Annunciation Church in Fox Lake

In 1836, when the Green Bay Land Office began selling off parcels of land in what is now Dodge County, Wisconsin, few would have imagined how the newly arrived immigrants from the Eastern United States and Europe would transform the area that was once home to the Winnebago Indians.

Upper: The cornerstone of the parish church. Lower: Annunciation Church

It was only a few months after Wisconsin became an established territory that a settler named Jacob Brower laid claim for a tract of land on the south shore of Fox Lake. His original property and the surrounding land formed the foundation for what would eventually become the town of Fox Lake, the first township established in Dodge County. More settlers made a home in and around Fox Lake and, around 1842, the first Catholics — Patrick “Old Buckskin” Casey and his wife, Alice Clark Casey — arrived in the small community.

As the Catholic population grew, so did their need for a church and a resident priest. The first Masses in Fox Lake were celebrated in family homes, including the Casey Family’s cabin, by various missionary priests from Wisconsin and Michigan. Land was designated for a Catholic church near the original parish cemetery in Trenton, but the plan was soon abandoned and, in 1850, Fr. James D. Roache was sent to Fox Lake as the community’s first pastor. His mission field included the towns of Fox Lake, Watertown, Monches, Elba, and Doylestown.

From these humble beginnings, both the town of Fox Lake and the Catholic parish continued to grow and today Fox Lake is home to more than 1,400 people, including many families of farmers who live in the surrounding area. The current Catholic parish, now named for the Annunciation of the Lord, is a merger of three older parishes, including Immaculate Conception in Fox Lake, St. Mary’s in Lost Lake (founded in 1865), and St. Gabriel’s in Randolph (founded in 1916). The parishes were combined in 1998. The cornerstone of the current church was laid on July 1, 1892, and the church was dedicated by Milwaukee’s Archbishop Frederick Katzer on Nov.  30 of that year.

The town of Fox Lake is proud of its history and the hospitality it shows to hundreds of seasonal visitors each summer and that sense of pride extends to the parishioners of Annunciation.  Each year, the town welcomes tourists and visitors for the annual “Bunny Berrigan Days,”a jazz festival named for celebrated trumpeter Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berrigan.  Berrigan is buried in one of Annunciation Parish’s cemeteries. The summer season also draws many vacationers to the many cabins that surround Fox Lake.

The interior of Annunciation Church, Fox Lake.

Deacon Steven Hayes recognizes the ways in which the parish supports the community through its prayerful presence. “I see this parish as a place to come together, to praise God, and to support each other in life. We have excellent liturgy, we have excellent music, and I think those two things are very, very important for faith.” Music and singing is a celebrated part of the life of Annunciation Church and truly a value for the parishioners.

“This is a very welcoming parish. I came here four-and-a-half years ago and I like being here. I’ve been very well-received by parishioners, by pastors. The people have been very open to having a deacon, which they had never had before. I feel very fortunate.”

This spirit of hospitality and openness helps unite the people of Annunciation in a spirit of family. For life-long parishioner Sandy Frank, this is the defining quality of the parish. “I was born and raised in this church, so it’s a family. Most of the people here, I’ve known all my life. It’s a good sense of community.”

To support the local community, Annunciation provides pastoral care for inmates at Fox Lake Correctional Facility and supports the outreach St. Joseph Parish, Waupun, and St. Katharine Drexel, Beaver Dam, provides to other area prisons. This care also extends to the residents of the Randolph Nursing Home.

Since September 2016, Annunciation parish has been served by Fr. John Radetski, who will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood at Annunciation on June 11. Fr. Radetski also serves as the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Waupun.

As he continues to settle in as pastor, Fr. Radetski is open to new initiatives to help make the parish ties even stronger. “We’re looking for ways to encourage community, especially in the winter.” Referring to the office and rectory building that was added to the church in 1983, Fr. Radetski mused, “We’re talking about turning some of our space here into a gathering space, parish library, or meeting. But, it would also be a place where people could gather after Mass for coffee or tea. We’re looking for options without taking on any building projects.”

For Fr. Radetski, the goal, however, is to meet the needs of the parish and community. “We want to meet the needs, but it’s really about meeting people and welcoming them. When people say to me, ‘We’re staying in our cottage at the lake, and we’re from Libertyville, Illinois,’ I say to them, ‘You’re always welcome.’ Ultimately, I want to tell people that, in this parish, we throw our heart and soul into praising God within the context of the Body of Christ.”