History of Chapel of the Archangels
The Chapel of the Archangels was formerly known as the St. Michael’s Polish Catholic Church. However, there is a long history behind this magnificent building.
Beaver Dam, not yet a city, was inhabited by the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi tribes, the Ho-Chunk tribe living across Beaver Dam Lake, and the Potawatomi tribe living on the side where the church resides. In fact, there is a plaque in downtown Beaver Dam that commemorates the birth in 1842 of the first “white” woman in this Native American land.
According to local geological experts, the hill where the Chapel sits is actually an ancient Indian Burial Mound, of the snake design. Folklore has it that in the mid 19th century, the Chief of the Ho-Chunk tribe, in a drunken rage, killed 2 people at a wedding reception from the Potawatomi tribe. His penance: 50 pieces of silver, or his life. A few months later, when he couldn’t come up with the silver, he voluntarily went back to the victim’s tribe, where he was killed, and all three were buried in the mound.
Beaver Dam is now a thriving city, made of many Polish, German and Irish immigrants who have come to work in the mills and farm the land. As was customary at that time, the ethnic groups did not congregate or worship together, even though of the same religion and so 3 Catholic parishes sprang to life:
- St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church (Polish) circa 1875
- St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church (German) circa 1855
- St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (Irish) circa 1858
Proud of their roots and heritage, not only did each have their own church, each also has their own cemetery.
In the adjoining Rectory, the beautiful stained glass window in the staircase pronounces “God Save Poland” in native Polish, and was the first thing the Priest saw each morning.
The original St. Michael’s church (above) was completed on this same site in 1875, and was more “humble” in nature. Total cost for both the Church and the original Rectory at that time: $7,000. Father Hipolite Gorski was the first priest of the newly formed parish. At one point there were 80 families attending the church.
We cannot be certain why the Indian Mound was chosen as the building site, other than perhaps:
- It is a beautiful, tranquil location.
- It was already considered “hallowed/reverent” ground by the Indian tribes.
- It may have been a tactical show of dominance by the “white man”, exerting the power of Christianity over the Indian beliefs.
At the Turn of the Century
The brick church remained in use until the early 1900’s when the then current priest, Fr. Michael Wenta, realized that the Parish was quickly out-growing its building with the ever-increasing Polish population of early Beaver Dam. Fr. Wenta commissioned the construction of this magnificent building, starting in 1903.
The construction took 18 months and was a labor of love for the many skilled laborers that worked on it. The vaulted domes in the sanctuary are an architectural marvel, even by today’s standards, and the 6 story bell tower is the highest point in the city. The hand-painted stained glass windows are exquisite, and the detailed woodwork a lasting tribute to the men who paid painstaking attention to detail. To accomplish this work of art before the days of power tools and power lifts was truly an amazing feat.
The building was finished in 1905 and was in use until 2007 when the 3 Catholic Parishes (St. Michael’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Peter’s) merged into one. The new Parish is now known as St. Katharine Drexel Parish.
In November 2010 we purchased the church from St. Katharine Drexel Parish. A lifeless shell that had been empty for 3 years, we hope to revitalize this stately building, share its beauty and grandeur with the community, and open it to all who are looking for a unique space to hold events. Opening in mid-summer of 2011, Chapel of the Archangels is limited only by your imagination - we offer a great place to hold weddings, funerals, wedding receptions, anniversaries, vow renewals – the sky’s the limit! We also offer a convenient reception hall, meeting and educational facility in the Angel’s Den
downstairs, complete with bar, kitchen facilities, and Wi-Fi. We are a non-denominational facility – we are also handicapped accessible to both the main sanctuary and to the basement via the elevator.
To add to our hospitality offerings, in March 2009, we also purchased the old St Michael’s Rectory next door to the Chapel. The Rectory Bed & Breakfast – a 3-suite luxury Bed and Breakfast offering a pampered, plush get-away with romantic accommodations. Relax in the old-world charm reserved for the church’s clerics, and marvel at the aesthetics and craftsmanship of yesteryear. Enjoy our scrumptious breakfasts, afternoon wine, and low-key atmosphere. Only steps away from the Chapel, it’s that perfect Honeymoon or “pre/post-wedding” place for the bride to be! Visit our website @ www.therectorybnb.com