In every community you will find inspiring stories of courage, faith and perseverance. And so it was the case when I researched the 1863 founding of my hometown parish, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The project lasted several months, and turned up many fascinating stories from the mission-territory days of Wisconsin in the mid-1800s.
Full confession (pun intended): I served as an altar boy for years at Sacred Hearts in the 1970s, and graduated in spring 1978 from the fine Sacred Hearts School. The current church, the third edifice in parish history, has some of the most stunning stained-glass windows you will find outside of a cathedral. That’s what initially drew me to the history of Sacred Hearts.
So what did I learn?
The church was founded during the second expansion of Catholicism in Wisconsin (the first being black-robed Jesuit missionaries who explored the territory in the 1600s). Much of the area at the time was untamed wilderness, now being colonized by immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other parts of Europe.
The early missionary priests rode circuits hundreds of miles long, often saying Mass in private homes or rustic buildings with no roof. Father Martin Kundig, an indefatigable traveler and founder of many Catholic parishes in Michigan and Wisconsin, had an uplifting experience in 1843. The faithful gathered in a private home for Mass overloaded the floor, and everyone except Father Kundig crashed into the cellar. The people reached up and supported the priest, standing on a narrow plank, so he could finish saying Mass.
These pioneers led often difficult lives. The John Sprengel family lost three children to diphtheria within one week in 1882. Emerand Aschenbrucker lost his first wife during the birth of their daughter, Anna, in February 1867. Nicholas Mosel lost his wife to typhoid fever at age 54. The church brought comfort to these grieving families, offering the sacraments and a reverent burial for the departed.
The Civil War affected every aspect of life during Sacred Hearts’ early years. Two young parishioners died during their wartime service, including one who was wounded in the 1862 Battle of Shiloh and died in a Confederate prison camp. Another died on a furlough in 1864. He was just 15. A third was wounded in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in June 1864.
When you set out to research a topic, you never know just what you will find. I found a very fascinating story in the “Catholic Pioneers on the Prairie,” which is what I titled the 28-page e-book that grew out of my research. I invite you to read the whole thing at Catholic Pioneers. View it online or download the e-book as a PDF file.
The book about my father’s battle with lung cancer and his final months on this earth has been in print for nearly five years. It seems a good time to update the book’s official video trailer. The new version, posted below, is in high definition. Back when the original trailer was created, HD video was still fairly novel. But now HD is the norm on home televisions and computers, so it was time to upgrade this important promotional video. You can also view the video in a larger format here.
Nothing was bigger news in the fall of 1950 in central Wisconsin than Mary Ann Van Hoof and her claims of receiving visions from the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Van Hoof farm near Necedah. Members of the Hanneman family of Mauston, had great devotion to Mary, and they were among 50,000 people in Necedah on October 7, 1950, when Van Hoof received the eighth of her reported visions of Mary.
The front page of the Wisconsin State Journalthe next day recounted the alleged vision this way:
“Mrs. Fred Van Hoof said she saw the Virgin Mary in a vision for the eighth time Saturday and was told in a ‘last warning’ to pray for peace. The gaunt farm wife, who said last August that the Virgin would appear to her Saturday noon in a blinding light, walked from her shabby home at the appointed hour, knelt in prayer and raised a crucifix to a statue of the Virgin. At that moment, the sun burst through rain clouds which had hovered over the humble farm most of the morning, and a murmur swept through the crowd estimated by state police at 50,000 persons.After a few minutes, Mrs. Van Hoof arose and addressed the mingled throng of curious and claims to have done on previous visitations. ‘This is the battle for peace for all of you,’ she said. ‘Prayer, my dear children, will bring you peace.’ ”
A priest from Watervliet, Michigan, who was also in attendance that day befriended the Hanneman family. Rev. Father Victor A. Fortino of St. Joseph’s Church in Watervliet, cautioned 17-year-old David D. Hanneman to wait for Catholic Church authorities to approve the alleged visions before he placed too much stock in them. “I hope that what transpired at Necedah will receive the approval of the Church authorities,for without it, we simply cannot believe Mrs. Van Hoof’s claims even though you and I enjoyed the same experience during the alleged apparition of Oct. 7,” Fortino wrote in a letter dated October 27, 1950.
Father Fortino warned that Satan has appeared to Saints and sinners alike posing as the Blessed Mother and as the Crucified Christ, so it is crucial that the Church rule on the Van Hoof apparitions. “I want to warn you about something,” Fortino wrote. “DO NOT AS YET ACCEPT THE NECEDAH STORY AS TRUE. WAIT UNTIL THE ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITIES HAVE DECIDED ON THE CASE.”
As it turned out, Fortino’s words were almost prophetic. In June 1955, Bishop John Treacy of the Diocese of La Crosse officially rejected Van Hoof’s visions.“Because of the continued promotion of the claims made by Mrs. Mary A. Van Hoof of Necedah, Wis., we, by virtue of our authority as bishop of the diocese of La Crosse, hereby declare that all claims regarding supernatural revelations and visions made by the aforementioned Mrs. Van Hoof are false. Further more, all public and private religious worship connected with these false claims is prohibited at Necedah, Wis.” As early as August 1950, Bishop Treacy had said Van Hoof’s claims “are of extremely doubtful nature.”
Father Fortino may have suspected the Necedah claims would turn out to be false, but he wrote that some good could come from the gathering that week in 1950 no matter what. “It seemed to me that Our Lady brought us together for Her own good purposes,” Fortino wrote. “What She intends for us, I do not know. But I hope that much good will come out of our chance meeting and our mutual experience in Necedah.”
Despite the controversy over Van Hoof and her claims, the Hanneman family maintained strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Carl and Ruby Hanneman kept a beautiful porcelain statue of the Blessed Mother in their Mauston home. After their deaths that statue found a place at David Hanneman’s residence in Sun Prairie. And it sat in front of the altar at his funeral Mass on April 19, 2007.
Judging by the turnout, the marriage of Joseph John Mras and Mary V. Sternot of the Town of Sigel in Wood County, Wisconsin, was the celebration of the year in 1913. The pair were married by the Rev. John Willitzer on October 21. The group portrait was taken outside the Sigel home of the bride’s parents, Jacob and Josephine Sternot. The reception had a big turnout from Sigel and the nearby village of Vesper.
As with other large-group photos in our collection, it is fun to look for details in the sea of faces. Standing just right of center is my grandmother, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman, who was a flower girl at the wedding. The bride and groom are tucked away in the upper right corner, looking a bit weary. The entertainers are in center front, one with a fiddle, one with an accordion and a third holding a pitcher of beer. Three things seem to link the men in the photo: hats, beer and cigars. Some things never change.
A studio photo of the wedding party provides additional details on the big day. Ruby Treutel and (we believe) her cousin Gladys Cole were the flower girls, while one brother and one sister of the bride were also in the wedding party.
Joe and Mary Mras had three children,Clarence, Earl and William. Joe was a crane operator for 31 years for the Frank Garber Iron & Metal Co. in Wisconsin Rapids. He retired in 1959. Joe died on April 10, 1961. Mary died September 20, 1977. Their son Clarence was killed in an auto accident in September 1956. Earl died October 18, 2001. William died February 18, 1997.
— This post has been updated with corrected identifications on the wedding portrait.
For 80 years, there has been a member of the Hanneman family in the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal and charitable organization. The line of service runs from Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982), who joined in 1934, to his son David D. Hanneman (1933-2007), who joined in 1953, to his son Joe Hanneman, who joined the order in April 2007.
The three generations share other things in common with respect to the K of C, based in New Haven, Connecticut, with more than 14,000 local councils across America. All three have been members of the Fourth Degree, which focuses on patriotism and love of country. All three served in the Fourth Degree Color Corps and Honor Guard. The Honor Guard, wearing tuxedos, colored capes, ceremonial swords and plumed chapeaux, is a ceremonial presence at Masses, funeral wakes, Flag Day ceremonies and other events. Joe Hanneman served on the Honor Guard for the installation of Archbishop Jerome Listecki in Milwaukee. Carl joined the Fourth Degree in the late 1930s or early 1940s, judging by the group portrait of his exemplification class. David joined in 1973 and Joe joined in 2008.
All three also served as Grand Knight of their respective local K of C council. The Grand Knight is leader of the local council. Carl Hanneman was Grand Knight of Solomon Juneau Council 2770 in Mauston, Wisconsin in the late 1960s. David Hanneman was Grand Knight of Holy Family Council 4879 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, from 2001 to 2003. Joe Hanneman was Grand Knight of Msgr. Stanley B. Witkowiak Council 697 in Racine in 2010 and 2011.
The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal and charitable organization founded in 1882 by Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, whose cause for sainthood is being considered at the Vatican. The Knights operate under the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. Knights raise money and volunteer for a wide range of causes, from pro-life programs such as crisis pregnancy centers, to programs providing free wheelchairs to the disabled, to grants to local programs that support the mentally retarded. The K of C and local councils have provided more than 500 ultrasound machines to crisis pregnancy centers.
Knights provide free coats to needy children each winter. They run a variety of athletic events, including Punt, Pass and Kick, and a basketball free-throw competition. Knights also support and promote vocations to the priesthood, sponsoring seminarians and providing other material support for those studying for the priesthood. In 2013, Knights provided a record amount of charity, with over $170 million raised and 70.5 million hours of voluntary service provided. In 2014, the K of C provided more than $2 million to help persecuted Christians from Iraq and other Mideast countries being targeted by ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
The Fourth Degree of the Knights is especially dedicated to patriotism and the idea that love of God and love of country go hand in hand. The Fourth Degree was founded in 1900 to combat the prejudiced notion that Catholics were not loyal Americans and could not be trusted in public office or with civic responsibility. The Fourth Degree provides free flags for schools and nonprofit organizations, supports veterans’ organizations, provides material needs to local veterans’ hospitals, and sends faith materials and other assistance to members of the military serving overseas.
Famous Knights include Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, one of the Catholic Church’s all-time great authors and communicators; former Green Bay Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi; baseball’s Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth; Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito; Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Cardinal Francis George, former archbishop of Chicago; Saint Rafael Guizar Valencia; and six martyrs of the Cristero War in Mexico: Father Luis Bátis Sáinz, Father José María Robles Hurtado, Father Mateo Correa Magallanes, Father Miguel de la Mora, Father Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán and Father Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero. The K of C operates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.
A number of other members of the extended Hanneman family have been members of the Knights of Columbus: Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (my grandfather), Earl J. Mulqueen Jr.,Donn G. Hanneman, longtime Wisconsin Rapids building inspector Arthur J. Hanneman, and former state representative Arthur Treutel.
— This post has been updated with a date correction and two new photographs.
Nearly 90 years ago on a summer Tuesday morning, Ruby Viola Treutel and Carl Henry Frank Hanneman joined in marriage at St. James Catholic Church in Vesper, Wisconsin. The marriage, which would live on for more than 50 years and produce three children and 16 grandchildren, was described in detail in a story in the July 15, 1925 edition of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune:
TREUTEL-HANNEMAN One of the prettiest weddings of the summer was solemnized yesterday morning at nine o’clock at St. James church, Vesper, when Miss Ruby Treutel, daughter of Walter Treutel of Vesper, became the bride of Carl F. Hanneman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hanneman of this city. Rev. Father Gille officiated at the nuptial Mass.
The church was beautifully decorated with greens and the season’s flowers, making an appropriate setting for the wedding party. Miss Velma Doering of Stratford played the wedding march as the party entered the church and proceeded to the altar. Miss Gladys Cole of Nekoosa, and the groom’s attendant, Joseph Ladick, of Vesper, both cousins of the bride, were followed by two little sisters of the bride, Nina and Elaine, who acted as flower girl and ring bearer. The maid of honor, Miss Esther Albright, came next and was followed by the bride and her father, who gave her away.
Mr. Hanneman and his best man, Wendell Miscoll,awaited the party at the altar. The bride was very beautiful in her gown of white georgette trimmed with gold lace. She wore a coronet of pearls, with her veil falling from a beaded butterfly. She carried a shower bouquet of pink rose buds.
Miss Albright, the maid of honor, was gowned in orchid georgette and carried an arm bouquet of rose. Miss Cole, the bridesmaid, wore a gown of orange georgette, and also carried roses. Nina, the little flower girl, was in a little frock of yellow georgette, and Elaine completed the delightful color ensemble in a dress of pink georgette. She carried the ring in a white lily.
Following the service at the church, the bridal party and relatives came to this city, where the ten-thirty breakfast was served at the Witter Hotel. The bride is a graduate of Lincoln High School and the Stevens Point Normal. Since her graduation from the normal school she has been teaching at Vesper. The groom was graduated from Lincoln High and for some time following was employed at the Church Drug store. He later graduated from the pharmacy department of Marquette University at Milwaukee and is at present holding a position with Whitrock and Wolt.
Following a week’s outing in the northern part of the state, part of the time being spent as guests of Mr. and Mrs. Armand Bauer at their cottage at Hayward, they will return here and for the present make their home with Mr. Treutel at Vesper.
The bridal photo, hand retouched to restore color to the roses.
The bridal portrait of Ruby V. Hanneman in its original frame.
For their honeymoon in July 1925, Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) and Ruby Viola (nee: Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977) took a camping trip to Wisconsin’s north woods. The couple are pictured at a camp site near Hayward, Wis. They were married July 14, 1925 at Vesper, Wis.
He could be carrying milk from the barn, but Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) is actually on a honeymoon camping trip in this July 1925 photo. Carl and bride Ruby (nee: Treutel, 1904-1977) took a camping trip near Hayward, Wis., after their wedding on July 14, 1925.
An unidentified boy sits outside of a cottage near Hayward, Wis., with Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977) in July 1925. Ruby and new husband Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) were on their honeymoon.
Carl F. Hanneman (at right) leans on his Ford near the camp where he and bride Ruby spent their honeymoon.
Carl F. Hanneman and an unidentified boy at the Hanneman picnic table.
The Hanneman honeymoon had a rustic theme at a cottage near Hayward, Wis.
Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman took these selfies on their honeymoon in July 1925.
Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman on their 25th wedding anniversary in July 1950.
Back of the photo: Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman on their 25th wedding anniversary in July 1950.
Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman on their 50th wedding anniversary, celebrated at Sun Prairie in July 1975.
The Knights of Columbus has long championed the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message to remind the public that the “holiday season” is really about the birth of the Savior. Each year, the more than 14,000 local K of C councils promote the message with car magnets, yard signs, television ads and radio spots.
Back in 2010, I wanted to create a 30-second broadcast commercial with this message, but we had no production budget. I found a beautiful mosaic image from the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The year before, I used that image to create a billboard we placed alongside Interstate 94 in Racine County, Wisconsin.
For the TV spot, we planned to use that still image with a pan-and-zoom “Ken Burns effect,” but I still needed voice talent and music. I looked no further than my then 11-year-old daughter, Ruby. She only needed a couple of takes to nail the script voiceover. My other daughter, Samantha, 14, took to her keyboard and recorded a section of “Greensleeves.” That is the tune used for the hymn What Child Is This? Once I put it all together, we had a very nice broadcast commercial, quite beautiful in its simplicity. The finished spot ran hundreds of times on a wide variety of cable television networks throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. You can watch the video in the player below.
In the winter of 1966 or 1967, a young father designed and hand-crafted an outdoor nativity scene to decorate the family home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) painted the set freehand and put it on display just under the garage window of his home on Wisconsin Avenue. The nativity scene was a fixture at the home in those early years, but eventually was put in storage and forgotten.
Forty years later, after David Hanneman died, the badly weathered Nativity figures were rescued from a trash can in the garage. Over the next 18 months they were restored to almost original condition and put on display in the Village of Mount Pleasant.
The original backers and braces were removed from the cutout figures of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. New 1-inch-thick plywood backers were crafted with a jigsaw, then glued to the figures and anchored with wood screws. Heavy L-shape stabilizing braces were screwed into the backers to give the figures sufficient weight to withstand winter winds.
Samantha J. Hanneman, David Hanneman’s granddaughter, did most of the paint restoration work. With a special set of art brushes, she applied metallic gold and flat black paint to maintain the original look. Touch up paint was applied sparingly to the faces and hands of the figures to keep the hand-drawn details.
The newly restored Nativity scene was put on display at the Hanneman home in Racine County in December 2008, making the old tradition new again for another generation. The crèche was displayed for several years, but had to again be put in storage when we lost our home. Now the figures again wait patiently to have a new home where their warm glow will fill the Christmas night.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity crib or crèche on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was eager to make the birth of Christ something tangible for the faithful. He had a manger built, brought animals to be part of the set, and had Holy Mass said before this representation of the birth of Christ. After the preparations were finished, St. Francis and some of his followers went to the crèche for the Mass. After a short prayer by Francis, a vision of the Christ child appeared on the hay.The miracle stirred the animals and greatly moved the faithful who witnessed it.
As kids growing up in Sun Prairie, any time we ventured into the back room of our basement we were likely to hear a voice from upstairs shout, “Don’t you go near those windows!” Of course we knew what that meant: the antique stained-glass behemoths covered in blankets in the farthest reaches of the basement, next to the furnace. I never gave a great deal of thought to them, until one day in 2006 when my father was dying of cancer.
Founded in 1912, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison always had a chapel as part of its facilities. In 1926, a new, ornate chapel was built as part of an expansion of St. Mary’s. The chapel had 10 window frames, each with two beautiful arched stained-glass windows that rose 20 feet from eye level to midway up the wall. In between each were two Stations of the Cross. The windows remained part of the chapel until 1973, when that section of the building was razed to make way for a new hospital wing on Mills Street. My Dad obtained two of the windows, a total of four panels, carrying them home in blankets to rest for more than three decades.
When Dad was being treated for lung cancer at St. Mary’s in the fall of 2006, he got an inspiration to give those windows back to St. Mary’s. He asked for my help in doing some research, but he was so impatient he wheeled himself down to the administrative offices to talk to someone about it. That someone, vice president Barbara K. Miller, was enthralled with the idea, but it was her last day on the job before retiring. She promised to get the ball rolling on the donation. “I want these windows to come home to St. Mary’s,” he told her.
Dad was a little worried that his donation wouldn’t get done. The idea occupied his mind more than anything else in November 2006. He knew his time with us was short. He told the story and his idea to his physician, Dr. Gregory Motl. Dad made Dr. Motl promise that if he didn’t survive the cancer, the donation would be completed. Motl grasped Dad’s hand and said reassuringly, “I will Dave. I will.”
To say the hospital embraced Dad’s idea would be an understatement. His timing was perfect, since St. Mary’s was planning a $182 million expansion that would add a new east wing with operating rooms, a cardiac center, outpatient offices, patient rooms and more. St. Mary’s was looking for ways to tie the new facility to the hospital’s heritage. The architects designed special spaces for each of the four window sections. St. Mary’s had a new internal champion for the windows, Steve Sparks, public relations director.
After months of planning, St. Mary’s was finally ready to take possession of the windows. On March 22, 2007, Sparks and workmen came to Sun Prairie to transport the windows. He snapped some photos of Mom and Dad with a window section. Dad looked pale and drawn, but I know he appreciated the milestone that day represented. “It was humbling for me,” Sparks recounted later. “This gift demonstrated exceptional courage and generosity. It is an experience I won’t forget.”
Tears were shed that afternoon as the windows were lovingly carried outside. It was the first daylight to penetrate the stained glass in more than three decades. For Dad, it was the accomplishment of a mission of giving. His part was finished; now St. Mary’s would take over. Not two weeks later, Dad was admitted to St. Mary’s and then discharged to HospiceCare Inc., where he died on April 14, 2007.
In early December 2007, Mom and I were invited to the dedication day at the new St. Mary’s east wing. We attended a luncheon and heard very kind words about Dad from Dr. Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary’s Hospital. They were similar to what Dr. Byrne wrote right after Dad’s death. “It is clear from Dave’s accomplishments that dedication to community was always a part of his priorities,” Byrne wrote, “and we will all benefit from that dedication for years to come. At this sad time, we hope it will be a reminder that though life may seem short, the contributions made by one individual have a significant impact in building a future for us all.”
When we walked into the atrium and first saw one of the window sections, it was enough to bring tears. There it was, set into the wall and brilliantly backlit in a way that brought out the green, red and amber hues of the glass. It was, as designed by the architects, a welcoming beacon for everyone visiting St. Mary’s. Mom posed next to the window, and even did an impromptu interview with Madison’s Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Herald. The three other window sections were placed on different floors of the east wing. One is in a waiting room. The others are in prominent spots.
The story of these chapel windows gives testimony that beauty can emerge from the depths of the darkest tragedies. Dad kept the windows safe for 35 years, and he got them safely home to St. Mary’s just weeks before he, too, made it home.
This post has been updated with additional window photos.
As any serious genealogist will tell you, a visit to a cemetery can provide a wealth of family history information. But it can be much more than that. Each year as we approach All Souls Day (November 2), the season presents an opportunity to renew and maintain family connections, just by walking through a cemetery.
One of the most touching scenes I’ve encountered was at a small cemetery in Augsburg, Germany. Walking past after dark, I looked through the small gate to see dozens of flickering vigil candles. These were not solar lights but real candles. Someone cared enough to visit there each night and light the votives.
A 20-minute walk through any cemetery will provide you access to family stories. Parents who lived long, full lives. Others who died much too young. Babies, some just one day old. Some who were never born. John and Jane Does, victims of murder. And in many older cemeteries, some of the departed rest with no visible monuments. Their markers were damaged or swallowed up in soft ground or by encroaching woods.
Observe the different monuments. Some are massive obelisks, others plain, square markers. A few are made from unusual materials. Some display incredible artistry. In many German cemeteries you will see monuments with engraved hands pointing to Heaven. Angels, crosses and even anchors are common subject of monument carvings.
Some cemeteries are known more for their infamy, such as Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin. We chronicled that story earlier in “A Sad Resting Place for Little Ida.” It is sad to see a cemetery fall into neglect and disrepair. It’s especially angering when a cemetery is targeted by vandals. A few years back, thugs toppled more than 100 monuments at Calvary Cemetery and Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin. My Knights of Columbus council spent several weekends righting the monuments and making extensive repairs. Most of the damage was fixed, but some especially old stones were beyond repair.
Military cemeteries and the graves of soldiers are especially touching. I recall walking row after row of World War I grave markers in Ypres, Belgium, where the famous poemIn Flanders Fields was composed in 1915. All of those young lives cut short by “the war to end all wars.” Such sacrifice. World War I cemeteries dot the landscape in Belgium; some in the middle of farm fields.
While our loved ones are gone, they can teach us still. There are great resources available to help you find where your relatives are buried. My favorite online database is the Find A Grave web site. Take a camera along on your next trip to the cemetery and help your fellow genealogists document history.