Compiled by Ricardo Torres, using resources provided by Erin Ptacek, Becki Brusa and a history compiled by Ginny Hall.
First church: St. Benedict existed as a mission church of St. Catherine Parish, Sharon, until 1952. In 1912, Fr. Thomas Pierce met with Catholics in the Fontana and Walworth area who inquired about having a Sunday Mass in their area. About 50 people attended the first Mass held at Woodman’s Hall, Walworth, June 1, 1913. Fr. Pierce signed articles of incorporation of St. Benedict Church March 10, 1915, property was purchased on Third Street in Fontana that year and construction of the church was completed by the men of the congregation in 1916. It received a decree as a parish from the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Jan. 1, 1954. A parish hall was built in 1926-1927.
Current church: The current church was built on drained wetlands. Construction began March 21, 1960, and was completed exactly one year later on the Feast of St. Benedict. The church was redecorated and remodeled in 1983 to add carpeting to the body of the church, altar and kneeling stalls on the altar, remove the Communion rails, and make the front pews more accessible to people with disabilites.
A 10,400-square-foot educational/parish center was constructed in 1987, and a main entrance to the church was constructed in 1997. St. Benedict serves about 600 parish families, which increases to 1,000 in the summer.
First pastor: Fr. Thomas Pierce, who was appointed pastor of St. Catherine Parish in 1910, served St. Benedict congregation until 1924.
Current pastor: Fr. Dominic Thomas, member of the Zion Province of the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, became administrator July 1, replacing Fr. Gary Nowicki, temporary administrator. About 15 priests and administrators have served St. Benedict since 1915.
School: The faith formation program began in the 1980s when then-pastor Fr. Joseph Zeihen, 1980-1996, asked School Sister of St. Francis Florence Russ to organize CCD classes. She and another sister began a class in Fontana, and asked another group meeting in a home in Williams Bay to join them in making their first Communion; the following year, the Williams Bay group combined with the Fontana classes. Later the Sharon children also joined Fontana classes.
Interesting facts: After the new church was built, the old church was sold to Robert Sinnott who used it as an artist’s studio before it became “The Clothes Horse” dress store. It is currently Fontana Bible Church.
The parish hall became a theater and then “The Hungry Horse” coffee house when it was sold. It now houses Fontana Christian Pre-School.
St. Benedict, which serves full-time residents of the Lakes area and a large seasonal population of part-time residents and visitors, is very much part of the community, supporting it through fish fries, pancake breakfasts and serving as a host for the Walworth County Homeless Shelter. It embraces the motto, “All are welcome.”
This summer’s 100-year anniversary celebration, with the theme “Celebrating the past and embracing the future,” included a boat cruise on Lake Geneva, choir and handbell concert, big ticket raffle, and Mass followed by an old-fashioned ice cream social and pig roast.