Today, I will be posting “part six” in the history series on Our Lady of Good Help. Lets pick up where I left off last Tuesday.
… Adele and her companions had worked tirelessly in their mission – the convent and school – and they had borne great fruit in the Belgian community. However else were in Northern Wisconsin, many were on the brink of loosing their souls. The Northern Wisconsin forests caught the attention of the lumber investors, particularly that of the Chicago millionaire William G. Odgen, and throngs of lumberjacks were sent to work in the forests and cut the wood that would build Chicago. With these lumberjacks came the logging boom towns –and often, places of ill reputation.
In the Northern Wisconsin forests the average tree was 3-6 feet wide and 120 – 170 feet tall. It is no wonder that Northern Wisconsin was such a logging hot spot and many logging towns sprang up. One of such towns was Peshtigo – a logging boomtown built on the banks of the Peshtigo River. With it’s railway, sawmill and population of a little over 1,000 people, Peshtigo’s emergency response crew consisted of 1 hand-pumper fire engine, 0 police and 0 jails. However, Peshtigo did boast of having 60 saloons, 60 brothels, 1 Catholic Church and a small handful of Protestant churches. Sundays in Peshtigo were filled with lukewarm piety, however Saturdays belonged to the saloons and street girls. Since there was no acting law enforcement, rowdy lumberjacks enforced their code of law – in which a man could be “lynched for something as serious as theft or as insignificant as a dirty look (Firestorm at Peshtigo Denise Gess & William Lutz 9).” Now it is easy to see why the Queen of Heaven said to Adele: “If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”
It may seem as though all was lost in and around Peshtigo, however the remnant faithful truly lived heroic and amiable lives in the midst of such turmoil and vice. Fr. Peter Pernin, French missionary and pastor of the colonies of Marinette and Peshtigo, did his best to bring Christ to these communities. However, despite his best efforts, many entered the grave without entering the waters of Baptism first. Often, children were not adequately catechized, and more than a few adults fell away from the Holy Church and her sacramental life.
One of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history is about to strike Northern Wisconsin. Next week I will give more details.