Celebrating Fr. Mazzuchelli

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, a missionary priest, architect and builder who founded and built the first Catholic church in the Diocese of Davenport, is being recognized by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. A new brochure, book and heritage plaque program will highlight the works of Fr. Mazzuchelli, especially in the Galena, Ill., area.

Jennifer Nyholm, the Chicago Athenaeum’s communications director, said the organization teamed up with Galena City Beautiful to inform the public about the significance of Fr. Mazzuchelli as an architect and humanist.

The Chicago Athenaeum Archives
St. Rose of Lima Academy in Galena is one of a number of schools and churches designed by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli. A new book and brochure on the priest as an architect and builder is being published this year.

A brochure will be available at tourist offices, museums and cultural sites in the Galena area to point out sites influenced by the 19th century priest who was born in Milan, Italy. Heritage signage will identify Galena-area buildings built by Fr. Mazzuchelli. And, this fall, “The Architecture of Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli,” will be published by the Chicago Athenaeum. The book will feature all of the buildings that he completed in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, Nyholm said.

During missions in the United States, Fr. Mazzuchelli founded, designed and/or built more than 20 Catholic churches up and down the Mississippi River, designed Iowa’s first state capitol building in Iowa City and many other notable landmarks throughout Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

“Fr. Mazzuchelli was the Frank Lloyd Wright of his day,” said Kieran Conlon, museum vice president of the Chicago Athenaeum. “As a pioneer missionary, he educated, protected and advocated for the human rights of the region’s Native Americans and wrote the first known published book in Wisconsin — an 1834 prayer book in the native Chippewa language.”

By 1835, Fr. Mazzuchelli was a revered and highly-cultured figure in the tri-state region, Conlon said. “He not only founded new Catholic parishes, but he also designed and built them. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, he was not formally trained or educated as an architect, but he was well enough versed in Italian and European styles of architecture of the early 19th century. He had the ability to translate this knowledge and give architectural form to the designs of his new churches, schools and civic buildings in Galena.

“Whenever there was an important architectural project to be built, a new courthouse or a new government building, everyone sought Fr. Mazzuchelli’s advice and his experience as an architect,” Conlon continued. The Galena landmarks designed by Fr. Mazzuchelli that will receive plaques are: the first Jo Daviess County Courthouse (1839), Old Market House Town Hall (1845), St. Michael Church (1842 and 1857), St. Mary Church (1850), St. Mary parochial school (around 1856) and St. Rose Academy (1859).

Just outside Galena, in nearby New Diggings, Wis., Fr. Mazzuchelli designed the poetic St. Augustine Church (1844). This wooden church that emulates stone is a small, high-aesthetic architectural treasure that was just recently restored by the Knights of Columbus and the Jeffris Family Foundation, Nyholm noted.

As an early advocate for women’s education, Fr. Mazzuchelli also founded and designed the first buildings for the Dominican Sinsinawa Mound College (1848). Today, Sinsinawa Mound hosts an exhibit that traces Fr. Mazzuchelli’s journey from Italy to the Upper Mississippi River Valley. The exhibit at the Mound is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

In 1993, St. John Paul II declared Fr. Mazzuchelli as venerable — a person who exemplified heroic virtues during his lifetime. This is the first step in the process to possible canonization as a saint.

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