The story of Holy Angels Church dates back to the late 1840s and the founding of the town of West Bend, a village originally planned at the halfway point between Milwaukee and Fond du Lac.
Of the original 30 West Bend families, 12 were Catholic and these were originally served by Fr. Charles Francis Schraudenbach, the resident pastor of St. Lawrence Church in St. Lawrence. In those first years, Mass was offered in private homes, but land was soon purchased and the community built its first church in 1851.
Separate parish record books were begun in 1855 (marking a certain independence from St. Lawrence Church) and the parish came to be known as “Mary, Mother of Sorrows.” The name was changed to “Holy Angels” by Fr. Caspar Rehrl, who served as the pastor of the West Bend church from 1857-61. During these years, Holy Angels Church shared a pastor with Immaculate Conception Church in Barton. As the West Bend parish continued to grow, a larger church was built and was dedicated in 1867.
Among the early priests at Holy Angels, it was Fr. Michael Ruckengruber (pastor from 1870-88) who left the most significant mark on the young parish. During his tenure, the parish grew significantly, but he is also remembered for making significant improvements to the parish church and school. A contemporary account of the priest describes him as “a most zealous, untiring and effective minister of the Gospel, who backs his theory of goodness of heart and purity of life by his own example, and it is gratifying to know that his services are duly appreciated by his intelligent congregation.”
As the Catholic community in West Bend continued to grow, it became obvious that a larger church needed to be built. This task fell to Holy Angels’ first resident pastor, Fr. Peter Stupfel. In 1913, a plot of land was purchased and the community began collecting funds for a new stone church. An early parish history (kept in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee) relates the parish’s financial difficulties were eased as “quite providentially one summer day in 1913, Fr. Stupfel was at Jake Ziegler’s Wirtshaus for a game of Scafskopf un ein Seidel Bier. Jake’s son, Ben Ziegler, had a little farm loan and real estate business. He was a good businessman and realized that here was a good security for a large loan. Archbishop [Sebastian] Messmer gave his approval for a $30,000 loan; the Ziegler Co. [now a nationally recognized banking and investment firm] was born, and the new church could become a reality.”
That chance meeting helped provide the needed funds and Archbishop Messmer dedicated the new church June 20, 1915. The historic church dedicated that day included impressive windows depicting the life of Christ and no fewer than 88 angels beautifying the interior.
In 1955, after decades of steady growth, the parish was divided and St. Frances Cabrini Parish was formed. Today, Holy Angels Church and School remains an important part of local community.
Fr. Patrick “Pat” Heppe sees Holy Angels as a community of “pastoral ministers.”
“The bottom line,” Fr. Pat said, “is that we’re walking with people. I think of Jesus and the disciples walking together along the road to Emmaus. That’s what so many of us do. We walk with one another on our journey. And, hopefully, the culmination of our journey is finding Jesus in the breaking of the bread.”
Fr. Pat began his service as pastor of Holy Angels Church last year and he is assisted by Fr. Jerry Repenshek.
Building on the theme of shared ministry, Deacon Mark Jansen, a son of the parish who was ordained to the diaconate in 2007, notes that the parish isn’t seeking new members. Instead, as Deacon Mark observed, “When I register parishioners now, I intentionally don’t use the word ‘member.’ Instead, I say
that we register ‘apostles’ and ‘disciples’ here. When Father dismisses us at the end of Mass, he says, ‘Now, go.’ That’s our mission. We go out as disciples.”