On January 30, 1888, Father Jacob Peter Van Treeck, Associate Pastor at Holy Name was asked by Milwaukee Archbishop Michael Heiss to take on the responsibility of organizing a second parish in Sheboygan and serving as its first Pastor. It was agreed that a second Catholic Church was urgently needed to serve the spiritual needs of Catholics living south of the Sheboygan River. Sixty Catholic laymen from various city districts were present for the session.
Directed by Archbishop Michael Heiss, the meeting organized the parish, under the patronage of St. Peter Claver, a Spanish Jesuit missionary, who had been canonized that same month by Pope Leo XII. At this time, over 100 years later, it is still the only parish in the state of Wisconsin to bear his name.
Providing a church building for the new congregation was the first responsibility. Holy Name Parish donated $1400 for the purchase of a lot on Clara Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets. A plan was drawn up for a combination church and school, with a total valuation of $8,000. The structure was completed in a matter of months.
The two story brick building was designed to house the church in the upper portion, with the lower level serving as school rooms and living quarters for the Sisters of St. Agnes who came to teach there. To the west of the church-school building, at the corner of Clara Avenue and South 12th Street, a rectory was built for Father Van Treeck in September of 1888.
On Sunday, September 30, 1888, Father Van Treeck offered the first Mass in St. Peter Claver Parish on a temporary altar set up in a school room of the combination building. Dedication of the entire building took place in December, 1888, with Archbishop Heiss officiating.
The Sisters of St. Agnes of Fond du Lac, WI, accepted the responsibility of providing teaching Sisters for the new school. Classes began in December, 1888, with Sister M. Leo, as the sole teacher for a total enrollment of 30 children. As enrollment continued to grow, another classroom was needed and the area occupied by the Sister’s living quarters was designated. Another rectory was built on 11th Street, which was occupied by Father Van Treeck in 1893, leaving the earlier rectory for the Sister’s house. In 1898, the first class graduated from St. Peter Claver School.
As the Parish grew, the need for a cemetery was apparent. In 1890, grounds for Holy Cross Cemetery were purchased on South 12th Street, then beyond the south limits of the city of Sheboygan. It has ever since provided a resting place for the remains of our beloved deceased.
In the early 1900’s, the church-school combination become inadequate and it was decided a new church on the corner of Clara Avenue and South 11th Street would be built. Begun in May, 1907, the church was completed in 1908, at a cost of $50,000. The cornerstone was blessed and laid on July 7, 1907. Members of the congregation assisted in construction, completing the excavation for the church basement with hand powered shovels and spades. The church had seating for the capacity of 800, and Father Van Treeck was celebrant of the first Mass in the new church on June 21, 1908.
During the next few years, impressive additions were made to the church, including installation of three large bells. Stained glass windows of outstanding color and design were donated by individual parishioners and parish societies. Stations of the Cross were added, along with two interior shrines, dedicated to the Sorrowful Mother of Jesus, and St. Peter Claver.
By 1952, the church family had grown to 3,241 members, the church office recording 161 infant baptisms. In 1955, renovation of the church was needed. Two new entrances were added, a tunnel was built to join the school and the church. New pews were installed, the baptistery was redecorated, and a baptismal font added.
In 1955, a new school was also needed due to high enrollment. In December of 1955, the cornerstone of St. Peter Claver’s 16-classroom school was laid. It was built at the cost of $560,000, and was ready for nearly 600 students in September of 1956. The old school was demolished the same year. Dedication of the new school took place May 12, 1957.
One of the most significant events in the history of the parish, aimed at maintaining its mission of Christian education for all parishioners, was the consolidation of schools of neighboring Immaculate Conception parish with that of St. Peter Claver. Plans for this type of merger had been discussed city-wide for many years, but opportunity and necessity finally came together in March, 1986, with the consolidation of the two schools into Christ Child Academy.
St. Peter Claver celebrated their 100th Centennial Anniversary, with a schedule of Centennial events throughout August of 1987 to September 1988, with a Mass of celebration with Archbishop Rembert Weakland officiating on September 25, 1988.
St. Peter Claver Parish continued to make many great strides throughout the years, but because of the shortage of priests for parishes, Deacon Michael Burch was officially installed as Parish Director at St. Peter Claver by Bishop Sklba on July 7, 2002. Parish Directors are assigned a four-year term with renewal up to two more terms, totaling twelve years. Deacon Mike’s position as Parish Director was renewed for a second term in July 2006.
Fr. Paul Fliss was assigned as Pastor of the Tri-Parish faith communities on the south side of Sheboygan in June of 2013. We continue to build on the courageous faith of those that went before us as we experience a growth and excitement that, with the help of God, will carry us into the future generations to come.