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Home > Who We Are > History Printer-Friendly
History

Most likely the Lake Superior area is the oldest of the known world, the first to emerge from a global ocean. It may very well have been this area that heard the creating command, "Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass. And let dry land appear…" (JB, Gen l: 9) Because of its geological age, its subjection to some of nature's most violent treatment and to subsequent erosion, parts of earth's most profound secrets have been exposed to our eyes.

Geologists maintain that northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, with the Laurentians of Canada, were the first bodies of land to appear above the waters, and that owing to their age and proven stability, they are possibly the most earthquake-proof regions of the world. During this rise, with its volcanic actions, the Vermilion Iron Range, in northern Minnesota and some of the Canadian ranges, further east, were formed. With the coming of the glaciers more geographical mysteries became apparent. Like monstrous bulldozers, the glaciers hacked and chewed and gnawed vast territories, and moved them en masse southward, not once, but several times. Each time smaller portions, or lobes, went off on side excursions of their own, mixing up the landscape to frustrate modern geologists.

Some of these movements formed the gentle hills and creek valleys of southern Wisconsin. After untold centuries, during which the Great Lakes assumed their present form, Lake Superior emerged with a harsh rockbound northern coast. Here the granites and other volcanic rocks predominate with harbors few and far between. On the other hand, Mother Nature seemed more kindly in designing the southern shore of the lake with many lengthy sand beaches plus more harbors and gentle hills.

In the journals and reports of the early Jesuit missionaries and explorers several references are made about the natural beauties of this area, with the endless forests of trees of magnificent height growing down to the water's very edge; the lofty hills with perpetual greenery; the whiteness of the sand beaches; the vast array of water-formed caves and grottoes in the sandstones of both the mainland and adjacent islands. All of these, in conjunction with the red cliffs and the blue lake, caused even the most hardened and rough voyageur to pause, enjoy and appreciate the majesty surrounding them.

It was in this Eden-like setting into which the Chippewa Indians migrated from St. Lawrence River in Canada to found La Pointe on the western tip of Chequamegon Bay, west of Ashland, about 1490, two years before Columbus' famous voyage.

It is generally accepted that the first white man of record to see Lake Superior was Etienne Brule in 1622, two years after Plymouth Rock. It is possible that Brule explored the Bois Brule River, by which later explorers and traders made their way to the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. If so, he preceded Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut (Duluth). Unfortunately historians have erroneously credited Greysolon with opening this route in 1679.

In July of 1661 Fr. Rene Menard, S.J. came to minister to the Ottawa near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. While here he went to visit a sick tribe on the Black River, in Wisconsin and disappeared near the present city of Merrill.

On Oct. 1, 1665, Fr. Claude Jean Allouez, S.J. arrived on Chequamegon Bay, LA Pointe, and established the mission of the Holy Spirit. This was the first Catholic church/chapel anywhere on the North American continent north of New Mexico and west of Lake Huron. The mission of the Holy Spirit predated the founding of the California missions, which started in 1769.

In 1669 Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J. came to La Pointe and spent four years as Allouez's successor. In 1673 He set out with Louis Joliet on the expedition to explore the Mississippi River, which Marquette named River of the Immaculate Conception.

The next missionary to come to La Pointe was Fr. Frederic Baraga, a diocesan priest from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He enlarged the mission of the Holy Spirit and moved it from the mainland to Madeline Island in the bay and named the mission and his church, St. Joseph. On Nov. 1, 1853 he was ordained bishop and his mission territory was promoted to the Apostolic Vicariate of Upper Michigan. This evolved into the Diocese of Marquette and Baraga as first bishop. The Diocese of Marquette has opened proceedings leading to his beatification.

In 1878 the Franciscan Fathers of the St. Louis, Mo. Province came to labor in the diocese and continues to this day.

On May 3, 1905 Pope St. Pius X established the Diocese of Superior, which is comprised of the 16 northwest counties of Wisconsin.
The first Ordinary was Augustine Francis Schinner. He resigned on Jan. 15, 1913 and was appointed the first Bishop of Spokane, WA.
The Bishops succeeding Bishop Schinner is as follows:

  • Bishop Joseph M. Koudelka:  appointed August 6, 1913 and died on June 24, 1921.
  • Bishop Joseph G. Pinten:  appointed December 3, 1921, ordained May 3, 1922 and transferred to the Diocese of Grand Rapids June 25, 1926, died November 6, 1945.
  • Bishop Theodore H. Reverman: appointed July 3, 1921, ordained Nov. 30, 1926 and died July 18, 1941.
  • Bishop William Patrick O'Connor: appointed December 31, 1941, ordained March 7, 1942 and was then appointed the first Bishop of the Diocese of Madison on January 15, 1946.
  • Bishop Albert Gregory Meyer: appointed February 18, 1946 and then appointed Archbishop of Milwaukee July 29, 1953; transferred to Chicago as Archbishop on September 19, 1958. He was elevated to Cardinal on December 14, 1959. Died April 9, 1965.
  • BIshop Joseph John Annabring: appointed January 27, 1954, ordained March 25,1954, died August 27,1959. He was a priest of our diocese.
  • Bishop George Albert Hammes: appointed March 28, 1960, ordained May 24, 1960; retired June 27, 1985 and died April 11, 1993.
  • Bishop Raphael Michael Fliss: appointed Coadjutor Bishop with right of succession, November 6,1979; ordained Bishop on Dec. 20, 1979; became the Ordinary on June 27, 1985, retired June 28, 2007.
  • Bishop Peter Forsyth Christensen:  appointed June 29, 2007, consecrated September 14, 2007, installed September 23, 2007.

In 2005, the diocese celebrated its 100th anniversary and the 340th anniversary of the establishment of Christianity in the Upper Midwest.