The Oldest Catholic Church in La Crosse

Posted by Scott on November 30, 2018

(written by Megan, Archives staff)

In the May 17, 1853 edition of the La Crosse Democrat was a notice that a visiting French missionary priest, Rev. Lucian Glatier, would hold a Roman Catholic service on May 29, 1853.  From this first visit, a 2nd missionary priest, Rev. William Tappert, was appointed as the first resident pastor.  He celebrated a Catholic service on August 24, 1855 at a settler’s home.  A frame building at what would become the NE corner of 7th Street and Cameron was completed August 24, 1856.  The church was known as the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, generally known as St. Mary’s.


Cornerstone of the new church building at 319 S. 7th St. 

As the congregation of St. Mary’s continued to grow, plans were made for a new, more adequate, church building. The new church was dedicated on 7, 1875.  A new rectory for the resident minister was completed in 1888.  Steeples were added to the church building in 1905.  


Photo by Howard W. Colvin, ca. 1960


St. Mary’s Academy, behind the church, was founded as a girl’s school in August of 1858.  The school developed into a school for both girls and boys though a bit later the children of St. Mary’s started attending school with the children of the church of St. Joseph (the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman).  In September 1872, three lots south of St. Mary’s church were purchased.  A new school opened there, on what would become the SE corner of 7th and Cameron, for the children of St. Mary’s to attend.  Sisters from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who had also come to La Crosse in 1872, served as teachers.  In 1910, a new school building was constructed.


St. Mary's school, 1903


St. Mary’s continued to serve the people of the congregation well into the 20th century. The people of St. St. Mary’s celebrated the church’s centennial on May 9, 1954.


Preparations for the wedding of Carole May Green on May 14, 1952

In the late 1950’s plans were made for a much larger Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman.  As part of that planning some Catholic churches were merged into the Cathedral.  The people of St. Mary’s church were one of those congregations.  With the completion of the new Cathedral St. Mary’s was closed and the building was razed in 1963.  Only fond memories and historical records remain.  

The site of the St. Mary’s church and school is now occupied by the Stoffel Court and Becker Plaza apartment buildings run by the La Crosse Housing Authority. 


1891 Sanborn fire insurance map



1954 Sanborn fire insurance map