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St. Leonard Parish marks 125 years serving Madison

In 1880, Catholics in Madison gathered for the first time to worship as a parish at St. Leonard Church.

That tradition continues 125 years later.

Parishioners celebrated the 125th anniversary of St. Leonard Church June 5. Father Frank Parrinello, then-pastor of St. Leonard, presided at the anniversary Mass, which was celebrated in both English and Spanish. A picnic and games followed on the church grounds.

To prepare for the anniversary, the church underwent a $37,700 restoration. Much of the church's artwork was restored to its original form, including the statues, altar, high altar, communion rail and pulpit.

St. Leonard Parish began as a mission under the administration of the Franciscans from 1880 to 1910.

In the late 1800s, Franciscan priests offered Mass at area homes before the first church was built in 1881 on a hill northwest of the present St. Leonard's Cemetery. It was dedicated to St. Leonard of Port Maurice.

Father Benjamin Schmitz, OFM, served as the first pastor.

During the administration of his successor, Father Rudolph Horstmann, OFM, more land near the church was purchased for the cemetery. A sacristy, priest's room and steeple were added to the church during the administration of Father Maximilian Klein, OFM, from 1883 to 1886.

Father Luke Miersowski, OFM, was administrator of St. Leonard from 1886 to 1887, and was replaced by Father Bonaventure Faulhaber, OFM, who served from 1887 to 1890.

Father Marcelline Kollmeyer, OFM, and Father Jerome Hellhake, OFM, served the parish from 1890 to 1897.

While Father Bartholomew Feldman was pastor from 1897 to 1902, the church was moved into town and enlarged. Later, a temporary basement church was built and the old church was converted into a school, which opened in 1903 under the direction of the Presentation Sisters of Dubuque, Iowa. The enrollment was 66 students.

The last Franciscans to serve as administrators at St. Leonard were Father Hildebrand Fuchs, 1905 to 1909; Father Pamphilius Stahl and Father Columban Valentine, 1909 to 1910.

The parish became part of the Diocese of Omaha in 1910, and the first diocesan pastor was Father Edward Muenich. During his time, the rectory was completed and the cornerstone was laid for the church building that the parish still uses today. The church was dedicated on Dec. 14, 1913.

St. Leonard School closed in 1926 when the Presentation Sisters were unable to staff it, but reopened in 1931 under the direction of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk.

Father Raymond Auer, who became pastor in 1939, refinanced the church debt, started the Sunday church bulletin and organized the Women's Guild with an annual bazaar. St. Leonard's Cemetery Association was formed, and a school building fund was started.

The cornerstone for a new school building was placed in 1953. More property was purchased and a 10-room house on that property was turned into a convent. The new school opened in 1954.

The dedication of the school and the observance of the 75th anniversary of the parish were held on May 18, 1955, with Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan presiding.

The church was extensively redecorated in 1964.

Currently, the parish has 350 families. Sixty-four students attended St. Leonard School during the 2004-2005 school year.

Diocesan priests who served as pastor of St. Leonard were: Father Edward Muenich, 1910-1918; Father Adam Brass, 1918-1935; Father Joseph Duhamel, 1935-1936; Father Ferdinand Krings, 1936; Father Hugh Gately, 1936-1939; Father Raymond Auer, 1939-1951; Father Louis Demers, 1951-1961; Father Edward Gill, 1961-1968; Father Norman Parr, 1968-1971; Father James Rief, 1971-1976; Father Ralph Steffensmeier, 1976-1986; Father James Ryberg, 1986-1991; Father Bill Weidner, 1991-1999; and Father Stan Kasun, 1999-2003.

Father Frank Parrinello served as pastor from 2003 until last month, when Father Dermot Dunne became the new pastor.

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