Since the earliest days of the town’s history, the Catholics of Beaver Dam have been an important and diverse part of the community. Once boasting four Catholic parishes originally divided along ethnic lines, including St. Mary’s (which was destroyed by fire in 1903), St. Michael’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Peter’s parishes, today, Beaver Dam is home to a single, vibrant parish of 1,300 families dedicated to St. Katharine Drexel. The former St. Peter’s Church is now the permanent center of the parish community.

Having this American saint as the patron of the newly consolidated parish has helped shape the community of St. Katharine Drexel, reflected pastor Fr. Mike Erwin. “At the time, the naming of the parish was wrapped into the process of the merger, which was not always popular. But the more people have learned about the saint, the more they think that’s one of the neat things that have come out of this.”

Observing that St. Katharine Drexel is not well known in the northern United States, the parish feels a sense pride in having such a unique patron for their unique parish. “We find that it’s part of our mission to share the good news of who St. Katharine Drexel is.”

Taking a cue from their patron saint’s commitment to justice and charity, the parish community at St. Katharine Drexel made a conscious decision to be an active part of life in Beaver Dam and to share its resources with the entire community. “We have many manufacturing jobs in Beaver Dam,” Fr. Erwin said, “and this has always been a place for migrants to come to. Throughout the town’s 160-year history, this has always been a home for migrants, including, our Hispanic community.” Today more than 200 Hispanic families form part of the Beaver Dam parish.

“There are a lot of good, entry level jobs with a lot of upward mobility to them and so,” Fr. Erwin said, “we find that part of our mission is to help people relocating from other places and helping them find that upward mobility. This includes helping them find Jesus Christ and his gifts of healing and reconciliation through our particular ministries.”

The parish includes an active school which, as Fr. Erwin noted, recently began accepting funding from the state’s School Choice Program to help support its mission to welcome people of lower income into new opportunities. “This links us to what Katharine Drexel was about,” Fr. Erwin said, “that was a big part of her personal mission.” The recent addition of a new parish center in 2013 provided the parish with much needed space for hospitality, service opportunities, and faith formation.

Fr. Erwin, who has been pastor at St. Katharine Drexel for seven years, is quick to mention other institutions that are included in the parish’s pastoral outreach, including 10 senior living facilities, three prisons and the Dodge County Jail. “A part of the ministry for all the churches here is involvement in all those prisons,” he said.  In conjunction with the other Dodge County parishes where Fr. Erwin also serves as pastor — St. Columbkille, Elba, St. John the Baptist, Clyman, and Holy Family, Reeseville — St. Katharine Drexel serves the 1,300 inmates at Fox Lake Correctional Facility. Fr. Erwin noted that St. Katharine Drexel works with Sacred Heart Parish in Horicon to provide pastoral care for the Dodge County Jail.

For the past three years, ministry at St. Katharine Drexel has also been supported by the service of Fr. Erick Cassiano-Amaya, F.M.M., a Guatemalan priest of the Missionary Community of Mary, which has members in both Beaver Dam and Fond-du-Lac. “That’s why we can staff the four Dodge County parishes,” Fr. Erwin said. “That’s the gift of the international priest, they bring a lot of gifts with them, especially a can-do attitude. They come here with a sense of ‘of course this will work.’”

An increasingly important part of the life and ministry of the parish is the growing number of small faith communities. These include more formal organizations such as the Secular Franciscans and Notre Dame Associates (affiliated with the Sisters of Notre Dame), extending to the REAL Mom’s Group, grief support and exercise groups.

For Fr. Erwin, the great diversity of ministries and programs really makes St. Katharine Drexel the parish that it is. “We have people of all kind of ethnic backgrounds, financial backgrounds, education backgrounds … we have such a wide variety of people. Guests and newcomers will always find a welcome in our parish, regardless of their background.”

In the coming months, the community of St. Katharine Drexel is planning several events geared towards enriching the lives of parishioners and insuring the parish’s stability for future generations. These projects include beloved annual events like the school fundraiser known as “Glitz,” but will also incorporate new programs like the “Blue Zone Project” which brings together members of the Beaver Dam community in a series of health and wellness initiatives. The parish will also be a host-site for the upcoming Walldog Mural Festival, which will take place in Beaver Dam (June 28-July 1) and a regional bike rally (July 8). This fall will see the community begin raising funds to renovate the parish church.

All of these elements of social outreach and care for the broader community are important values for Mark Roedl, a longtime parishioner and chair of the pastoral council, who sees St. Katharine Drexel as an important part of the Beaver Dam community.

“We have so many opportunities, to reach out to many with needs,” Roedl said, “be they in prison ministry, helping the homeless, the Pregnancy Support Center, small faith groups, and just being an active Christian in the community.”

“We are very fortunate,” Roedl continued, “to have a very active Human Concerns Committee and many people who volunteer so much of their time and talent to various ministries in Beaver Dam. We try to focus on both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as opportunities for putting faith into practice.”