Sacred Heart Church, now called Cor Jesu Oratory, has a rich history. The missionary, Father Charles Francis Xavier Goldsmith, first visited a group of families in the prairie wilderness that was called Edson. He ministered to them when he could, but his responsibilities were vast, as he visited the Catholic population in the area around Chippewa Falls, WI, (called the Chippewa missions) while living at Notre Dame Church (then called St. Mary), “which can take its place among the oldest Catholic centers of Wisconsin. Early writers tell us that over two hundred years ago the illustrious missionary and explorer, Fr. Louis Hennepin, a Belgian Franciscan, visited the Indians at the falls of Chippewa for the purpose of administering to their spiritual wants” (p. 793, The Catholic Church in Wisconsin, 1895-1898).
Charles Francis Xavier Goldsmith was born to immigrants on December 22, 1845. His father, John Baptiste was born in Bundall, Bavaria. His mother, Mary Magdalene de Vigneulles was born in Vigneulles, France. They met in New York City and were married there. They had five children, Charles being the next to the youngest.
He was educated by the “Order of Notre Dame” and the Christian Brothers in New York State. He attended Saint Francis Seminary, near Milwaukee, and the American College Louvain in Belgium. He consecrated his life to God especially under the patronage of Saint Francis Xavier, one of the patrons of the missions. James Schwebach, a future bishop of La Crosse, WI, where Goldsmith would serve, was a classmate.
He completed his studies in 1868 and was ordained July 25 of the same year in the Cathedral of Maline, Belgium. He offered his first Mass in Vigneulles in the chapel where his mother had been baptized sixty years earlier. He was assigned to the diocese of Milwaukee. In 1869 he moved to the diocese of La Crosse to work in the Chippewa mission. Michael Heiss was the bishop of La Crosse and had been the rector of St. Francis Seminary when Fr. Goldsmith had attended.
The missionary vocation is a particular call from God. A missionary must be centered in faith, hope and charity, called the theological virtues, with a zeal for souls. But these qualities are placed into a distinct person with strengths and weaknesses that God uses to carry out His work. What was Fr. Goldsmith like?
His “was a character which to know fully and intimately was to admire and to respect; to
admire for its genius and native strength; to respect for its fearlessness and entire activity.
Neither sloth nor indolence had any part of his whole make-up. Activity was the very food of
his life. His was a noble mind, polished and strengthen by education, and with an instinct for
the right which was rarely deceived or drawn aside.”
The difficulties and trials of missionary work require one to have these strengths. But the reality of our human condition is that we have weaknesses and sins with which to contend in this life. And every saint is a reformed sinner. So it is not with surprise that we should learn of Fr. Goldsmith’s weaknesses:
“There was in his temperament, when roused by irritable surroundings, much of the same
alloy that enters into all our natures. He had not the temper of a saint, and it must be
regretfully remembered that many a dear friend suffered from his infirmity of hasty and
impetuous language, the remembrance of which, to the proud spirit of Goldsmith himself,
was on of the sharpest thorns in his memory, for he dearly loved his friends, and if, like a
sentinel in the dark he mistook friend for foe, he never failed to fire, let the shot strike whom
it might…but without this pride and love of success and victory, where would have been the
indominable spirit of Goldsmith?”(p. 788, The Catholic Church in Wisconsin)
This is a true assessment of a real person. Without the work and sacrifice of Fr. Goldsmith, things might be very different today in the life of the Church in this area. We are indebted to him. He died in 1890 at the young age of forty-four from stomach hemorrhages. The physical demands and hardship of being a missionary may well have contributed to the brevity of his life.
Father Goldsmith is interred at the Goldsmith Adoration Chapel at Notre Dame Church in Chippewa Falls, WI.
Father Charles Goldsmith
Dates that are important in the history of Sacred Heart Church are:
1869 - The first Mass in the Edson area
1874 - Dedication of the first Sacred Heart Church by Father Goldsmith
1879 - Dedication of the new addition to the church by Archbishop Michael Heiss
1883 - Dedication of the first bell at Sacred Heart Church in honor of Saint Joseph
1901 - The present church building is constructed
We now turn to the words of the missionary himself as he describes going to celebrate Holy Mass in the Edson area in 1869:
A little over fourteen years ago I held my first mission for the Catholics, numbering about eleven
families, in the Town of Edson. This was to me a memorable trip. Leaving home at eight o’clock in
the morning by my conveyance, a lumbering ox team…across the prairie. I reached Pinter’s log
house in the Town of Edson that night about eleven p.m., walking most of the way…The house
had two rooms; one was the best room, or guest chamber, and of course, was duly placed at the
disposal of the priest. The other was the general living room, eating room and assembly
chamber, in which was prepared my meal of sauerkraut and speck (a type of cured, lightly
smoked ham). (Not mine only, but also that of the eleven families who came there to worship
God.) … Indeed, these warm-hearted people were generous and truly hospitable. In the morning
the busy hands of these active, pious German women soon converted the spare room into a
modest, little chapel, into which half the congregation thronged, the others remaining in the
outer room, reverently bowed down in worship…In the years following I went many times to visit
this little mission.
You can see the utter simplicity and deep faith of these Bavarian families. They are very grateful for the gift of the priest and the gift of the Holy Mass. The foundation of the Catholic faith laid by these first families of Sacred Heart Church has persevered up until the present day. The contemplative life of the Institute of Saint Joseph, especially the presence of consecrated hermits, and the celebration of Holy Mass in the form in which it was celebrated in 1869 witness to the historic presence of the Catholic Church for close to 160 years.
In 1874, describing a momentous event of the first church dedication, he wrote:
A few days ago, I dedicated a church twenty miles from here (Chippewa Falls, WI) to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus. A few families from Bavaria located there seven years ago; they were poor,
German immigrants, but they hoped to find bread for their children, and they were not deceived.
The soil was fruitful, though before they could till it, they had to cut down the forest… (The
church) is made of hewn timber, the cracks are filled with moss; the inside is plastered white and
it is neat and clean. I dedicated it, and had a High Mass, the first in the country. An old man of
seventy, who had been an altar boy in German, served me at Mass…I preached to the good
people on the love of the Sacred Heart which they had just received, as the whole assembly had
gone to Holy Communion; with tears and sighs they promised to remain true to their faith, and
in their solitude to seek comfort and encouragement in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On Sundays
and holy days, they assembled in their little church to recite the rosary, and surely they shall not
beg in vain before the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a priest. I can visit them but seldom in the year,
on account of my various works.
The spirit of Nazareth is evident in the beauty of the simple, log church. Fr. Goldsmith’s exhortation to remain faithful, “in the solitude to seek comfort and encouragement in the Sacred Heart of Jesus” is a kind of prophecy of the presence of those who are dedicated to the contemplative life. An interesting connection may be made with the blessing of the first bell, dedicated to Saint Joseph on the eleventh of June, the birthday of one of the co-founders of the Institute of Saint Joseph. Some may see this as coincidence. But in God there are no coincidences, since in His Providence He has planned all things to the tiniest detail.
The chapel was enlarged and dedicated by Archbishop Michael Heiss in 1879. And the present church was built in 1901.
The first resident pastor was Rev. Herman Untraut, a former curate of Fr. Goldsmith. A permanent pastor stabilized the life of the parish. Pictures of this time show a vast crowd of children, men and women. A school was started, and religious sisters came to the parish to teach in the manner of the “little one room schoolhouse”. The parish was changed with the building of the railroad in Boyd, a mile and half away and so the population shifted, and Sacred Heart Church eventually became a mission of Saint Joseph Parish in Boyd, WI. In the ensuing years, Sacred Heart would have a resident pastor off and on. The closing of the parish school in the 1960’s was a loss to the community. It would not be much longer that a very great change would take place affecting Sacred Heart Church and its people.
In 1999 the parish would be placed with Saint Joseph in Boyd and the parish church became a chapel of convenience, in which Holy Mass could be celebrated for various functions.
Although the church was no longer a setting for parish life with weekly Holy Mass on Sundays, it was never fully closed.
One day it would become a center of prayer and worship for people to find spiritual strength and refreshment on daily basis once again.
Sacred Heart Church 1907, Edson, WI
The church, rectory, school, and property were given for the use of the Institute of Saint Joseph in 2007. To designate that the church would be a semi-public oratory (a place in which a religious community worships where others may attend), the name Cor Jesu Oratory was chosen to link it to the Sacred Heart Church (‘Cor Jesu’ meaning Heart of Jesus in Latin).
The Traditional Latin Mass began to be offered on Sundays on October 7, 2007. Funds were raised to begin renovating the buildings and property. First, steel roofing was placed on the church and former school. The rectory was gutted, and the first floor renovated. The second floor of the school was gutted and completely renovated.
The hermits began living on the property in the fall of 2011. Now the Traditional Mass is offered each day of the week.
Several years later, the floor of the sanctuary was covered with tile. A generous bequest from a parishioner made it possible to redesign the front entrances of the church and school so that cars could drive up to let passengers off and dangerous sidewalks could be replaced by a gradation walkway to the front of both buildings.
As a part of the improvement of the sidewalks, a shrine to the Holy Family was designed and built. It was dedicated on the feast of the Immaculate Conception several years ago.
Present day aerial view of Cor Jesu Oratory
Although a great deal of work has been done, there are projects that need attention soon. Among them are:
The Lord has always provided the financial means to carry out the work that needs to be done. Saint Joseph has never failed to come to our assistance by his intercession. We need the generous interest of those who would like to share in our mission of creating a Nazareth for all who are seeking a place of prayer where they may find rest in the Heart of Jesus. We need the help of all those who are interested in a place where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated, for its upkeep, and its development.
Cor Jesu Oratory 2018
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