with about 850-900 dinners that are typically served, and brats and burgers and games for children and adults.