Home - St. Patrick's Church - Maple Grove, Wisconsin

The Birth of The Friends of St. Patrick, Inc.

The township of Maple Grove, WI was one of the largest Irish settlements in WI and was the dominate Irish settlement in Manitowoc County. The hamlet of Maple Grove is located in the present township of Franklin, at the corner of Taus Rd. and County Trunk G. The first road to the left is St. Pat’s Rd., where the church, old school, and the old convent house are located. On the other side of the road where the old rectory house was located is the beginning of the township of Maple Grove.

Back in the early 1800’s Maple Grove referred to the Irish farming community of rural Maple Grove township which was spread over a band of some 225 farms running through present day townships of Franklin, Cato, Rockland and even into Brown County’s township of Morrison. Maple Grove never had a great downtown. Its town center was St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church where Irish parishioners traveled up to 20 miles to attend Holy Mass. Maple Grove, consisted of the Church, rectory, convent, a general store, 2 saloons, dance hall, hotel, butcher shop, post office, cemetery, funeral home, and lots of family farms.

The Maple Grove Parish dates to 1850 when 14 families worked with a Fr. Joseph Brunner to organize a congregation. Prior to that, mass was held in their individual homes, whenever a priest was traveling through the area and available. Records show that the very first church was located at Noonans Corners, which was located on the Manitowoc-Menasha trail, presently Hwy 10, between Cato and Grimms. There are no valid records to tell us more about this parish, but Steve Savage, whose farm was near this church, wrote this letter to us when asked if he knew anything about the “Ghost Parish.”

“I am sending a description of the burying ground for which you asked. It was a man named Horen who owned the land before Mr. Ebert. I wrote to a daughter of his and asked her if it was her father or grandfather who gave the land. Yes, there was a church, I remember my mother tell us about it and the night it was burned down, that was before her marriage, but the cemetery I remember well. We used to go and pick Sweet Mary’s and Roses there. Also some lots with picket fences and iron markers. Talked to Mame,(his sister) and she said as kids they used to go and say the Rosary. When it was cleaned up and plowed there was still some bodies there. Whether it was ever recorded or not I do not know.

Hoping this will help.”

Signed, Steve Savage

Seems that most of the population at that time was further north of the Manitowoc-Menash Trail and so Michael Flynn donated land for a church and cemetery in Maple Grove, and a wooden church was built in the northern corner of the present St. Patrick Cemetery. By 1865 the Irish population in this Maple Grove area reached 1422. All drawn together by their Catholic Faith and their Irish nationality. The present large brick church, St. Patrick’s, now a closed church, has a cornerstone date of Nov. 1, 1868. That was the year that the Green Bay Diocese was formed. Prior to that St. Patrick’s was under the Milwaukee Diocese. The first mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Day 1870…… The church closed in 2002, with a rich history of over 150 years.

Now that you know a little of the history of the church and area, you will be able to better understand why FOSP (Friends of St. Patrick's) was created and deemed a success.

The Friends of St. Patrick was established in 1992, after the first “COME HOME TO MAPLE GROVE” CELEBRATION. Sometime in 1990 we began noticing articles in the local newspapers about different Irish families who settled in the Maple Grove area in the early 1800’s. A man from New Jersey, Tom Sheahan, had been doing genealogical research on the Sheahan family and traced his roots to Maple Grove, WI. Like the rest of us once you start searching your family tree, you want to find out more. He found a lady from Asketon, WI, named Jo Ann Wall, whose mother-in law was a Sheahan, and he enlisted her to help him in the research. After finding so much information about not only the Sheahan family, but others Irish relatives and families who settled this Maple Grove area as well, he decided all this information they collected on the Irish settlement of Maple Grove should be preserved in a book, and then published, and shared with interested individuals.

In July of 1991, Tom Sheahan visited Maple Grove and with the help of

Jo Ann Wall, they hosted an informal gathering of the Sheahan families presently residing in the area, and any other interested persons were also invited to attend. Nearly 100 people attended, and out of that gathering, plans were made to have the first “COME HOME TO MAPLE GROVE” celebration on July 4, 1992. George O’Hearn, and Jane Hennessey Kalies volunteered for the committee as well as Miki Gould, Liz Welch, Alice Taddy, Jo Ann & Jim Wall, Jerry Reidy, and Raymond & Jan Sheahan.

This committee took it upon themselves to invite as many people as they could find, who had roots in Maple Grove, to come and celebrate at Maple Grove, WI on July 4th. It was a huge undertaking, but when the day finally came, we estimated that over 1000 people attended this celebration, along with Tom Sheahan. Those in attendance came from all over the United States.

There was definitely an interest in keeping Maple Grove alive. A considerable profit was realized from this event so the group of organizers decided to continue to meet and thus, “THE FRIENDS OF ST. PATRICK” was created. The group is governed by nine board of directors, Officers, are chosen at their annual meeting in January from those nine. In the past nineteen years much has been accomplished.

In October of 1996 the first newsletter was published, “THE GROVE NEWS”. It is published two times a year, with circulation of over 225 copies to members in 24 different states and Canada. Judy Barnette Zeamer is the editor of this publication. Presently, a data base of genealogical information on over 15,000 individuals is available for research.

One of the first projects the group undertook was to work in the St. Patrick cemetery, where numerous areas were identified, where individuals had been buried, but no grave markers remained. With the permission of the Parish priest, the group researched and came up with a list of names and the dates of their deaths. A large stone was purchased, names of individuals whose markers had disappeared were engraved on the large stone. We also had engraved names and death dates, and place of death of two servicemen from the parish who were killed in action during WWII, but whose remains were not returned. They were Norbert O’Connell, and John (Jack) Murphy. When the project was completed we had Veterans groups and family members present for a blessing ceremony.

In October of 2000, the group acquired the old Convent House and two acres of land from the St. Patrick Parish in Maple Grove, with the intent of creating a Memorial Park, with as many different variations of maple trees that would be acceptable to our climate and conditions.These trees could be planted in memory of founding families and loved ones. A plaque would be provided listing whatever information the family would like engraved on it. Presently there are over 100 colorful maple trees growing beautifully in HERITAGE PARK.

A “Hedge school” of aborvitaes was created to resemble the hedge schools found in Ireland during the Reformation period. Irish children were not allowed to attend school or receive any form of education during this time in history. The Irish people valued education and wanted their children to be educated, so they set up schools in the hedges and hired teachers to teach then there, hidden from the English soldiers who would arrest the parents and punish them severely if they found them attending a school. This tree creation is a reminder of just one of the many hardships our ancestors in Ireland, had to contend with.

In 2003 a gazebo was built in the park by the Les Mangin family in memory of members of the Mangin family. They also purchased a large statue of St.Patrick’s which stand inside the gazebo. The Sisters’ house or Convent House, was named –Heritage Center, There you will find artifacts from the Church, pictures and names of priests that served the St. Patrick parish throughout the years. There are old pictures of the Grimms community, including the lime kilns. One room on the upper level of the house in dedicated to member, Audrey Burns Orth, better known as “Gramma Clown”, displaying all her clown memorabilia. Another room featured memories of the St. Patrick’s School, and the loving nuns that served the parish faithfully for so many years. The Chapel is preserved as in the days when the nuns lived in the house. The computer, printer, copy machine and files are found in another room of the house. We hold our quarterly meeting there and often use the chapel area for prayer or meditation. When a (non-catholic) wedding is held in the church, brides and bridal party use the center for preparing for the wedding.

The Heritage House was made handicapped accessible in 2007. In 2002 we hosted another “COME BACK TO MAPLE GROVE” This was another very successful event. Tom Sheahan, was able to attend this celebration, however he was fighting cancer at that time. The Friends of St. Patrick signed an agreement with him to publish his book” “ALL THOSE FOLKS FROM ST. PATRICK’S” The Irish Community of Rural Maple Grove, WI. Tom died in January of 2004, knowing that his book was published and that copies were distributed to the local libraries and geneological societies, as he requested. Copies of this book are still available. (See items for sale)

In February of 2006 The Friends of St. Patrick, Inc. were able to purchase the St. Patrick Church building from Holy Family Parish in Brillion, and the Green Bay diocese. Because the building is no longer a Catholic Church, certain things had to take place before the building could be sold for secular use. The Large Celtic cross on top of the steeple was removed. The body of Father Bartholomew Lorrigan, who was buried in a crypt in the church in 1889, needed to be removed. However, no remains were found when the crypt was opened, so the slate slab was put back in place and new carpet installed over that area. Other religious statues and items also needed to be removed. The building is now called “St. Patrick Historic Building”. Wakes, non-Catholic weddings, concerts, and other get- together have been held there since we acquired the building. One recent Concert featured an Irish singer, Ian Gould, a recent immigrant from Belfast, Ireland.