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.
Addition of the School
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.
Here is an image of the church from 1905 with Fr. Garthaus. The sacred heart statue above the main altar and the statue of the Blessed Mother above the altar on the left have survived and are still watching over the parish in the new church.
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception is the only Catholic Church in the Greenville area and is an integral part of this rapidly expanding area of east central Wisconsin.
The name of our parish is actually St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. It refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of Saint Anne, not the conception of Jesus! Our church was given the name near the time of the dogmatic proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Holy Church declared the Biblical truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be held definitely by all the faithful in 1854. Our parish received this name a few years later. We are one of the earliest to receive this beautiful name. We are known as Immaculate Conception Parish by the Federal Government and as "St. Mary's" by those who affectionately call us home.