St. Joseph Parish History
On May 18, 1853, the first Belgian Immigrants from Grez-Doiceau, settled in northeastern Wisconsin in an area called "Grez-Daems," named after the Belgian Priest Father Daems, who is credited with being the founder of the Belgian Colony in Wisconsin. In 1862, the community became known as “Aux Premiers Belges” (The First Belgians). The same area was also known as Robinsonville after the postmaster, Mr. Robinson.
By September of 1862, a church had been built on 5 acres of land donated by Jean Joseph Delveaux. St. Joseph "the mother of all the Belgian Parishes of the Door Peninsula" was named in honor of St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Belgium. The first St. Joseph parish body consisted of both Flemish and Walloon Belgians.
On May 25, 1874, the original log church was destroyed by fire. Newspaper articles in the days that followed report a large storm from Green Bay to Oshkosh had taken down buildings and ripped off roof tops, while lighting strikes destroyed grain bins.
A dispute arose between the Flemish and the Walloon Belgians as to where to rebuild the church. The Flemish wanted to build the church halfway between "Aux Flamants" (the Flemish settlement that became known as Tonet) and "Aux Premiers Belges." The Walloons wanted to rebuild the church on the original site. As a result of the disagreement, the Flemish Belgians built their own church on the site of St. Martin Catholic Church. In April 1881, The Walloons completed the construction of the new St. Joseph church on the site of the original log church.
In November 1893, Father Bernard H. Pennings and Father Lambert Broens, with an advance party of what would eventually become the Norbertine Community in North America, began their missionary work of strengthening the faith among the Belgian settlements. Father Broens was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s in May 1894. This began a period of 90 years (from 1894 to 1984) of Norbertine priests serving St. Joseph Parish.
One of those priests was Father Milo Smits, a master gardener, a talented musician, and, by all accounts, a charismatic shepherd. During Father Smit’s tenure, two major expansion projects were completed. In 1922, the rectory was built and in 1936, with the exception of two side walls from the 1877 church, the church was essentially rebuilt. The parish grounds were landscaped by Father Smits himself.
In 1992, under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Florian Resheske, St. Martin Church in Tonet was closed and combined with St. Joseph. In addition, St. Joseph and St. Kilian became linked parishes. In 2002, Fr. Milton Suess was instrumental in the construction of a modern social hall at St. Joseph. By 2005, St. Joseph and St. Kilian were linked to St. Thomas the Apostle.
Spanning several generations, the founders of our parish provided an important legacy. Inspired by the humble leadership of Fr. Carlo “Lukee” Villaluz, we aspire to be a vibrant Catholic community through the guidance and example of our Patron, St. Joseph, by welcoming all of our parishioners to participate in our many outreach programs, such as working our blood drives, administering Holy Communion to the sick and homebound, and participating in our quilting circle. We also share our time and talent by serving our many parish ministries, such as the social committee, as well as the finance, pastoral, and hospitality councils. We enjoy the spirit of community at events such as the annual St. Joseph Parish picnic and “Trunk or Treat.”
Today, St. Joseph provides a wonderful worship setting enhanced by the sunlight filtering though beautiful stained-glass windows. While much has changed since our parish’s inception, one thing has remained the same: inspired by the teachings of Jesus, our small, close-knit community will always be a place to love, serve, and share in the Holy Spirit.