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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history
(1998)

12. Religion,   pp. 208-226


Page 210

not historically significant, nor are their locations potentially individually eligible for the
National Register. (City Directories)
Catholic
The Catholic Church came to Wisconsin with French Jesuit missionaries who ministered to the
Indians along Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and the Fox and Wolf rivers between 1660 and
1728. Between 1728 and 1823, itinerant missionaries served the state. As permanent settlement
grew in the state after 1830, the church began to establish congregations in areas where
Catholic settlers lived. By 1843, there were enough churches in the territory to warrant
establishing a separate diocese. The Catholic Church in Wisconsin in the nineteenth century
served primarily Irish and German immigrants, along with smaller numbers of French, Polish,
and Czech immigrants. Around the turn of the century, the numbers of Italian and Slavic
parishes increased as these immigrant groups came into Wisconsin. This ethnic distribution
extended into the twentieth century until traditionally ethnic urban neighborhoods began to
disintegrate and rural areas became more homogeneous. Today, most of the ethnic parishes of
the Catholic Church are African-American and/or Latino. (Wyatt, 1986: vol. 3,
Religion, 1986:3-3-3-7)
The Catholic Church has sponsored a number of historic social and religious institutions in the
state, including religious orders for men and women, Catholic schools, religious seminaries and
colleges, and most prominently, health and social service institutions. There are also Catholic
fraternal groups that may be associated with specific historic resources. (Wyatt 1986:vol.3,
Religion, 3-8-3-18)
Patrick and Bridget Ryan and their family are considered the first Catholic settlers in
Janesville. Coming in 1844, they found no church in the settlement, and they had to travel to
Milwaukee to baptize their new son. At the time, there were only eight priests in the entire
Wisconsin territory. Called circuit riders, they traveled from place to place on horseback
serving Catholic settlers. When the Ryans returned to Janesville from Milwaukee, they told
other Catholic settlers that one of these priests would soon put Janesville on his circuit. In
anticipation of holding services, the Catholic settlers built a log mission church on the site of
current-day St. Patrick's Church (301 Cherry St.). (St. John Vianney Church-Dedication
1965:19; Souvenir of Diamond Jubilee Homecoming 1925:n.p.)
In 1850, Janesville's Catholics were granted a permanent priest, and the congregation erected a
brick church they called St. Cuthbert's (also on the site of 301 Cherry St.). The church
membership grew quickly, and in 1851, a large stone addition was made to the building. St.
Cuthbert's served primarily Irish Catholics, who were pouring into Janesville during the 1850s
to work on the rail lines. Due to St. Cuthbert's bulging membership rolls, plans were made in
1862 for a new and larger church building. While this building was being erected, the
congregation changed its name to St. Patrick's. The new Romanesque Revival-style St.
Patrick's Catholic Church was completed in 1864 on the site of St. Cuthbert's (301 Cherry St.).
In 1870, the congregation built St. Joseph's Convent for the Sisters of Mercy, who served the
church and parochial school. The convent, attached to the rear of the church (not extant), also
was the site of St. Patrick's Catholic School until 1920. (St. John Vianney Church-
Dedicationl965:20-24; Souvenir of Diamond Jubilee Homecoming 1925:n.p.)
In 1876, due to overcrowding and the desire of some German Catholics to have their own parish,
some of St. Patrick's parishioners formed St. Mary's Catholic Church on the east side of
Janesville. This happened at an inopportune time for St. Patrick's, soon after the major
building projects were completed. The church found itself heavily in debt, with fewer
parishioners to carry the load. In 1880, the holder of a $10,000 note foreclosed on the church,
Religion
210


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