The first Catholic settlers came to the Greenville area around 1850. Being of strong faith, they journeyed over 15 miles, often on foot, to attend Mass and receive the sacraments at St. John Nepomucene Parish in Little Chute, which was the nearest Catholic church. As the number of Catholic families in the area increased, a priest came to Greenville on horseback, ministering to the needs of the faithful. The priest carried the articles necessary for the celebration of Holy Mass tied up in a grain bag, and laid across the back of his horse. The first Mass said in the Greenville area was during the summer of 1855, in the home of one of the settlers.
At that time there were about 50 Catholic families in the Greenville area, and this gave birth to the desire to establish a parish church in Greenville. Four acres of land were donated, and efforts were begun to raise necessary funds. Due to hardships, many years passed before there was enough money to build a church. Construction was begun in 1868, and on March 29, 1869, Bishop Joseph Melcher of Green Bay solemnly consecrated and dedicated the church in Greenville under the title of “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The first pastor was Rev. Andrew Seubert. Not having a permanent residence, he boarded at the home of a parishioner. Subsequently, Father Seubert’s first task was to build a rectory at the cost of $785.
The church bell was purchased in 1872, weighing 675 lbs. A blessing ceremony was held in February of 1873. Even non-Catholics in the area were so impressed by the sound of the bell that they contributed to its cost, which was $338. This original bell was re-installed in the steeple of our new church in 1988, and still calls the faithful of Greenville to prayer.
In 1879 the pastor of St. Mary, a zealous, young priest, Father Clement Lau, advocated the establishment of a Catholic school. Lacking funds to build a school, classes were taught in the church sacristy for eight years. In 1887 a one-room school was erected, and a Sister’s house was built. The first school was staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee. Each Sister earned a yearly salary of $200. Shortly after 1900, the school was enlarged to a two-classroom building, with an addition of a second story used as a parish hall. The School Sisters of Notre Dame came in 1914 to teach in the school. Students traveled to school on foot, horseback, buggy, or sleigh. Stables behind the school housed the horses during the school day, providing shelter, food, and water. Older parishioners relate stories of recess time that was spent playing hide-and-go-seek in and around the horse stalls. As was typical in those days, bathroom facilities were outdoors, but indoor bathrooms were finally added to the school in 1951.
As years went by, the parish saw the need for a larger, modern school. In 1959 a new four-room school with a gym and kitchen was built for $117,000.
The Notre Dame Sisters continued staffing the school for over 50 years, but due to declining numbers in their Order, withdrew from St. Mary in 1972. The parish was determined to continue providing an education to its children in a Catholic school, so an all-lay staff was hired.
In the mid 1980’s, plans began for a new church. The wood structure, 120 years old, was small, didn’t have bathrooms, and was in need of repair. The present church was completed in 1988. It is a beautiful brick building, and connects directly to the school, which makes it conducive for students to attend Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, Rosary devotions, and other prayer services. The stained-glass windows from the old church were restored and installed in our new place of worship. The new church also has a large gathering space, sacristy, meeting room with mini-kitchen, four offices, coatroom, and bathrooms.
The old rectory had been moved south of the cemetery in 1988 to make room for the new church, but it was razed in 1990, and an attractive, new, ranch-style home was built for the priest’s residence.
Over the years, the parish has gained land through donations and purchases. Currently, St. Mary owns 25 acres.
From its inception, St. Mary was a school for students in grades one through eight. However, the educational programs were expanded in 1991 with the establishment of pre-school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten classes.
A large, new addition to the school was completed in 2000, which included eight classrooms, bathrooms, a new heating/cooling system, and storage space. At that time, some of the older classrooms were converted to a computer lab, library, music room, and staff meeting room.
From its humble beginnings 120 years ago, St. Mary School has grown into a flourishing center of education. The students, parents, and staff strive to witness the truths of our Catholic faith, and serve God’s people as Jesus did. We ask our loving Father to continue to bless our parish and school.
1855, in the home of one of the settlers.