St. Thomas the Apostle Parish History
The rich history of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish is a story with chapters connecting four missionary churches started by European immigrants in the 1800’s. In the late nineteenth century, parishes in northeastern Wisconsin were situated in within a few miles of each other since families either walked to Mass or traveled by horse and buggy. Most churches served as a community and religious gathering place for those living in a new land far from where they came. These churches served all Catholics in the area but were influenced by the dominant regional nationalities of their members. As a result, parishioners brought with them the unique traditions of their native countries.
The story of St. Thomas the Apostle begins with St. Joseph church, also known as “Irish Eaton”, serving parishioners of Irish descent between 1871-1911. St. Joseph was on the east side of Sugarbush Road between County Road JJ and Highway 29. St. Joseph Cemetery is still active today serving a number of families that belong to present day St. Thomas the Apostle.
The chapter related to St. Mary church dates back to the fall of 1874. Originally known as Immaculate Conception, but rededicated as St. Mary’s a few years later, it was a place of worship for the local Flemish Belgian Catholic population. The church was situated at the intersection of County Roads N and T and, in 1908, it was replaced by a new building to accommodate the needs of a growing community. In 1959, St. Mary’s was consolidated with St. Hubert Parish of Sugarbush and the combined parish was known as St. Mary and St. Hubert Parish and the former church building was razed a number of years later. An interesting facet of the Immaculate Conception story is that Fr. Gregory Joseph Pellegrin presided over the congregation between 1878 and 1880. Born in Belgium, he was the first parishioner of neighboring St. Kilian to be ordained into the priesthood and he served a number of parishes in NE Wisconsin for over three decades until his death in 1908. He was laid to rest in nearby St. Kilian Cemetery.
A white framed building located near the intersection of County Road N and Sugarbush Road, St. Hubert Parish of Sugarbush was established in 1872 as a mission church serving the Walloon Belgian community. Coinciding with Vatican II, the original church was remodeled in the early 1960’s not long after being combined with the congregation of St. Mary. Ironically, not long after the old St. Mary church was torn down, a fire destroyed the St. Mary and St. Hubert Church in 1966. All that remains is a fragment of the St. Hubert Bell Tower as a reminder of that fateful fall night. Construction began on a new building and the present church was dedicated in 1967 as Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Originally built by Polish immigrants in 1880, Ss. Cyril and Methodius of the town of Eaton was situated at the corner of Highway 29 and County Trunk T. In 1999, this was the last church to be combined with the former Our Lady Queen of Peace to create the present parish of St. Thomas the Apostle. By 2005, St. Thomas the Apostle was linked to nearby St. Joseph and St. Kilian parishes.
Today, visitors are captivated by the beauty of the recently restored statues of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and our patron, St. Thomas, set before a backdrop of sandstone-hued brick. The setting invites a spirit of prayer and contemplation.
Guided by our current Pastor, Fr. Carlo “Lukee” Villaluz, we live the experience of Jesus Christ by welcoming all to participate in our many outreach programs, for example, providing communion to the sick and homebound, organizing the “Giving Tree” to benefit families in need, and serving meals at the New Community Shelter. Our parish life is vibrant, our members sharing time and talent by serving our many parish ministries, including finance, pastoral, hospitality, and social councils/committees. We embrace opportunities to worship and journey in faith together at annual events, such as the “Easter Egg Hunt,” “Filipino/American Pot Luck Dinner,” “Soup Supper,” the “Back to School Backpack Blessing,” “Fall Feast,” and the deer hunter Mass.