St. Catherine Parish was founded in 1855. That year, through a
donation of land by John P. and Catherine Klehr, a small stone
church began to take shape for St. Catherine. It was built under
the guidance of Fr. Martin Weiss, pastor at St. Anthony,
Fussville (Menomonee Falls) and the first pastor of St.
Catherine. It appears that the cornerstone of the structure was
laid by Fr. Martin Kundig in May of 1859. He was one of the
original “circuit rider” priests who had served the parish.
The parish was named after St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose
devotion was rivaled only by that paid to the Blessed Mother.
Catherine was one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers” and devotion to
her had been prominent since the middle ages. It is commonly
thought that the name was also employed to honor Catherine Klehr,
the donor of the church land. On September 12, 1860,
(arch)bishop Henni came to formally dedicate the church.
The parish’s first pastors were often the pastor of St. Anthony.
When we received our own resident pastor, he was given the
responsibility for nearby St. Michael and St. Martin parishes.
This continued until each of these parishes closed.
The second pastor of the parish, Fr. Ludwig Mueller, would take
the steps necessary for the beginning of the first school here
at St. Catherine. Lay teachers taught the children at various
times for the first years until the Sisters of St. Agnes from
Fond du Lac arrived in the fall of 1872 to take responsibility
for the children. The convent that was built above the small
school building proved to be ill-suited for the sisters’ health
and ministry, yet they persevered until 1901 when they returned
to their motherhouse. Lay teachers once again assumed charge of
From 1889 to 1954, the pastors of St. Catherine also had the
responsibility the mission parish of St. James, Mequon. St.
James achieved parish status in 1954.
During the tenure of the third pastor, Fr. Charles Shilling, a
rectory was built and he took up his duties as the first
resident pastor. In 1906, St. Michael Church was closed and the
parish members joined to those of St. Catherine.
The parish continued to experience modest growth during its
first 50 years with about 60 families participating in the life
of the parish. The church held around 150 people. The tower,
which while modest, could be seen for quite a distance, boasted
two bells. These same bells were re-hung in the present church
tower when it was built and continue to ring to this day.
Since 1860, St. Catherine has also had a cemetery. The original
was located just south of the church and served the parish until
1910 when it was decided that the parish needed more land
dedicated to the purpose burying the dead. The new cemetery was
laid in 1910-11.
1919 was a difficult year for the parish. It was then that the
parish faced its greatest test. A fire broke out because of a
defective stove pipe and a good portion of the structure was no
longer able to be used. The parish was divided into several
factions. Some wanted the old church building repaired. Others
saw it as an opportunity to expand the facilities to accommodate
the growing population of the area. Plans were formed to enlarge
the school with the hope that another teaching religious order
might agree to take responsibility for the education of the
In the end, it was decided to build a new church/school/convent,
using as much of the materials of the old building as could be
salvaged. The cornerstone for the new building was laid by
Archbishop Sebastian Messmer on September 5, 1920. On September
22, 1921, the Rt. Rev. Joseph Rainer, P.A. solemnly dedicated
the new building. The altars and statues were installed and the
church was finally painted to achieve the look that it had until
a renovation took place in the early 1960s. The new building was
designed in the Romanesque fashion. A special architectural
feature is the loggia, or the porch above the front entrance. It
is the only Milwaukee church building with this feature and one
of only a few churches whose exterior is all stone.
The decade from 1955-65 was one of incredible growth for the
parish. The number of homes built after both the Second World
War and the Korean Conflict brought about the annexation of
Granville and created a problem within the parish. Both the
church and especially the school were too small to accommodate
all the persons now joining the parish.
In the early 1960s, it was decided to build a new parish school.
The land across the street from the parish was utilized and
plans moved forward. A few years later, when the plans were
unveiled to extend and widen 76th Street, a new church building
was designed that would be attached to the new school. Theses
plans were never implemented. The decision was made to add
priests to the parish to allow for the celebration of more
Masses and to cover the sacramental needs of the parish.
The problem, however, didn’t easily remedy itself even with the
added personnel. As Northridge was built and the farms gradually
surrendered to apartment and condominium development, the church
building was in need of expansion. The interior of the church,
which had been repainted in the early 1960s, was also in poor
condition. The decision was made to remodel the church and
expand the choir loft to create additional seating. This created
an additional 180 seats. The resulting renovation removed the
side and back altars, and created more space in the sanctuary.
The building was adapted to the new liturgical norms promulgated
by the Second Vatican Council and the American Bishops
By 1980, there were 1541 families registered in the parish, a
huge increase in membership from the 58 families that were
registered in 1920.
The decade of the 1980s witnessed the growth of many ministries
in the church. Lay people were on parish councils and staffed
the parishes where before religious women and priests did most
of the work with the people.
As the decade drew to a close, plans to renovate the church
began again. A special committee of parish members was called
together to look into all the possibilities. They would become
the Refurbishing Oversee Committee.
Final decisions were put into place in 1994, and the church was
made ready for a facelift. Daily Mass moved to the Granville
Room, one of the two former classrooms. Sunday Eucharist was
celebrated in the gym from the first weekend of January to the
Easter Vigil of that year.
At the end of the century, the Refurbishing Oversee Committee
continued its work and developed plans to completely renovate
the parish annex, the former school and convent. The old convent
became the new rectory, as the Lannon stone house of 1938
required more repair than it was worth. The former rectory was
eventually razed and the space now hosts a number of plantings
and parish prayer labyrinth. Office space was added to the
basement. The two old classrooms were joined together as the new
“Granville” Room/gathering space. Special needs access and
restrooms were also provided to the parish during this
renovation. A new food pantry was also constructed out of the
garage space that was added to the outside of the church in the
late 60s. In May 2007, the parish offices were moved into the
second floor of the church annex. This is the space that most
recently served as the parish rectory.
In July 2009,
our school and the schools of St. Bernadette and Our Lady of
Good Hope parishes merged to become Northwest Catholic. The
Campus (grades K4 - 3) is located at Our Lady of Good Hope and the
(grades 4-8) at St. Bernadette. Our enrollment is 280.
In July 2014, the Christian Formation programs of our three
parishes also merged, bringing all grade school and high school
students together at St. Catherine.
Today our parish has approximately 575 families.