History of St Robert Bellarmine
Catholic people of Union Grove had been, for the most part, parishioners of St. Mary’s. Dover. As early as 1944-49 (the pastorate of Fr. Alex Zuern), they began working for their own parish church in the Grove. Fr. Zuern was sympathetic to their plans and during his pastorate; 1.35 acres of land were donated to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with the stipulation that a Catholic church be built thereon. The Archdiocese purchased another 3.65 acres at this site, which was located just east of the old Union Grove Grade School on 14th Avenue. Plans for a Catholic parish in the Grove came to a standstill at this time. According to Fr. Zuern, Archdiocesan officials weren’t too interested. Eventually, the Archdiocese sold the five acres back to the original owner.
Sometime during Fr. Alfred Weber’s pastorate at St. Mary’s (1949-54), Union Grove Catholics attending St. Mary’s began contributing to a special fund for a new church in the Grove. The financial report of St. Mary’s for 1953 shows that as of December 31, 1953, the Union Grove church fund totaled $1,826.59.
Fr. Peter Enrietto (1954-59) succeeded Fr. Weber as pastor of St. Mary’s. With his cognizance, a letter dated November 22, 1954, was written to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, under the signature of Peter Hauper. This letter, written “in behalf of the Catholics of Union Grove,” spoke of the ‘need and desire for a Catholic Church in Union Grove.” The letter further stated that “there are approximately 130 families and older working children,” and asked for a meeting with the Archbishop. Under date of December 10, 1954, Msgr. J. Emmenegger of the Archdiocesan Office wrote a letter to Mr. Hauper stating the Archbishop could not send a priest to Union Grove at this time but “Archbishop Meyer would appreciate a survey of Union Grove,” and when this report was made to Fr. Enrietto, the “Problem will then be kept in mind with a view to meeting it at the earliest opportunity.”
In February of 1955, a postcard was sent by a group of Union Grove Catholics inviting Catholic men and women to attend a meeting on Monday, February 21, at the Legion Hall “for the purpose of taking a survey of the Catholic population of the Union Grove area.” There seemed to be some question about the feasibility of such a meeting at the time for, under date of February 15, 1955, Fr. Enrietto wrote Mr. Hauper as follows: “At this time the Archbishop does not approve of this meeting of the Catholics of Union Grove, as arranged by you for February 21, 1955. Following the instructions of our Archbishop, whom I interviewed this morning, I shall call a meeting of all concerned, as soon as the regulations of Canon Law concerning the establishment of a Church can be complied with.” Once again, plans for a Catholic parish in Union Grove came to a standstill.
Fr. R. McCormick became pastor of St. Mary’s in 1959. Bong Air Base “fever” was running high at this time (possibility of grand-scale industrial and residential development). The Archbishop asked Fr. McCormick to restudy the whole situation and consider relocating St. Mary’s nearer to the Bong Base. This would also serve Union Grove to a better advantage. When the Bong Base plans collapsed, a return to prior plans was necessitated. On March 6, 1960, Fr. McCormick met with representatives from Union Grove, and it was agreed they would work toward building a parish school at St. Mary’s and equitably share their parish expenses in exchange for permission to collect funds for a new parish in Union Grove. A committee made up of Peter Hauper, Glen Christman and Clifford Huck, was formed to investigate the Union Grove building program.
On June1, 1960, a meeting was held at St. Mary. It was attended by Auxiliary Bishop Atkielski and pastors of neighboring parishes for the purpose of establishing parish boundaries agreed upon were subsequently approved by Archbishop Cousins of Milwaukee. In the meantime the search for suitable property in the Grove for a Catholic parish continued. Land situated on Highway 11, a couple of clocks east of the Racine-Kenosha Counties Teachers College, was considered but finally rejected. The Union Grove Baptist Church now stands at this location. In 1961, the Archdiocese purchased 14.7 acres of the Mamie Hill property on Highway 45, across from Union Grove High School, for the sum of $17,375.
While the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was looking for an appropriate site for the new Catholic Church in Union Grove, Catholic people of Union Grove were untiring in their efforts to raise funds for the proposed new parish. Through dinners, fairs, smokers and fund drives, their building fund of $1826 in 1953 reached the sum of $103,891 in 1964.Two successive fund raising drives involving three year pledges were so successful that Fr. McCormick could write the Archbishop in 1961 stating “Our two campaigns (St. mary’s School and Union Grove’s church) were very successful…Our goal was $60,000 for Union Grove….Union Grove expects to hit $90,000. Union Grove was quite a surprise. Guess they really do mean what they say about wanting a parish.”
On April 26, 1963, Fr. McCormick put our a report stating, “The Archbishop grants permission for you to engage, for the Union Grove parishioners of St. Mary’s Dover, an architect on a consultative basis to assist in formulating plans and establishing the general cost of a new parish plant.” The building committee for the proposed new parish had the following members: Peter Hauper, Dr. A.A. Quadracci, Al Maurice, Ron Kerkman, Roland Katterhagen, Roman Bautch, Cliff Huck and Joe Thomas. Together with Fr. mcCormaick, they chose the firm of Anderson-Rehder-Yandre as architects. Final basic designs for a new church were approved by Fr. McCormick, the committee, and the Archbishop in November of 1963. Shortly after this, a name was chosed for the proposed new parish in Union Grove. Among the names considered were Isaac Jogues (a North American Jesuit martyr), Tekawitha (a Mohawk Indian maiden martyred in upper New York State), and Robert Bellarmine (16ht century Jesuit, Reformer, Cardinal, Doctor of the church, and Political Philosopher). St. Robert Bellarmine was the name chosen by Msgr. Francis Beres as it was Fr. McCormick’s patron saint.
Now came another standstill of a year and a half duration. It is generally agreed that this was done to give the Catholic people of Union Grove time to raise additional funds for the proposed new parish in the Grove.
On July 7, 1965, Archbishop Cousins appointed Fr. James Johnson (then administrator of St. Patrick’s in Whitewater) as pastor of the new St. Robert’s parish, Union Grove. Fr. Johnson was in residence one month at St. Mary’s Dover, before taking up residence in an apartment in Union Grove. St. Robert Bellarmine congregation was incorporated on August 3, 1965, with Jim Steinhoff as Treasurer and Al Bush as Secretary. It was officially established as a parish on September 10, 1965.
On September 8, 1965, the Wisconsin Telephone Company offered St. Robert’s the use of its vacant business office at Highway 11 and Vine Street for temporary church services, free of charge. The offer was gratefully accepted and the first Mass in Union Grove, as far as history records, were offered in this business office on September 19, 1965, by Fr. Johnson. St. Mary’s Church in Dover was still used for weddings, funerals and baptisms.
Of immediate concern was the building of a church, parish hall, and a catechetical center for religious instructions. Meetings with the architects and the building committee were re-initiated. Charles O’Keefe replaced Joe Thomas on the committee as he had moved out of the Grove. A former church design which had been approved was rejected and new designs in keeping with the mind of Vatican II were requested. A new design for the church was approved in May of 1966, and contracts awarded in June of that same year. Ground was broken for the new church on July 3, 1966, and the cornerstone laid on June 25, 1967 with Fr. Johnson officiating on both occasions.
The first Mass offered in the new church was a Wedding Mass on July 1, 1967. Sunday Masses were offered for the first time on July 16, 1967, and as of that date, parishioners of St. Robert were officially in their new church. The church was formally dedicated by Archbishop Cousins of Milwaukee on the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, May 13, 1968.
In the early 1970’s, the parish built a rectory on its property. Until them the priest lived in a classroom which had been made into living quarters. That space currently serves as a kitchen and resource center for staff.
In the 1990’s Fr. Charles Conley, an accomplished organist himself, raised enough money to install a digital pipe organ.
St. Robert became a center for catechetical learning, serving close to 300 students at its peak.
In 2005, facing a priest shortage and upon Fr. Cera’s retirement from St. Mary’s in Dover, Fr. H. Haase, pastor of St. Robert, became the first shared pastor between the two parishes as we began to share staff and resources. In 2006 the parish joined its music ministry and in 2007 its councils, who began to lead the parish into the future.
In 2016, St. Robert again saw a pastoral change, now sharing a priest, Fr. R. Arnett, with St. Mary, St. Francis Xavier and St. John the Baptist. Further collaboration began with sharing of staff and now a four parish council.