By Anne Marie Amacher
Thirty people from the Quad-City area learned more about Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, his ministry and works during a daylong trip to Wisconsin Sept. 18. The priest, who is being considered for sainthood, is credited with founding more than 30 parishes, including some in the Davenport Diocese, and helping to build church and civic buildings in the 1800s.
As the charter bus headed north, the group recited the rosary. Travelers prayed for a safe journey, for bus driver Mike Hansen and for his mom, Alice, who passed away the day before.
The first stop was Sinsinawa Mound in Sinsinawa, Wis., home of the Dominican Sisters. Fr. Mazzuchelli founded the Sisters’ order. Two Dominican Sisters gave tours of museums at their community’s motherhouse. One tour focused on the history and journey of Fr. Mazzuchelli. “He was very accomplished. Whenever there was a challenge — he would meet it,” said Sister Mary Paynter, OP.
Born in Milan, Italy, in 1806, Fr. Mazzuchelli entered the Dominican order for priests at the age of 17 and studied in Rome. He heard the call to become a missionary to America. In 1828, the young Mazzuchelli traveled to the United States and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edward Fenwick in Cincinnati on Nov. 29, 1829.
That next month Fr. Mazzuchelli was sent to Mackinaw Island, Mich. From there he traveled throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois where he became a respected religious and civil leader.
He founded and helped build St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, which is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Davenport. He also was an educator and a defender of the native people.
Sr. Paynter told stories of Fr. Mazzuchelli dating from his birth to his death in 1864. Many items that were used by Fr. Mazzuchelli are on display at the museum, including a chalice and his travel desk. The Sisters also have the original painting that Fr. Mazzuchelli had created in Rome while in seminary and sent to his father. The family donated the painting to the Sisters.
Sister Priscilla Wood, OP, gave the tour of an exhibit detailing Fr. Mazzuchelli’s travels in the tri-state area of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. Among the items: a copy of the sale of 800 acres of land in 1844 for $6,500. Fr. Mazzuchelli bought the land from George Wallace Jones and founded the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters’ community there in 1847. Sinsinawa Mound College and Sinsinawa Female Academy were incorporated in 1848.
In 1849 the congregation was down to four Sisters, who chose to stay. “Fr. Mazzuchelli never made a decision for the Sisters,” Sr. Wood said. Because of the Sisters’ commitment to continue, 4,000 religious Sisters have been called to the order, she noted.
Fr. Mazzuchelli began missions in Benton and New Diggings, Wis., in 1849 and the Sisters followed him to Benton. There the Benton Female Academy was opened. “The Sisters taught by day and Father taught the Sisters at night.”
After Fr. Mazzuchelli’s death in Benton on Feb. 23, 1864, the academy moved to Sinsinawa and was housed in the stone building Father had built when he first purchased the land. In 1902 St. Clare College was formed and it moved to Illinois and was renamed Rosary College – now Dominican University in 1925.
After lunch, the bus tour group traveled to St. Augustine Church in New Diggings, Wis. George Burns, a member of the Knights of Columbus, spoke about restoration of the church that Fr. Mazzuchelli founded and built. The Knights take care of the church and raised money for its complete restoration.
The Knights raised $25,000 just to have a report produced with options for doing a complete renovation of St. Augustine to its original state (1844). The U.S. Department of Interior and the State Historical Society worked with the Knights because of the church building’s historic designation. With the help of a challenge grant, all the money for the $483,000 project was raised by June 25, 2006, and restoration work began in 2007.
Although the church is no longer used and is considered a museum, the Diocese of Madison owns the building. The Knights do the upkeep and bought property surrounding the church.
Following tours of the small church and the living quarters attached on the back side, Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, celebrated Mass there.
Next the group went to Shullsburg, Wis., to the historic part of town where Fr. Mazzuchelli named the streets. Examples of street names are judgment, truth, peace and faith.
In Benton, Wis., the group visited St. James Church which Fr. Mazzuchelli founded (now called St. Patrick), the rectory where he lived, and the place where he is buried.
The rectory was built in 1849 and restored in 1989.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows has a replica of the altar that is in New Diggings, but with two tiers instead of three. The altar was in St. Patrick Church until it was moved into the chapel when the church underwent renovations.
A canonization effort for Fr. Mazzuchelli began in 1942 and he was declared venerable on July 6, 1993.
Sharon Hancock of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport said she loved everything about the visit to Sinsinawa. “The Sisters were so friendly. It was all interesting what they had to offer.”
Denise DeAnda of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport had been to Galena, Ill., and seen some of Fr. Mazzuchelli’s work there. “It was good to be able to connect the puzzle and learn about his history.”
Mary Costello, also of the cathedral, knew about Fr. Mazzuchelli but wanted to learn more. “I was excited at what I learned.”
Bill Ashton said he first got interested in Fr. Mazzuchelli when Father James Conroy was pastor at St. Anthony’s. “He asked me to inspect the original St. Anthony Church — which eventually was saved from demolition.”
Ashton and his wife, Ann, were asked by Pat Scott to serve on a committee to plan for the 2014 celebration of Fr. Mazzuchelli. “We went to Sinsinawa and were impressed by the entire situation, so I dreamed up the idea of a bus trip,” Bill Ashton said. Sr. Paynter thought it was a good idea, “so I just kind of took it from there.”
Bill Ashton has organized and planned numerous trips and functions, but never for the church. “The Dominican Sisters were wonderful to work with. I truly enjoyed working with Sister Mary and all the other Sisters.”
Fr. Mazzuchelli’s work in the diocese
In the Diocese of Davenport, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli is credited with founding parishes, building churches, supervising civic buildings and helping to plan cities.
Here is a sample of what he is credited with doing in the Diocese of Davenport:
Burlington: Built St. Paul church.
Davenport: Founded and built St. Anthony Church (original church is now the parish library).
Fort Madison: Designed the county courthouse.
Iowa City: Built St. Mary Parish, designed the state capitol and helped with planning the city.
Muscatine: Founded and built St. Mathias Church (the original was restored and is located near the current church).