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Reverend D. F. Thill, Page 228
REV. D. F. THILL. The history of the Catholic Church in Sheboygan dates back to about 1846, when a mission was established, and in 1849 came the first resident priest. A convenient and comfortable church building was erected, and as the population of Sheboygan and the surrounding country increased, the congregation increased in like proportion. The most important history of the church in Sheboygan began in May, 1862, when the Rev. Michael Haider assumed pastoral charge of the congregation and for about twenty-three years, or until his death, continued to minister to its spiritual and material growth.
Father Haider was a most remarkable man. To his energy, industry and determination is due the existence of the massive stone edifice known as the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus. This structure is of Gothic cruciform style, with two towers, one hundred and seventy feet in height. The church was dedicated in 1872, and has a seating capacity of from twelve to fourteen hundred, and a large sanctuary for alter and clergy. The windows alone cost $3,600, and the entire furnishing of the church is most beautiful.
Rev. Father Michael Haider was beloved, not only by the members of his own congregation, but by the entire community, and wherever he was known.
It would be impossible in this article to give even a brief outline of the character of this good man, or of the work he accomplished.
The following is a brief sketch from the pen of Frank Stone, of Sheboygan, who knew him well, which will serve to illustrate to some extent the character of the man:
"When the poet penned the above lines, he must have been thinking of such a man as the late Father Haider. In May, 1862, he came to Sheboygan, and immediately became priest, physician, friend and adviser to a large number of people composing his congregation. Quarrels disappeared like the mists of the morning, and many a law-suit was prevented. As a businessman, he was a success. The opening of the Pigeon River quarry, and the building of the large stone church, prove this. The world is the better, and we believe Heaven will be the fuller, because of Father Haider's holy life and conversation. 'Though dead he yet speaketh.' Of the love of his own people for him, little need be said--'It is known and read of all men.' And how was it with those of a different church? To illustrate, I will tell a story. A lady, born and reared in Scotland, full of the strong prejudices of her country's people, and of the Presbyterian faith, met this gentleman at the sick bed of one of his flock. Long they talked and earnestly, and often afterward. To the surprise of the lady, she found that they loved and worshiped the same God, depended on the same Saviour, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and that each was anxious to so live as to glorify God and lead sinners to Christ and His service. So they agreed much and differed little. For years she saw his love and good works, and possessed for him not only much respect, but Christian love as well. Stricken in years, this man of God died and was borne to the grave. As she watched the long procession, her tears testified to her love. As the chanting of prayers for the dead reached her ears, she listened a moment, then to a good friend said. 'What! praying for that good man? If he has not gone directly to heaven, surely there is little chance for any of us. ' A good man has gone to heaven; has been three years, as we reckon time. May we all so live as to greet him there when our turn comes."
After the death of Father Haider, came Rev. Peter Schaiger, who remained about five years. During his pastorate the present priest's residence, a fine brick structure, was erected. He was succeeded by Rev. Nicholas A. Thill, a brother of the present pastor, who did much to improve the church property. Under his administration, new windows, floors, altars and pews were put in the church, which was also beautifully frescoed. He greatly improved and beautified the grounds, and had the present schoolhouse erected at a cost of $15,000. But the labor attending so large a field was beyond the physical endurance of Father Nicholas Thill, and arrangements were made whereby the present pastor, Rev. D. F. Thill, exchanged places with his brother, and became pastor of the Church of the Holy Name in August, 1892.
The church and priest's residence occupy an entire square block. The grounds are finely laid out, beautiful shade trees have been planted, and the whole presents a most elegant and artistic appearance. The schoolhouse and sisters' home occupy nearly another square. The congregation numbers about five hundred families. The school is graded, and numbers about six hundred and eleven pupils. The grading of the school on the principle of the city public schools, and making it, like them, free to all pupils, is the work of the present pastor. This plan for free school is original with Father Thill, is a simple one, and consists in making the pew rent pay the cost of operating the school. The plan works in a most satisfactory manner.
The old original church building has been remodeled and is used for society meetings, etc. In May, 1890, the erection of a hospital was begun, which was completed in the fall of that same year at a cost of about $10,000. It was first in charge of four sisters from Springfield, Ill., under Sister Superior Aldonza. There are now seven sisters who minister to the sick and afflicted.
The present pastor of the Church of the Holy Name has taken up faithfully the work of his brother and predecessor. On January 29, 1893, his silver jubilee, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, was celebrated. The following, from the Sheboygan Journal, of the previous day, is of so much general interest that it is given in full:
"Tomorrow, the 29th of January, will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ordination of Rev. Father Dominick Thill, of the Church of the Holy Name of this city. His silver jubilee will be celebrated with solemn high mass at 10 o'clock a.m., by the Rev. D. Thill, assisted by his brother, Rev. Nicholas Thill, of Jefferson; Father Becker, of Pewaukee, previously a school pupil of the former; Rev. Mr. Gerend, rector of Pionono College, St. Francis; and Father Stemper, of St. Francis, Milwaukee. A German sermon will be preached by Rev. Nicholas Thill, and one in English by Father Becker. The choir will be assisted by the orchestra, and the music will be grand. Twenty altar boys, arrayed in purple garments, will serve at the altar.
"Rev. Dominick Thill has had charge of the work of the Church of the Holy Name in this city since September, 1892, he having changed pulpits with his brother, Rev. Nicholas Thill.
"The work of the rector of this church includes a broad field, and Rev. Nicholas Thill, finding that the many duties he was compelled to perform, and which he always went about in a pleasant frame of mind, were telling upon him and his health was beginning to fail, consequently gave the grand work which he was carrying on in this city into the charge of his brother.
While in this city, Rev. Nicholas Thill was a hard worker, never failing to do his duty.
The interior of the church has been re-embellished and beautified, the grounds about the church have been attractively laid out, and a fine new schoolhouse has been built, all the results of his efforts.
Rev. Dominick Thill found the condition of the society in a flourishing state when he stepped into his reverend brother's shoes.
Father Dominick Thill received a warm reception from the congregation in this city, and has successfully carried on the magnificent, God-like work of him whom the members of that domain will always remember with much reverence."
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