la Crosse, Diocese of
LA CROSSE, DIOCESE OF
The Diocese of La Crosse (Crossensis ), suffragan of the metropolitan See of milwaukee, was established March 3, 1868, upon recommendation of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, and embracing that half of the state of Wisconsin north and west of the Wisconsin River. Subsequent subdivisions erecting the Diocese of Superior (1905) and Madison (1946) reduced the original territory to 15,070 square miles. The resulting territory spans 19 counties in West-Central Wisconsin. Approximately 30 percent of the population is Catholic. The diocesan Catholic population grew steadily throughout the history of the diocese, aided initially by German and Irish immigration, and subsequently by heavy pockets of Polish immigration. After leveling off for a couple of decades, the Catholic population again began to increase in the 1990s as a result of the influx of large number of Mexican immigrants.
Bishops. When the first bishop, Bavarian-born Michael heiss, was consecrated in 1868, the diocese had 18 priests, 47 small churches, and a Catholic population of about 30,000. By 1880, when he was transferred to Milwaukee, the number of priests had increased to 59 and the number of churches had more than doubled, while the Catholic population showed an increase of 50 percent. The second bishop, Kilian C. Flasch, also Bavarian-born, was rector of St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee in the years before his consecration as the second bishop of La Crosse in 1881. During his ten-year episcopate there was a marked increase in the number of churches and educational facilities within the diocese.
The third bishop of La Crosse, James Schwebach, who was Flasch's vicar-general, was consecrated in 1892. Schwebach was born in Platen, Luxembourg, in 1847, immigrated to the United States in 1864, and, after completing his studies at St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, was ordained in 1870. Under his episcopacy the expansion of Catholic activity kept pace with the increase of population. A continuous program of construction of churches and the establishment of a diocesan high school marked his episcopate.
Alexander J. McGavick, a former auxiliary of Chicago, Ill., was appointed the fourth bishop of La Crosse in 1921. Despite his own poor health, the economic depression of the 1930s, and the outbreak of World War II, McGavick erected 38 new buildings, including a number of high schools. John P. Treacy, who had been appointed coadjutor with right of succession in 1945, became the fifth ordinary of the diocese in July 1946, two years before the death of McGavick. To encourage priestly vocations Treacy established Holy Cross Seminary, overlooking the Mississippi River south of La Crosse. Treacy also built a new cathedral, placing it under the patronage of St. Joseph the Workman.
After Treacy's death in 1964, Bp. Frederick W. Freking of Salina, Kans., was appointed sixth bishop of La Crosse in 1965. Freking oversaw the implementation of postconciliar reforms in the diocese. John J. Paul, a priest of the diocese, was ordained an auxiliary bishop in 1977, eventually becoming the seventh bishop of La Crosse in 1983. Bishop Paul implemented an aggressive recruitment program for the diocesan clergy. By the time of his resignation in 1994, the number of diocesan seminarians had rebounded to more than 30.
Raymond L. Burke, another native son of the diocese, served on the Apostolic Signatura in Rome before his ordination as the eighth bishop of La Crosse in 1995. An ardent defender of the family farm, Bishop Burke was named President of the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in 1996. His episcopate was marked by several major building projects. In December of 1999 he unveiled plans to build a large pilgrimage shrine southeast of La Crosse in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, scheduled for completion in 2004. He held a diocesan synod to mark the Jubilee Year 2000.
Bibliography: h. h. heming, ed. The Catholic Church in Wisconsin (Milwaukee 1895–98). l. rummel, History of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin (Madison 1976).
[j. e. biechler/