ST. AGATHA PARISH
HISTORY OF SAINT AGATHA PARISH
About St. Agatha Roman Catholic Church
Our History (1834-2011)
St. Agatha Parish has long had the distinction of being noted the "womb of Catholicism in Waterloo County". Most of the Catholic settlers here emigrated from the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe in the early 1800s. At first, without the benefit of a community church, the people witnessed their faith by rotating worship services from home to home. Such services were usually led by one of the group and occasionally by a visiting missionary.
In 1834 Fr. John Wiriath, an Alsatian, established a two room log church/school in St. Agatha as a centre of a mission area that included 26 townships and over 400 families throughout southern Ontario. In 1841 under the direction of Fr. Peter Schneider, a Redemptionist priest, a large frame church was communally built of local timber on land donate by Nicolaus Dietrich. During the decade of 1847-1856 St. Agatha was served by Jesuit priests who stabilized and expanded the parish community. Under the guidance of Fr. Rupert Ebner the church was enlarged by moving the sanctuary back and extending the main body by a third. Inside, the sanctuary was adorned by a high altar and two side altars all hand-crafted by Anthony Kaiser and Lucas Dorschel, while the painting and delicate gilding were completed by the Walter brothers. The exterior of the church was painted pure white and a set of bells, weighing 100 and 200 pounds respectively, were installed in the steeple for a cost of $130. Crowning the newly tin covered steeple was an ornate iron cross crafted by John Miller of Bridgeport. It is said to have been the most beautiful building in the county for many years. A comfortable brick rectory was erected in 1848, followed by a two storey stone school complete with teachers' quarters in 1854. Mass was offered regularly along with rousing mission observances.
The man credited with having made the most lasting contribution to St. Agatha was Fr. Eugene Funcken. He was the first of the continuing line of priests from the Congregation of the Resurrection to minister here. With boundless energy and conviction he set about creating his enduring legacies, the first of which was building the cemetery chapel and shrine in 1857. One of only a few in Ontario, the Shrine of the Sorrowful Mother still welcomes faithful pilgrims seeking plenary indulgences and devotions each summer.
In 1858 he established St. Agatha Orphanage in a vacant log building after nine children from the same family were orphaned. By 1868 there were enough changes to warrant the construction of a large stone building next to the church, complete with a school chapel and dormitories.
In 1871 Fr. Funcken applied to the School Sisters of Notre Dame (S.S.N.D.) in Milwaukee to come and provide instruction, stability and management of the Catholic orphanage. They consented and with their arrival thus began a close long-term relationship between the S.S.N.D. and the community. For many years the people of St. Agatha were the sole support of the orphanage and school. In 1965 the orphanage was closed and the facility incorporated as Notre Dame of St. Agatha, a residential treatment centre for emotionally disturbed children. Known by many as "The Children's Village" the S.S.N.D. ceased responsibility for its operation in 1968. In the 117 years they devoted to the children of Ontario the School Sisters of Notre Dame have had a profound influence on the faith, conviction and growth of the people of St. Agatha.
The third of Fr. Funcken's lasting achievements in St. Agatha was the co-founding (with his brother Fr. Louis) of St. Jerome's College in 1864 in a log house on Erb's Road at the edge of the village. The Karin is still there marking the spot today. The college moved to Berlin (Kitchener) shortly after but for many years it specifically prepared young men for the seminary. In 1960 the college became affiliated with the newly opened University of Waterloo. As testimony to the invaluable contribution of the priests from the Congregation of the Resurrection, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board WCDSB named their newest secondary school "Resurrection Catholic Secondary School" in 1990.
Before his much lamented death in 1888, Fr. Funcken, C.R. also instituted the annual observances of the solemn Feast of Corpus Christi and the festive celebration of "Kinder-Fest", which was similar to the grand church picnic full of merriment, mirth and plays. Both the interior and exterior of the church were repainted and a new $1,000 organ was installed.
The present Gothic style church was constructed in 1899 under the direction of Fr. Hubert Aeymans, C.R. at a cost of $13,000. The present rectory was built in 1904 at a cost of $5,000. As in the case of the first frame church, these two buildings were paid completely by the parish community without the need of outside loans. In 1906 a second 200 pound bell was purchased for the new church tower to replace the smaller one which was then installed in the cemetery chapel steeple. In 1907 the fine old altars were refurbished. Around 1911, during the ministry of Fr. John Fehrenbach, C.R. the cemetery walls were cemented, the church interior richly decorated, electricity secured for the small village and the first automobile arrived with Fr. John at the wheel.
There was little upkeep necessary for the splendid new church for many years. In 1949 the parish decided to reface the front of the church with permastone (later removing the first face of brick) for a cost of $17,000. In 1957/58, the interior was redecorated but unfortunately a major fire in 1959 caused considerable smoke and heat damage inside and to the organ. the sacristy, vestments, sacred vessels and much more were completely lost. Once again the independent parish community managed to completely restore the devastation. Early in the 1960s Fr. Hinsberger, C.R. procured a used organ to replace the fire-damaged one and also installed an amplifier.
Structurally, the church held up well during the first 80 years. Minor repairs to the roof and steeple were made during the 1970s. However by 1979, there were major repairs that were needed. While some area churches were removing their steeples due to high upkeep costs, under the direction of Fr. Vern Brunning, C.R. a "Save the Steeple" campaign was launched. Though neither expected nor anticipated, the parishioners again raised the necessary capital to pay the $20,000 expense. Never-the-less other pressing needs such as repainting the church interior, refurnishing the basement and replacing the church and rectory roofs added considerable debt to the parish and a loan from the diocese became necessary.
In 1984 Fr. Gene Tyson, C.R. came to St. Agatha. Under his guidance the outstanding loan was paid off and in 1989 saw the church landscaping completed and the shrine walls re-stuccoed. But in 1990 the parish was again faced with a major problem, the most extensive one ever. Due to severe water damage hidden behind the face brick, the entire church tower was no longer structurally sound. In fact, there was a danger of it collapsing.
Fr. Tyson brought the serious initial assessment to the congregation to solicit their support. The original estimate of $29,000 mushroomed to $120,000 once the full extent of the damage was uncovered. Acting on the engineering consultant's recommendation to establish a building fund, a volunteer executive committee included Fr. Gene, Diane Moser, Jim Gehl and Herb Durrer as Chairman responding to the challenge. "Preserving Our Parish Future" became the slogan of the most ambitious fund raiser the community has faced to date. Incredibly, the parish community again rallied and dug deep into their pockets to raise the necessary funds to preserve their beloved church. Individual and corporate pledges, special events, tournaments, a fashion show, food nights, a lottery and a Goods and Services Auction raised over $150,000 for the building fund.
By 1991 the tower was completely restored and strengthened structurally. The expenses were paid off with a healthy $40,000 surplus with which to establish an on-going building fund for future projects.
In 1992 those projects have included the installation of new washrooms in the church hall ($16,000), repainting the inside entrance of the church ($18,000), refurbishing the upstairs rectory ($3,200) and replacing the shrine roof ($3,000).
In 1999, under the direction of Fr. Charles Fedy, C.R. the church celebrated its Centennial celebrations. At this time they completely renovated the church interior, building a new backdrop to the tabernacle, extending the platform for the altar, creating an area for the Folk Choirs and purchasing all new furnishings for the front of the church. A new sound system was installed as well as new carpeting throughout. An electronic keyboard was installed at the front for the Folk Choirs.
The corner stone was removed from the front of the church and the discovery of a time capsule was very exciting. Some of the items were removed and preserved in our archives but most were replaced with the addition of items from the current decade to be rediscovered in another 100 years. There were celebrations all through that year.
In the following years the cross on top of the tower had to be taken down and rebuilt and then secured back to the top of the tower. In 2000 the parking lot was repaved. Then in 2001 the roof of the church and rectory were replaced with a Hy-Grade Steel Roofing .
In 2007 the louvers in the bell tower were replaced. Then we also installed new first floor windows in the rectory in 2007. Fr. Charlie Fedy,C.R. was a great steward of the parish for 17 years.
Before his retirement in 2010 and the transition of our new Pastor Fr. Daniel Lobsinger, C.R. with the help of a sub committee which included Angela Straus (Senior Choir Director), Walter Van Niekerk (Finance Committee) and Jim Gehl (Choir Member and Webmaster), a new project was initiated which included the refurbishing of the pipes in the organ and purchasing a new Rogers electronic pipe organ. The new organ combines electronic sound as well as utilizing all the air pipes of the old organ.
At the same time the choir loft was completely re-done with tiered seating and new floor covering.
In 2010, after the retirement of Fr. Charles Fedy, C.R., Fr. Daniel Lobsinger, C.R. became the pastor of St. Agatha Parish. He was with St. Agatha from August 2010 - August 31, 2018. Fr. George Nowak, C.R. was the pastor of St. Agatha Parish from July 2018 - June 2021. Fr. Tim Uniac, C.R. served as administrator of the parish from July 2021 - June 2022.
In the 154 intervening years since the first frame church was built with twenty-one parish families to the present time when the church boasts over 200 families, the caring and dedicated parishioners of St. Agatha have repeatedly demonstrated their adherence to the virtues of faith, charity and conviction. St. Agatha Parish is a caring, vibrant community - a community in which to take pride.