St. Mary Parish
Gays Mills, Wisconsin
Prior to 1908, there was no Catholic Church in the Kickapoo River Valley. The first Catholic services in the area were held by the Rev. Fr. Lucien Gaultier, a French missionary, near Rising Sun in 1857.
At the request of 12 families, Bishop James Schwebach of La Crosse granted permission to build a new church in the village of Gays Mills in 1908. In order to establish the parish, the boundaries of St. Philip’s, Rolling Ground; St. James, Rising Sun; and St. Patrick’s, Seneca were adjusted. Bishop Schwebach also appointed Father Henry J. Artman, pastor of St. Philip’s, to be in charge of the parish and the construction of its church.
Father Artman and the charter members chose St. Mary as the Patron Saint of the parish. They also chose the highest point in the village on which to build the church as a protection against the recurring floods of the Kickapoo River. Because of Father Artman’s great distance from Gays Mills (7 miles) the Catholic businessmen of the village organized crews to quarry rocks in the neighboring hills, haul sand and gravel, and excavate for the basement. Local men, both Catholic and non-Catholic, made up most of the work crew; donating funds, time, and tools to help erect the church.
On June 20, 1909, Rt. Rev. A. P. Kremer, V.G., presided over St. Mary’s dedication. A postcard sent by Father Artman’s mother indicated that over 2,000 people attended the dedication and meal that followed at the fairgrounds. This marked the first time that the Sacrifice of the Mass was offered up in the village of Gays Mills. With a membership of about 30 families, St. Mary’s was maintained as a mission to St. Philip’s. Mass was usually held just twice a month. Father Gustav J. Kaiser became the first resident pastor a few days after his ordination on June 13, 1911. During his pastorate, the rectory was built in 1913.
Due to a shortage of priests in the Diocese, Father Joseph Martinson was given the task of uniting St. Mary’s and St. Philip’s Parishes under one pastor in 1985. The religious education programs were combined in 2000. In 2011, the retirement of Fr. Eugene Wolf left St. Patrick’s of Seneca without a resident pastor. Pastor of St. Mary and St. Philip - Fr. Zacharie Beya, added St. Patrick, a third parish, to his responsibilities. In the summer of 2021, Fr. Tom Huff became the pastor of the tri-parishes of Northern Crawford County.