St. Clare’s Church in Wind Lake

When Norwegian immigrants settled in the area around Muskego Lake in the late 1830s, they formed a relatively isolated community that included the first Norwegian Lutheran congreation organized in the United States. The decades that followed, however, saw other settlers move to the area and a number of smaller communities grew up in this corner of Racine County, including in the area around Wind Lake.

Prior to 1965, Catholics living in and around Wind Lake had to travel to other area parishes, including St. Thomas Aquinas, Waterford; St. Joseph’s, Big Bend; St. Mary’s, Hales Corners; and St. Martin’s and the now-closed Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Franklin.

On September 1, 1965, the situation changed for the 400 Catholic families in Wind Lake when Archbishop William E. Cousins of Milwaukee issued a decree creating a new parish for Wind Lake. Two weeks later, he appointed Fr. John A. Kapellen as the founding pastor. Fr. Kapellen celebrated the first Masses for the fledgling community on October. Given the permission to choose a name for the parish, Fr. Kapellen settled on his own mother’s name, calling the parish “St. Clare,” after St. Clare of Assisi.

An early account of the founding of the parish kept in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, relates that things began to move quickly after those first Masses. Parish meetings were held in Waterford’s St. Thomas Aquinas Church and by December of that year, plans were already underway for a new church and multi-purpose space. Religious education was made a priority by the new pastor and, since St. Clare’s would not have its own parochial school, lay teachers were trained by the School Sisters of St. Francis with support of seminarians from Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners. Later, Redemptorist seminarians from Holy Redeemer College in Waterford also worked with parishioners. As the parish’s new building was being constructed, religious education took place in parishioner’s homes with Masses and other parish events being celebrated in Pagel’s Resort, a hall in Wind Lake owned by the Pagel family.

The sanctuary of St. Clare’s Church, Wind Lake.

The first Masses were celebrated in that first church on Saturday, March 22, 1969. Reflecting on that happy occasion, Fr. Kapellen expressed his thanks to parishioners in a letter declaring, “At last, after many years of dreams, disappointments, delays, heartaches, the Catholics of the lakes region have their own church. Thanks be to God! The prayers and efforts of many an individual have producted a reality, though it seems every type of obstacle was put the way.” The formal dedication ceremony took place on September 28, 1969. Today, more than 50 years after the parish was established, that original multi-purpose building is only a memory and the Catholics of Wind Lake celebrate their faith in a spacious, light-filled church that was dedicated in 2005.

Although Wind Lake and the surrounding communities welcome fewer summer guests than in years past, the parish remains an important source of inspiration and outreach for the community. The Parish Human Concerns committee provides valuable support through their pro-life initiatives, collections for various local organizations, and by hosting the community blood drive or providing space for A.A. meetings. A newer ministry of the community is the Substance-Addiction Ministry (SAM) organized by Fr. Al Veik, a Capuchin Franciscan who serves the parish as assisting priest. The parish also offers welcomes the members of the Franciscan Third Order who gather at St. Clare’s for their monthly gatherings and makes their church available for the funerals of the Franciscan Friars of Queen of Peace Friary in nearby Burlington.

St. Clare’s prides itself on providing opportunities for involvement, whether that is as part of the parish’s annual volunteer-appreciation event, the bi-annual “Street Fair,” or in liturgical ministries. This active community prides itself on their ability to reach out and serve.

Deacon Rick Brown, who has served as Parish Director for two years, sees St. Clare’s as a community of “embrace.” And, as the parish considers its future, that embrace has come to include the community of St. Thomas Church in Waterford. While the two parishes already come together for shared Holy Week liturgies, communal penance services, and daily Masses, the communities are looking for new ways to collaborate and grow together. “We’re embracing this new opportunity. This is a relational change. We aren’t competitors. Our leadership team is embracing this, and there is a certain excitement,” Dcn. Brown said.

“One of the things I immediately noticed about this community when I arrived is the awareness of ‘reaching out,’” Dcn. Brown reflected. “We also have a sense of being ecumenical, as we work with other area churches, including our ecumenical prayer service each Thanksgiving.”

Ruth Schneider, who has been a parishioner at St. Clare’s for more than 40 years, remembers attending Mass at Pagel’s Resort as a teenager. “This feels like a family. You know people and so many grew up here, and sometimes the second and third generations are still here. That keeps us close-knit,” Scheider said. Through the years, Scheider and her husband, David, have been involved in nearly every facet of parish life. “We have a good group of leaders in pastoral works who are recognizing the importance of our many volunteers. We’ve brought back the annual graduation Mass and procession. The goal is to get people ‘up and moving’ out of their pews and to get them involved.”

“When we built this church, the architect asked us what we wanted to see in the new space. I responded that I wanted to be sure that we could stay a small community,” Schneider said. “People want that ‘comfort zone’ of the small community. That’s what everyone in every ministry works to provide for anyone coming in: a comfort zone. We’re with you, for you.”