Map to the cemeteries in the central part of the City of La Crosse



written by Amanda Lambert

Due to a fire that destroyed all early records of La Crosse's Catholic Cemetery, little is known about its exact origins. However, it is believed that in the early 1850's, the original section of land, just south of Market Street, was donated by Joseph Ebner to be used for Catholic burials. Dates on several stones from as far back as the mid-1850's help to verify its early existence. Throughout the latter years of the 1800's, local Catholic churches bought additional land and the cemetery expanded into the surrounding areas. Today the main entrance of the cemetery is located at the corner of Losey Blvd. and Market Street. This section was the original plat with the newer additions spreading south extending to Mississippi Street.

Catholic Cemetery and original mausoleum looking twoard Cliffwood Bluff, April 2000Because the location of the Catholic Cemetery was at some distance from the early La Crosse neighborhoods, a group of local citizens, around 1881, pushed for the Catholic Cemetery to be moved to a new location closer to Oak Grove Cemetery. Land was purchased near Oak Grove with plans to sell it to local Catholic churches. This project failed however, and the Catholic Cemetery remained in its current location.

Erhard J. Reisinger became the first full-time sexton of the cemetery in 1883. Reisinger took his duties beyond that of a simple caretaker and began designing plans to improve the cemetery land. Until the time of his death 33 years later, he worked vigorously to enhance the area. Additional trees and bushes, an iron fence, and winding roadway, made of crushed buttons donated by the Pearl Button Works Factory, were the first improvements. In 1891, Reisinger's vision grew. With the help of family and friends, rocks were hauled down from the nearby bluffs in horse-drawn wagons. With them, Resinger built the fourteen Stations of the Cross and four grottos: Blessed Virgin, Agony of Christ in the Garden, Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Christ in the Tomb. The fourth grotto, Christ in the Tomb, being the most impressive, contained in its design an artificial lagoon, an arched bridge and life-sized statue of St. John. This fourth grotto was disassembled in 1980 to make room for a mausoleum.

The original Stations of the Cross were glass enclosed bas-relief scenes that encircled the cemetery. These included statues created and donated by the Hackner Altar Company of La Crosse, a company known around the midwest for its fine ecclesiastical carving. The Stations of the Cross were used regularly each November 2nd for All Souls Day devotion until 1944. In the mid-1970's, new statues were put in to replace the broken and fading ones and then sealed with Plexiglas. In 1997, renovations were again made to further enhance the cemetery aesthetics.

Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, March 2000Probably the most impressive cemetery feature is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the Seven Dolors, which was dedicated on November 1, 1891. The brick building, with its pointed arches, buttresses, stone pillars and window molding, echoes Gothic architecture throughout its craftsmanship. The chapel was built as a burial location for the bishops of the La Crosse Diocese.

Twenty spaces in a crypt were built below the altar for such burials. The remains of nine priests are still believed to be buried there, while other bodies have been removed and relocated to a crypt in Blessed Sacrament Chapel within St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral, located in downtown La Crosse.

The interior of the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the Seven Dolors is about 22 by 28 feet in dimension. Much of the room is constructed of oak, including the altar and its accessories. Art, rich with religious symbolism, adorns the room, with the focal point being a four-by-eight-foot painting of the crucified Christ.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of local citizens, the aging chapel was restored and in July of 1986, the chapel became officially registered as a landmark with the National Register of Historic Places.

Improvements have remained consistent over the years at the Catholic Cemetery. On August 15, 1978, a chapel mausoleum was dedicated by Frederick W. Freking, Bishop of La Crosse. It provided 672 burial spaces. In 1981 and 1982, two garden crypts were added, one with 372 spaces and the other 376. 

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Section map of the Catholic Cemetery